We’ve seen a few bloggers here at manic expression confront the standards based on gender that society tends to enforce, pertaining to likes, dislikes, sexual prowess, modesty, etc. (In a nutshell, the issue is how we expect boys to be “macho” and women to be “feminine,” brushing aside evidence to the contrary.) The ones I remember are from Les, James Daniel Walsh, LadyDandy, TheGreatEscapist, and DawnHeart, all of which argued for a more understanding and patient point of view from both a philosophical and empathetic standpoint. They also reminded me just how much just how much I’ve been trying to come to terms with my own feelings on the matter over the years. From the time I was old enough to comprehend discrimination to now, I’ve had influences coming in from every angle and have attempted everything from ignoring them, to working out personal philosophies, to writing essays in college attempting to apply hard logic to the matter. And while it probably won’t be the last time I try to confront it, I’d like to write about what I’ve learned over the years. This seems to affect many of us on a personal level, and from experience, I think one of the ways we grow is by putting our experiences in perspective with each other, however much or little use the morals of my personal experiences are.


I’m sure those of you familiar with me know me as the guy who’s either not around or giving overlong reviews about movies and shows, but believe it or not, this is the type of writing I had to do a lot more to earn that degree. Every so often, you just feel the need to attempt something a little more significant. To divvy up the many issues at hand, this first entry will deal with relationships between men and women on the casual level, including stereotypes and preconceived notions, as well as how my views have been affected by them:





In a way, it’s unfortunate that I can only draw from my perspective here, because I grew up in a pretty healthy atmosphere, where general prejudice and stereotypes were portrayed as outdated attitudes for angry fools. But that didn’t stop my perspective from evolving, in many ways for the worse, with the issue still brought up constantly, in one way or another. For a naive kid witnessing little sexism but plenty of the backlash to it, the backlash itself actually started to seem mean.


In elementary school, for example, boys and girls were always in competition with each other only because it was the most obvious divide. (I think we can agree that kids at that age, from the sweetest to the brashest, love besting each other, if nothing else, to win an adult’s approval.) And as one of the more competitive kids my age, I started to notice the implications that my “team” was not very popular. In most shows and movies, a girl winning over a boy was hilarious, triumphant, or righteous, and a boy winning over a girl was unacceptable. Girls flashed stickers and t-shirts claiming boys were stupid, unhygienic, and thuggish, and even some of the teachers placed us against each other in competitions of manners and delicacy that they seemed to have decided ahead of time. I knew the idea was to take down the stereotype of “weak” girls, but what had I ever done?


It didn’t change much when I got older. As a teen, I had Carrie Underwood singing about the righteousness of criminally vandalizing her boyfriend’s property, more than enough movie fathers who were stupid, useless oafs, and plenty of dense male protagonists who were putty in the hands of any competent woman. Had anyone in the modern world really done anything to warrant this, or was it just payback time? The more time passed, the more I wanted to break down the notion that women were discriminated against. (I thought I was ahead of my time, as teenagers often do.) But after biting my tongue for twelve years, in college, I finally met some people who agreed with me. They were exactly the kind of people that all of the above seemed to be reacting to in the first place.


It took a few separate weeks to counterbalance 12 years of animosity: I’ve seen a 24 year old man attempt to physically bully his female roommate over whose turn it was to clean the dishes. I’ve seen another man the same age convince himself a friend of mine “wanted” him for no clear reason, even though she was dating someone else, and refuse to leave her bedroom, even after my own intervention. (When I talked to him about it later, he tried to tell me I didn’t “understand how women work.” ) I’ve found out after the fact that a former family friend had been hitting on my mother – bar none the most loyal, kind, and diligent person I know – and bragging afterwards that he could have “gotten” her, thankfully to the scorn and dismissal of everyone.


I’ll forgo the details of my disgust, but it I could see now that I’d failed to understand how much sexism still thrives. Really, I could have found it a lot sooner by just searching through the internet (though I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone with a weak stomach), but for my own naivety, I needed to learn the hard way. If you think people exaggerate the hardship of misogyny, I no longer have any sympathy. So now I have a new take on the above-described attempts to counter it: I think they’re counterproductive.


You’re free to disagree, if you’ve seen evidence to the contrary, but I just finished describing the effect they had on me, and it wasn’t for the better. Maybe I’m just not very bright (probably), but even if 99 out of 100 people would never go the same way, that’s still over 3 million people in the United States alone. (Not that they deserve sympathy per se, but if you fuel the fire of 3 million SOBs, you’d best be sure it’s by counteracting them, not giving them would-be points to make.) On top of that, even without noting the malice factor, do the Spice Girls’ nonsensical depictions of “Girl power!” or Barb Wire shooting people who call her “babe,” or those t-shirts from that weird company in Florida reading “BOYS ARE STUPID THROW ROCKS AT THEM!” really inspire anything all that productive? Actually, doesn’t it all seem more condescending than anything else? As though all of the above assume there are no real examples for girls and women of their own potential, so they instead offer pandering, over-the-top, nonsensical depictions? No matter what, speaking divisively still implies there is a difference.


I say this especially noting that even with the cynicism I carried on the subject, I never looked down on women or their capabilities. I’d seen real examples to the contrary. Even the stereotype that is arguably the most widely accepted, that women are “weak” and less athletic, is one I never really counted on. Through my years on the wrestling team in particular, I’ve seen plenty of girls rise to the challenge. (It is a heavily male-dominated sport, but when you face off, your opponent is an individual, not an average, and talent is talent.) I’ve seen girls lose matches, but I’ve also seen them pin people in the first period, including a teammate of mine. And though this is still described as some sort of ultimate shaming, I noticed our team just left him alone after that loss, which didn’t affect the well-proven fact that he was an average wrestler, nothing more and nothing less. And yes, I did have to wrestle a girl myself when I was 14 (though I wasn’t sure at the time, due to the cap she had on), in a match that went my way, not because of a strength or athleticism – in which we were even enough to cancel each other out through most of it – but because she simply left herself open for a headlock twice. Strength, in any sense of the word, is in the individual, not the category, and you don’t need to discriminate by gender to find a lack of it.


And what about other stereotypes, about how women must be emotional, sensitive, looking only for long-term relationships in men, concerned with their appearance, unconcerned with “masculine” interests such as sports or comic books, etc.? (Or, for that matter, how the opposite must apply to men?) Oh, I could have believed a few of them at one point or another, at least, so far as people I didn’t know were concerned. The thing about deciding whether to buy into these standards is that many of us assume most people already do, and we’re afraid to contradict them, so the standards end up confirming themselves. But the people I’ve met over time suggest otherwise.


For example, the aforementioned friend who had to put up with the 24 year old creep in her bedroom was actually one of the closest friendships I had in college, because our personalities met somewhere in the middle. In some ways, she did fit the “norm:” She was pretty, sensitive in her own way, big on artistic pursuits such as photography, and willing to act as a caregiver at times. She was the one who got me to accept another friend’s decision to radically alter his lifestyle in a way that still didn’t hurt anyone and also pointed out when I was doing too much for the girl I was dating. But this was the side that few of my other friends got close enough to see in her, because she was also incredibly brash, uninhibited, and often crude (not to mention an even bigger geek than I am, with more to say about Dr. Who and Star Trek than I could almost even follow). She didn’t always hesitate to say what was on her mind, and I found myself backing her up once or twice when she did something unintentionally rude. Sometimes she was the “strong” one, calling people out for what they did wrong. And more often than I would have expected, I ended up playing the “nurturing” one, providing a sympathetic ear and friendly encouragement, even helping her to finally realize that she wasn’t at the college she wanted to be at, upon which she went home and got her life on track. I learned things about myself through her, namely that I do enjoy giving my friends and family support and advice when they need it. And it was all in spite of another stereotype, about how a different sex relationship which becomes even that close must mean one or both participants want “something more.” Knowing and accepting each other’s flaws so well meant knowing that we were entirely wrong for each other that way.


So yes, I’ve learned that you just don’t get the same kind of person in every man or woman you come across, and unless my experience has been is some sort of freakish exception, you should probably take this to heart as well. But it was my real world experience that taught me this, not the foremost attempts to counter the stereotypes. So what would I change? As I said before, speaking divisively implies there is a difference. To use the characters in your demonstration that way is to treat them as a statement first and a person second. E.g., did anyone really believe the stage personas of the Spice Girls were akin to anyone in the real world, or did it seem more like a draw? Why are they somewhat laughable in hindsight, while Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, Belle, most of the cast of Friendship is Magic (please, ask me how I know about that one), Ellen Ripley, Yu Shu Lien, and Kiki are beloved? Answer: Because all of the above aren’t just attempts to make a statement, for better or for worse. They are characters with identifiable traits, so people have no problem accepting and enjoying them in their entirety. They are a testament to the people you really might encounter in the real world.


So in the end, I think we might be better off if we stop focusing on differences when dealing with each other as people. If we want to be viewed as equals (and this goes for everybody), why not support, well, depicting each other as equals? Morgan Freeman once said, when addressing racism, that it would only be gone for good when people “stop talking about it,” and though that may an imperfect theory that neglects the need for defenses, there is some truth to it that applies here. When it comes to strengths, weaknesses, interests, disdains, emotions, flaws, skills, and all other traits, people will stop applying them based on gender when the popular perception is no longer that certain traits can be assumed based on gender. Until then, rest easy on being who you are because it’s you and for no other reason.



Next time, assuming it still seems like a good idea then, we’ll be looking at different instances of gender roles coming into play, such as in more personal relationships and on how people are expected to view themselves.

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