Posts Tagged ‘Gender Roles’

Speaking of gender roles, I recently saw a post at The Society Pages linking to this suggestion by Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic that men refuse to speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences. While I think this is a great idea, I also wonder how the fact that prospective male participants ask male organizers to include women affects the reactions. For example, see the exchange in Rosen’s post:

I cannot speak for the dozens of other Jewish male leaders, scholars and activists who also made the pledge, but in my case, push has never actually come to shove. My convictions have not yet been tested. I never had to refuse participation because, so far, not once have the conveners failed to “find” a woman who can participate. Generally, the conversations have gone something like this:

“Prof. Kelner, will you teach at our all-night Shavuot study session?”

“Sure. I’d be happy to. Who else is on the program?”

“Abe, Isaac and Jake”

“You couldn’t find any women to teach? Look, I’d love to join the program, but I’ve made a pledge not to participate in all-male panels. And anyway, do you really want to send the message that there are no qualified women?”

“Wow! You’re right. Thank you. We’re going to fix this.”

“Do that, and I’ll be happy to participate.”

Because a male is organizing the conference and a male is asking about the inclusion of women, this seems like a reasonable request to the organizer. I can unfortunately imagine all kinds of scenarios, however, where a woman mentions the fact that there are not many female participants and is criticized for suggesting that there may be some sort of bias at play. This also seems to invite tokenism or the claim that there “aren’t any qualified women.”

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I have always considered A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to be the holy trinity of Christmas specials. (While I later developed an appreciation for the other Rankin-Bass animated shows, I am steadfast in my belief that Frosty the Snowman is absolute shit.) Over the years my affinity for these specials, and Rudolph in particular, has been challenged by my knowledge of sociology. This doesn’t stop me from watching it each year, but the sort of joy I receive from it now comes as much from mocking it as it does from nostalgia (and quite a bit more than the joy I receive from believing it is any sort of good storytelling). Here, then, are some semi-sociological thoughts (and questions) I had while re-watching Rudolph on TV the other night:

  • For having a very distinctive appearance himself, Santa sure isn’t very accepting of differences in appearance.
  • Based on the four food groups that Buddy discusses in Elf (Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corns, and Syrup), they really do need a dentist at the North Pole.
  • Other than Rudolph and Hermie, Clarice and Yukon Cornelius are about the only non-assholes in the entire movie.
  • Why doesn’t Yukon Cornelius’s tongue ever get stuck to his pick axe?
  • Which is worse for a kid, the threat of being eaten by an abominable snow monster, or whatever might happen on an iceberg with a strange man?
  • My favorite gender stereotyped line, spoken by Donner when Rudolph’s mother (a.k.a. “Mrs. Donner”) and Clarice want to help him find Rudolph: “No, this is man’s work!” They show their respect for his wishes by waiting a few minutes before setting out on their own.
  • On the Island of Misfit Toys, what is wrong with the girl and the scooter? Some have speculated that the girl has emotional issues. She does smile a lot and cry a lot. Maybe she is manic depressive. Some are apparently misfits on the outside, some are misfits on the inside.
  • Given the talking toys, do Rudolph and Toy Story exist in the same universe?
  • When everybody thinks that Yukon Cornelius has died, this only reinforces the belief in gender stereotypes. As Sam the snowman says, “Well, they are all very sad about the loss of their friend, but they realize that the best thing to do is to get the women back to Christmas Town.”
  • Has anybody watching Rudolph ever actually been sad about the supposed death of Yukon Cornelius? I doubt it. Regardless, he is believed to be dead for less than a minute of screen time, so the sadness wouldn’t last long.
  • Santa gains a lot of weight very quickly. That can’t be healthy.
  • To all of the kids who have wondered how Santa gets down their chimneys, the answer is that HE DOESN’T! The toys are delivered via umbrella and then eat the cookies themselves. (Do toys eat?) The ends of the umbrellas must also double as lock-picks for houses without chimneys.
  • Where I grew up, Rudolph went down in history like Columbus, not George Washington, Abe Lincoln, or whatever historical figure people put into the song where you lived.

What can we take away from all of this? Rudolph lives in a world of bigoted, sexist assholes. They hate him until they need him to help them out. In this way, Santa is like the captain of the football team who bullies the smart kids in school until he needs help with his math homework. I wonder how Rudolph was treated when they didn’t need his help to get through a terrible storm…

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Women’s roles have changed a great deal in the past 50 years while men’s, well, haven’t. Women are attending college and getting jobs in ever-increasing numbers, even if they don’t get paid the same amount as men once they get those jobs. On top of all of this, there has been a decline in the number of men who want to get married. Why? Because women! At least that’s the argument that Suzanne Venker makes in a Fox News opinion post. Apparently, a few men she knows claim that they don’t want to get married because “Women aren’t women anymore.” She writes:

Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.

It’s all so unfortunate – for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.

It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life. The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.

So if men today are slackers, and if they’re retreating from marriage en masse, women should look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played to bring about this transformation.

Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

To summarize, women have gained equality with men, who have done nothing to change the way they want to interact with women, but this equality is bad for women because no man wants to marry a woman who is equal! Hanna Rosin, the author Venker criticizes, responds at Slate, stating:
Unfortunately, Venker is somewhat enigmatic about how to reverse this problem, beyond a few vague clues. Women, she says, “have the power to turn everything around” (Duh, of course, we have ALL the power). “All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.” Surrender to my femininity. Surrender to my femininity. I get the general idea but what does it mean, like, in practice? Not wear pants so much? Let my hair grow. Ask my boss to pay me a little less? Open to ideas.
Of course, since she is a working woman trying to knock men off of their pedestals when she should actually be raising a family, it is hard to believe that Venker came up with this idea on her own. As you can see below, it actually originated with noted gender scholar Archie Bunker in the 1970s:

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After several classroom conversations about gender roles, one of my students sent me a link to a news story about a nine-year-old named Sam Gordon who has been tearing up the competition on the football field. Unlike the highlight reels put together for a number of high school students, the purpose of this video wasn’t to draw the attention of college coaches. The purpose was to motivate Sam to focus on doing well on each play, as Sam’s dad notes in the linked article. Why is this news? Sam is a girl.

In terms of gender roles, the video, in which Sam runs past opposing players but also gets tackled by, and tackles, them, is interesting. Sam’s dad has apparently taken the video down, but here is another version with different music:

More interesting to me than the gender roles depicted in the video, though, are the gender roles depicted in responses to it. The Yahoo article that I linked to includes several asides asking whether it is appropriate for a girl to play with boys. For example, see the following paragraph:

It may be real, but is it appropriate? This is a 9-year-old girl playing against bigger, stronger boys. She even had a trainer who put her through agility drills and plyometrics. Gordon is not even 60 pounds, and there’s a kid on her team who weighs more than 150. (His nickname: Tank.) In an era of concussions and frequent ACL tears, it’s fair to ask: What are the adults thinking?

It is well known, of course, that only girls can be injured playing contact sports.

Another highlight is this sentence: “A lot of people won’t accept a 9-year-old girl playing tackle football, and perhaps with good reason. But it seems Sam loves it.” In the video below, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith unequivocally states that girls should not be playing football because it might make boys hit them outside of the game, somehow. Another commentator talks about his daughter playing football as a sophomore in high school and lasting three games before hurting her shoulder.

Christian Fuaria says that he wants his daughters to be able to play sports as long as they are watched over by the right kind of coaches (probably men) and as long as they are young (because it is cute when they are kids). The Memoirs of a SLACer Award for Excellence in Masculinity, though, goes to the commentator who asks whether it is fair to boys to have to play with girls since they are conditioned from a young age not to hit girls, giving girls an unfair advantage. Just like all of those advantages they have in the workplace.

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When Dora isn’t exploring the kitchen, she apparently likes to dress up. She was recently spotted by paparazzi stepping out in a flower girl outfit, which is no surprise given her recent collection aimed at dressing up for the red carpet. I still liked her better when she was an explora!

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Modern Family may be the best family comedy since Arrested Development, but last week’s episode, entitled “Good Cop Bad Dog,” reinforced some family roles that were anything but modern.  The episode centered on each of the six adult leads trying to break out of their normal roles to varying degrees.  At the heart of these adults were Phil and Claire, who were shown at the beginning of the episode taking on their normal roles.  Claire, the stay-at-home mom, was disciplining the children while Phil was attempting to keep things light.  Phil, it seems, gets to do all of the fun things with the kids while Claire is forced to be the serious parent who keeps their household running smoothly.  Understandably, Claire was not satisfied with this arrangement.

As a result of Claire’s dissatisfaction, Phil and Claire spent the majority of the episode outside of their normal roles.  Claire took their son and nephew on the go karting outing that Phil had planned and Phil stayed home with the daughters to ensure that their chores were done appropriately.  Both found it difficult to succeed outside of their normal roles.  On this point it is interesting to compare the behavior of these parents to the behavior that television parents would likely expect from their children.  Countless hours of TV have been devoted to parents encouraging their children not to give up on things that they are not immediately good at.  When Claire and Phil were not immediately good at stepping outside of their normal roles, however, they concluded that they should stick to what they know, allowing Phil to return to being the “fun dad” while Claire returned to being the “nagging mom.”

Obviously, television comedies are not necessarily going to be realistic (there was certainly nothing realistic about Arrested Development‘s Bluth family), but for a show entitled Modern Family that includes a same-sex couple with an adopted daughter, I don’t think that a little realism would be too much to ask.  The disconnect between the show’s title and its gender roles are particularly evident in light of a recent New York Magazine article written by Roseanne Barr, creator and star of Roseanne, a show that expertly blended realism with humor for most of its run.  Barr’s article focuses on the difficulty she had finding others to help her maintain that blend.  As a result of these efforts, she states:

I honestly think Roseanne is even more ahead of its time today, when Americans are, to use a technical term from classical economics, screwed. We had our fun; it was a sitcom. But it also wasn’t The Brady Bunch; the kids were wiseasses, and so were the parents. I and the mostly great writers in charge of crafting the show ­every week never forgot that we needed to make people laugh, but the struggle to survive, and to break taboos, was equally important. And that was my goal from the beginning.

It is clear from the article that the battles Barr fought to break those taboos took their toll.  This might be easier to accept if those taboos remained broken over 20 years later.

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