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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Representing your gender

My boyfriend's stepmother is a caterer. She is really good, and to boot, she has no problem with taking busmen's holidays. Which meant that we got her to cook us one really good dinner while they were here this weekend. Since I like to cook and like to eat, I was only too happy to linger in the kitchen and "help". (Okay, I made salsa and my boyfriend made guacamole, but neither is especially hard.) My boyfriend wandered off into the living room to watch the Eagles game with his dad, leaving me and his stepmom alone in the kitchen.

After a few minutes, I joked, "Who'da thunk it? Never in my house did I think I'd see the women in the kitchen and the men watching football."

Naturally, everyone got all defensive and pointed out that there were overriding circumstances, which there were. For one thing, the women were cooking because they loved it and the men were watching football because it was the playoffs and because I only have a two-butt kitchen. Most importantly, you can't judge people by one action or one moment in time.

This is important because one of the weapons of the arsenal of sexists is to hyper-focus on a single woman behaving in a stereotypically female way in a moment in time, if it's negative all the better, and extrapolate male superiority due to it. That's the basic premise of this offensive commercial that feministing links to, that a single woman's inability to work a power drill makes her incapable of driving a car.

Watching that commercial, I cringed twice. Once because of how sexist it is, and a second time because I remembered all the times I did something clumsy and thereby inadvertantly proved the sexists "right". While in rhetoric it's easy to agree that flexibility in gender roles is the goal, in practice the pressure to prove a sexist society wrong about women can be overwhelming. There's this constant push to be a credit to your sex, and it can be quite taxing.

This has been a huge problem for me for a long time. I'm really clumsy, always have been. I can knock over a drink from across the room. I am also not so good with tools and I won't mow the lawn because my allergies make me bananas. These things taken together make me feel guilty, like I'm disproving my own theories that women aren't constrained by stereotypically feminine behavior.

Then I think of all the times that I haven't been what was expected and what a struggle that has been for me. Being good at math. Being aggressive. All the ways that I trespass on traditionally male territory in every small way from the fact that I'll look a man in the eye to my willingness to play DJ. It is hard so much of the time, when people treat you like you've overstepped a boundary.

The way we'll know that we have finally achieved our goals is when women don't feel like we have to stand in as a symbol of our sex as a whole, that our personal failings are a detriment to all women and that our personal successes are a credit to our sex.

15 Comments:

Blogger zuzu said...

That's the basic premise of this offensive commercial that feministing links to, that a single woman's inability to work a power drill makes her incapable of driving a car. Oh, yes. Snerk. My most recent power-drill experience was being emailed by my quite heterosexual, Manhattan-raised lover to bring over my power drill and help him mount his flat screen (turned out he needed more hardware than I had on me).

Plus, if I need serious tools, I ask the lesbians from the dog park who are in the process of restoring a tumbledown Victorian.

1/25/2005

 
Blogger rabbit said...

I always cringe when I see stuff like this, because I feel like for 90% of women who can't use power tools its because no one ever showed them how, because they're girls, and then they get made fun of for it. Like men are just born knowing what to do with a cordless drill or how to change oil or whatever...

Last summer I went to visit my cousins with my dad and sister, and my very industrious cousin was in the process of finishing some very ambitious steps to his brand new wrap-around deck (which is beautiful). My sister was inside hanging out with his wife, and my dad was helping. I felt like I ought to be helping with the deck because they needed it. I have never been so praised for doing the obvious thing in my life. It was like my family was AMAZED that I was able to use a circular saw and a power screwdriver.

1/26/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, remember that all women are naturally born knowing how to cook and clean and take care of babies naturally. So it all works out!

Seriously, it is a matter of being shown. I can work a power drill (I don't LIKE using one, mind you, but I COULD if I had to), but I sure as hell can't cook too great. Why, you ask? The person teaching me to cook "assumed" I already knew how because I had a vagina!

-Jennifer

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