Friday, January 30, 2009

Gender roles? what gender roles?

I was reading Brittany's blog and her post about her little brother, I'm sure that most kids in his place would've turned out about the same. That is, spoiled by the older and wiser sisters, and perhaps less in touch with their father. Much more likely to be forgiving and introspective, perhaps. I know a little how he feels, in part because I've four girls. My daughters look to me to shop for matching outfits and have developed their tastes in shoes springboarding from my own. Unlikely as it may appear, I fix my girls hair, and I mean curl, wave & straighten, am picky about product on their manes (all wear their hair long), shop for their clothes and pick their shoes. Oh, and for my wife too. I admit to this only because marriage and fatherhood have a way of blunting the sharp edges I once sported with such pride. I remember my wife asking me all sort of details about our wedding reception and I repeating in a monotone "I don't care". Well, a few years later, I had to care. All because of continued exposure to people MUCH more honest with their feelings than I am with my own. I doubt that being able to apply makeup on my girls, or get an outfit together, or being able to answer the pleading "how do I look, daddy" with honesty instead of an automated "fine, dear, you look fine" makes me less of a man.
Incidentally I do own a couple of pink shirts, and I wear them regularly. Oh, and I started having kids never having changed an infant, I'm a regular diaper changing robot now, capable of heroic and stomach churning efficiency...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dreamworlds, by Sut Jhally

Dreamworlds 3 deals with more of the same vibe we saw in the previous lecture, Tough Guise. Here's another angle to the tail wagging the dog metaphor that the media dangles for our consumption. Disclaimer here, I don't watch this stuff, mostly because I'm not into music, as a result I don't find a lot of appeal in videos. My entire iTunes library across 15 years' worth of collected hard drives is right around 10 or 11 gigs. I know, pathetic. My mother in law has more music in her ipod. I don't own an ipod, just my kids and wife. Sad, huh.
But still, and back to the point the media shapes our culture, much like language speaks us, and we not it, necessarily. Particularly effective is the visual forms of media, like these music videos that are glimpsed in Sut Jhally's piece.

Tough Guise linked

Just stumbled upon this bit here
The part that stayed with me after that screening was the repeated use of the words independent, tough, muscular, physical which seemed, dunno, aspirational perhaps, coming from the survey subjects. I remember my time in basic training in the military, it was loaded with that stuff. My drill instructor used all manner of put downs to shame the trainees into compliance. This was effective to some degree, and created an atmosphere of artificial toughness, posturing, really. I sure remember the crying that went on after the lights went out, and the cycle reset for the next training day. The message that most of us kids got was that to succeed, you had to let the weak people drown in their distress, and that if you could learn to keep yourself cool and detached from the drama around you, you could make it.
Be tough. be muscular, be physical. Now lets clarify here. This was the enlisted perspective. But still. My nephew in the Timpview HS football team was in pretty much the same environment. He was under pressure to bulk up, to be respected and to let others know that he was a big kid now.
To some degree we live insulated from this "tough guy" mind set in Utah County. But it can be seen here and there. I've a daughter that plays HS basketball in a league that includes not only her charter HS, but other, um, 'independent' high schools. The girls she plays against use abusive language because it demoralizes the opponent. They are physical, because it intimidates the other girls. They fall and get hurt and don't cry, because they're tough. See the pattern here?
Socioeconomic factors play into this. Poor kids may have on the average a rougher environment, than nice, smiley mormon kids with perfect families and more money. So in that context maybe appearing extra-intimidating may compensate for the insecurity felt. There was one girl that face-grabbed my daughter and threw her to the ground. Foul was called, two points for my girl's team.
What is toughness then, a posture? or is it what damage you can inflict to others?. My girl was, I think the tougher one. She didn't take it personally and played focused and didn't take revenge. So was the other girl manly in fouling her, or was my daughter manlier in taking it and keeping her game focused?.
What is that anyway, manly. I want my boys to be manly, for sure. But does it mean they should pummel others to be respected, or tease/harass girls? Does it mean to not show emotions like hurt, joy, fear and compassion? Am I manly?. How about my daughters, then. I've one that is somewhat empathetic to others, another one that wants to change into a princess costume from her dress-up chest all the time. One that's not into math, but very much into animals. Another that wants to tease others at all costs. Which ones are womanly, do you think. The one that reads the New York Times? the little princess? the tease? the future vet?.
My point is that the rigid structuring of what makes a man and a woman distinguishable also takes away from the subtle shading of attributes that makes men and women complex, textured individuals. The idea that men could be afraid of their own traits that humanize them, and from this fear to try to shape an identity is laughable and perhaps too true.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I just read this, the #1 most read article in today's New York Times and I don't know what it means. But I feel disturbed.

Susan Douglas ch.3: Sex

For 1961 I thought "Splendor In The Grass" would be tame and sappy. Ok, so it is. The thing I instantly thought of is the Douglas vibe that movies like these, viewed by everyone in the age bracket, created the kind of preachy atmosphere that we, at present are unfamiliar with. Nobody that goes to the theater will mistake "Juno" ( a likeable teen grows-up movie) for preachy, or as a morality tale. For that matter, at the dollar movies the sampling runs pretty low on anything other that action flicks. The landscape has shifted from junk like Splendor (which got an Oscar, btw) to The Dark Knight, in the process dropping the morality tutorial and picking up, well, whatever you're able to glean from Batman (the proxy for goodness) and the Joker (the proxy for a devil) as icons of behavior.
Another one is " A Summer Place" that has a similarly repressive theme towards sex.
Now, before someone asks "what the h@#$ do we Mormons know about repression and sex? let me tell you. Mormons walk the razor's edge right into the Temple, and feel free to correct me if that is not the case.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Susan Douglas, part deux

The reading of the "Where The Girls Are" book for today is on Ch. 3, Sex and the Single Teenager. One observation that Douglas makes is especially astute:

"The other culprit in promoting the Sexual Revolution was, according to the magazines, the mass media", which emphasized the "gratification of sexual drives as natural and glamorous." What's so rich about this is that publishers and editors were hardly above using sex whenever possible to sell magazines, yet they acted as if they were above and apart from the media system they decried."

I chuckled instantly as I read that, thinking, this is exactly what any writer needs to point out, the lack of candor of others, when (in this case, a magazine editor) launches a pontificating diatribe on a subject such as this. Obviously the context of the above quote was a not so distant point in the past, when editorials routinely ran that decried the moral ruin of the nation.

But then again, there is the current state of things, when the very notion of holding a moral ethic based on religious beliefs triggers derision, knowing looks and chuckles as if it were a hopeless, simplistic and idiotic set of principles. Speak of reason and clinical research and you stand on solid ground. Shift into a statement of belief, such as the subject of a recent funding cut proposal and you tread soft and dangerous ground, instantly becoming a dart-magnet for those that see that stance as dated and lacking in common sense.

Insight into Susan Douglas' mind, and a perspective revealed

I started reading "Where the girls are" without any prior knowledge to Douglas and her work. I was pleasantly surprised with the fluidity of her prose, and how many of the arguments she makes resonate and mirror my own practices. In the reading for Jan 21, one passage was very effective and I must quote to give some context: "No one more powerfully or more regularly reaffirmed the importance of the doormat as a role model for little girls than Walt Disney." The preceding paragraph had gone in great detail as to the bipolar persona women had to adopt to harmonize the expectations of society (as far as the media portrayed it) of "...simultaneously, a narcissist and a masochist." (p27). This dichotomy is the subject of discussion in my family, as I have four daughters between the ages of three and fourteen. The constant struggle to help them define their own personalities, their perception of the world and how they in turn are perceived is like containing a radioactive spill!. There's a lot of undoing that goes on as soon as Enchanted, Cinderella, even Shrek or Peter Pan, even Pride and Prejudice finishes playing. The role of women in society, their expectations, are poisoned, I feel when these stereotypes go unchallenged and unexplained.