“Call Me An Illogical Woman”

 

Spock is the ideal image of masculine control over emotions.

That’s what Lieutenant Uhura told Spock to call her when she was making conversation with him. For those of you that haven’t witnessed the glory of any Star Trek incarnation, Spock is from a planet named Vulcan, in which its inhabitants look quite a lot like humans, but have purged their emotions. Spock is half human, half Vulcan, but as he explains to Lt. Uhura (4:46-6:18), it’s illogical to express concern over another crew member, because it wouldn’t change the outcome of the situation. Spock’s lack of concern is juxtaposed with Lt. Uhura’s phrasing that she “just might cry” if she hears the word “frequency” again. This exaggerated phrase of emotion confuses Spock and casts Uhura as illogical and emotional.

This emphasis on the logical decision making and disregard for emotion correlates with the article Individual Bodies, Collective State Interests by Orna Sasson-Levy. In the article, men in the Israeli military are controlled by the institution at large in many ways, including the expression of emotion. If a recruit is particularly upset or whiny, he is called a crybaby and mercilessly humiliated. It’s a man’s duty in the military, especially if in a combat unit, to be masculine. This masculinity is defined by their suppression of emotion and their logic. Spock is their poster boy.

In some cases in the Israeli military, it’s okay to show some emotion such as pride or camaraderie, but anything other than those basic patriotic feelings are strictly controlled by the military. To cry or to complain is to show weakness, and that weakness is associated with femininity. Since the military is a masculine institution, making weak or feminine displays is the fastest way to be picked on or kicked out.

The institutional emphasis the military places on control when training their troops is remarkably similar to the purging of emotions that the Vulcans underwent. In the Israeli military, it was a sign of power to have complete control over one’s body and emotions. Symbolically, the military men’s bodies were considered machinery rather than clay. Machine imagery is that of fortitude and inorganic properties. The military men’s minds and bodies were no longer necessarily their own flesh, but were the unfeeling, powerful tools of destruction. The ultimate masculine image.

While Star Trek isn’t portrayed as quite as masculine as the modern Israeli military is, there are strong hints to masculine and feminine qualities. Spock embodies the male ideal with his unwavering stoicism. The control Spock has over his own mind and body extends outward to represent his control over others, which is what many military and masculine men aspire to. On the other hand, Lt. Uhura is the perfect representative for femininity. She approaches Spock with a dramatic image of emotion such as crying, (even though she wasn’t actually crying the fact that she presents it is enough), and then she chastises Spock, almost like a mother would, for not feeling more for his fellow crew members. She even calls herself illogical (although sarcastically), all while she is literally under his command and wearing a tiny skirt, which shows her vulnerability.

As it was said in the article, any commentary on emotions is also a commentary on gender. Women are emotional and men are unfeeling, supposedly. Men in the military aspire to this Spock ideal, while seeing weakness in others, such as women, for having emotions. These ideas of masculinity and femininity are perpetuated by cultural artifacts such as T.V. shows, and also by institutions such as militaries. With such strong influences, it’s hard to see a time when our realities won’t be shaped by these exterior or far-removed circumstances.

Advertisements

The Increasing Isolation

The other day my roomies and I received an email from our landlord saying that the neighborhood association we live in received “several complaints” that our lawn was overgrown. My first reaction was that our lawn has looked much worse without a notice, and that half of our lawn was still parched and short from the drought we incurred this past summer. My second reaction however, was that this seemed to be a tool of passive aggressiveness for our neighbors. Wouldn’t we rather have had someone walk up to the house or leave us a personal letter, since they obviously live close by, than get a formal violation notice? It seems that all methods of interacting in modern society are becoming diminished or disappearing altogether.

Growing up with a dad that adores the great outdoors and his freedom to put his fishing boat wherever he wanted, I had never lived in a neighborhood association before I moved out of my parents’ for college. My mom tried to show my dad houses in neighborhoods to live in when we moved to Columbia back in 1999, but he gave a resounding disapproval every time, because of the horror stories he’s heard about neighborhood associations. Everything from legal threats regarding leaving your garage door open to bitter tension due to the number of times your dog barks. As a dog family with a head of the house who immensely enjoyed hunting, fishing, and all of the gadgets that go with it, there would be no question that we would be the unpopular ones in the neighborhood.

But why is it that having your Christmas lights up past New Year’s Day causes people get to the point of anger and frustration where they completely shut down traditional standards of communication? There are ways of being polite and dare I say neighborly (I dare) when asking someone to either shut their dog up or mow their lawn. But since the invention of the T.V. (yes, I know it gets blamed for everything) people have retreated into their homes, and have closed off their opportunities for meeting and becoming friends with new people. This isolationist attitude has made the once friendly neighborhood manners into more of a battle over property lines. Instead of asking people over for dinner sometime, neighbors stare with twitching eyes at the yards around them and wonder how long they can tolerate someone’s grass length, which is undoubtedly a result of their innate laziness.

With the isolation comes more assumptions, since no one is actually getting to know anyone, they’re left with blank slates when looking at a neighbor’s face. As psychology has told us, if we don’t identify with another, we’re more likely to attribute their flaws to an inner lacking, rather than to circumstantial or environmental causes. One hears a dog barking and they think the owner is too lazy or stupid to know how to train them. Another sees a large satellite dish on the top of their house and thinks they’re only good for watching T.V. and are unreasonably tacky or culturally unseasoned. These assumptions get more ingrained in people’s minds the more they stare at what bothers them. And as with suburban dwellers, they often take the same route to work everyday, past the same house on the corner that doesn’t seem to own a lawn mower.

So instead of a polite letter or discussion between two decent and reasonable human beings, we have threatening legal letters and passive aggressive signs left by piles of dog dookie telling their owner to pick it up pronto. (I have witnessed this in my current neighborhood several times.) This separation from other people lets out our ugly side. Which makes sense, because if they don’t personally witness you complaining, you can be however nasty as you want. The repercussions in the form of awkward discussions or ostracizing behavior from other neighbors kept people in check when they went to discuss problems with other human beings. Basically, we’re all cowards. Most of us don’t have the cajones to be a complete bitch in person. Our palms sweat, our eyes get shifty, we lose our confidence, and we can’t hold their gaze, all because when the bitch bomb you brought over drops, you see the reaction and suffer the consequences immediately. I call this the “Say It To My Face” Principle. Like I said, most of us find in-person confrontation to be nerve-wracking. But if the bitch bomb is dropped from say, an airplane, where the consequences are not immediately or ever experienced by you, it makes it a lot easier to say, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

How can this problem be solved, you ask? I personally think we should all put 20-foot tall fences around our residences and station artillery and other assorted weaponry around the perimeter for defensive purposes. (Or for an instance in which you just don’t like a bitch.) But this solution is not feasible for the long term. This trend toward solitude is amplifying in our younger generation. We now have many more gadgets to distract ourselves with. Instead of sitting and talking with a friend at lunch, each person browses the web, or sends texts to someone else on their phone, completely ignoring the present that they currently occupy. More and more people talk through short blurbs on Facebook and Twitter rather than have meaningful, lengthy conversations. So what the solution would be, by general logic, would be to reverse these trends. Communicate more in person, or at least on the phone, but only when you’re not enjoying another moment in the presence of a real live human being. Reach out to people that are unknown to you, strike up a conversation and get to know them. It’s much more rewarding than looking at their Facebook profile.

Us humans have quirks and body language, and all kinds of other tell-tale signs that map out our personality for others to see. All of these things are witnessed in-person, and pack much more impact than tweeting about what made us laugh that particular day. Just being open to meeting people and trying to understand who they are will help curb this segregation epidemic we have on our hands. So let me start by saying, Hai-lo, my name is Katie and I realize the irony in my typing this on a blog. Don’t be shy and say hey to me sometime, if you have the cajones.

When Do We Let The Kiddos In On It?

This is a question many parents struggle with, when to start telling their kids more about the adult world. Children are very impressionable, enough to the point that they mimic what they see without really realizing that they got it from some other source. As a three-year-old child I was told to “shut up” by my older brother; I then took it upon myself to stand in front of my six-foot-three father and tell him to “shub up, shub up now”, all because I heard someone else say it. If I’m that much like a parrot at that age, wouldn’t it be good to start telling me about the world I’m surrounded by?

One would think, but there’s this large countering force in the parenting community that believes in something called innocence. “They’re just children” and “let them have their childhood” are often slogans for this belief. While I think children cannot be held responsible for nearly as much as full grown adults are, I still think teaching at a young age is important. I’m not saying parenting is all about telling your children how fucked up the world is, but you have to give them more credit than what Disney gives them.

In the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly, critics of our venerated Walt Disney say the company actually teaches our children false stereotypes that are harmful to society. For instance, the female character is always portrayed as a fair and innocent creature, who gets through life with her beauty, but always needs to be saved by a man. This image of women has evolved slightly over the years, but sexist uniform portrayals of women have persisted into recent Disney movies. Mulan may have essentially won an entire war, but when she returned home to her family her feminine roles were still intact, meaning she better have a man, or she was a waste of a woman. Belle in Beauty and the Beast was treated terribly by the Beast. She was imprisoned, separated from her family and friends, and under constant verbal abuse. But as the movie progressed, she saw it as her duty to soften him. His outbursts were considered minor and were actually a sign of his inner tenderness, meant to be cured by a woman’s touch. In the documentary, children were interviewed after watching Beauty and the Beast. One little girl said it was Belle’s job to make the Beast a better person, to bring out the prince charming within. And she did as she was prescribed.

It’s become almost a joke, that “everyone knows Disney is racist and sexist.” But doesn’t this trouble people? Millions of kids are planted in front of these movies without any explanation afterward of the implications the screen gave them. This isn’t a “down with Disney” campaign, it’s simply a plea that parents take it upon themselves to explain the meanings behind the images. Instead of ignoring the fact that all of the main women characters in Disney movies are depicted as anatomically impossible, parents should have a talk with their children about why they’re depicted that way, and that it’s not a reality that women look like that or should look like that. Same goes for the racial slurs that run rampant in Disney movies. Explain to children why they’re there, and that they’re not fact, but stereotypes played upon to make children laugh. I think if they’re old enough to be conscious of what’s on TV, then they’re old enough to begin having these conversations.

As a child I watched Disney movies like crazy. I still adore Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, and Lion King. And one may say, “well you turned out alright”, first of all, thank you. Second of all: I’ve had plenty of education that let me in on the Disney point of view. I may not have had the explanations with each singular movie at the time, but my parents taught both my brother and I about stereotypes when we were at a fairly young age. An impressionable age, I might add. Without my parents’ good influence and the exposure to the cultural knowledge I amassed from my unique set of friends of high school courses, I may have been imprinted with the Disney rhetoric to a point of no return. And who’s to say I haven’t been imprinted at all? I still automatically view masculinity as essentially male, and femininity as essentially female. I have ideas of how different races sound and act without consciously thinking about it, and I’ve had the notion of female power being earned through sexuality pounded into my brain by much more than Disney movies. The only difference I can say is that when I make these automatic assumptions now I realize it and try to correct myself.

There’s not enough sheltering in the world a parent could provide that would keep their children from these stereotypes,barring hiding them in a closet for all eternity. But talking to them about what they’re exposed to, and most importantly why, is critical to ensuring a child becomes a culturally cognizant and responsible adult.  While it may seem like too much too soon, they’ll retroactively appreciate it when they reach the adult world. Children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit, and babying them does nothing but perpetuate harm and social ignorance.

The Not So Mystique-ness of Femininity

In our reading, Dude, You’re A Fag by Pascoe, she addressed mainly masculine roles in high school. But as Pascoe also showed, it’s important to address the feminine roles that coincide with the masculine ones.

At River High, men *cough, boys* act strikingly similar to the ones that I had the pleasure of acquaintance at my high school. They made themselves out to be more traditionally masculine in front of each other by purporting that they were lady killers, or as my dad would say, “hot shit.” It seemed each boy had a bigger ego than the last, claiming they were stronger, better, faster, and hotter than the rest. This attitude was repulsive to me, but I saw hordes of girls supporting this system of one-upping everyday. Pascoe also pointed this out saying she saw few girls stand up to the boys’ piggishness.

Not only did girls not stand up to the boys, but a lot of them encouraged it. Women have been shown examples of happy girls and women ever since they were children, and the happy ones always have a man. Think of every chick-flick and Disney princess movie you’ve seen. They also happen to be feminine in the traditional sense: smaller, weaker, more willing to please, and less independent. So while the boys are comparing six packs and “guns”, girls are figuring out how to rub one of their egos to the point that they’ll be interested. All so that they can be talked about crudely in the locker room.

Pascoe gave an example of this when she said that a boy and a girl were flirting in class. The girl would compliment the guy on how strong he was, and then point out how weak she was in comparison. This would reinforce his masculinity and her femininity, and essentially make him find her more attractive as a result.

This kind of behavior doesn’t stop when the teens graduate high school either. If anything, the behavior evolves into something slightly less juvenile such as tugging hair or pulling on clothing. Exhibit A: Woman enters bus wearing appropriate length shorts, sleeveless blouse, sunglasses, and two inch wedge sandals. There’s nowhere to sit, so woman stands and holds onto bars by the back door. Man sitting in front of her turns around and offers his seat, woman politely declines insisting she doesn’t mind standing. Man says he truly insists with a wry smile on his face, woman politely refuses again, insisting she doesn’t mind standing at all. Man looks crestfallen and turns around.

Yes, that woman was me. This happened a couple of days ago, and normally I would have just brushed it off, but I thought about it and wondered whether he would have insisted on giving up his seat to me if I were say a 160 lb. man wearing a t-shirt and cargo shorts. Probably not. It was because of his need to appear masculine that he offered a feminine seeming woman a seat. He did not necessarily do this out of politeness, but out of the need to be seen as a proper masculine hero. By giving up his seat, he was trying to show me, the weaker being, that he was willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of my own. Because he certainly could stand and support himself much easier than a little woman like me could have. Even if none of this crossed his mind, it’s what he’s been taught: see a frail creature such as a woman, and be a “man” and give her all the help she needs. It’s seen as sissy for a man to need to be comforted or helped, so of course sitting constitutes weakness and thus femininity. He would be all too eager to get rid of that identity.

By my refusing to let him demonstrate his masculinity, I emasculated him myself. In my insistence that I too could be strong not only physically by holding myself up, but also mentally by refusing his offer, I sent the message that I was not as weak as my appearance portrayed, or in other words, as feminine. This upset his idea of what was masculine and what was feminine. Thus the crestfallen face at my second refusal, when he knew I was serious.

These little occurrences add up and are learned by others around them. It certainly wasn’t mean of him to offer his seat to me, but the gesture reinforced stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that I didn’t want to abide by. The notion that women are mystical creatures meant to be protected by brawny, insensitive men is absurd. I’m no more mystical than my labrador, and most of my guy friends are less brawny than me, (and I’m no lumberjack.) Habits need to be taught young that break through the stereotypical barriers placed on boys and girls. Instead of separating them at every opportunity and telling them what’s normal for their sex, they should co-mingle and do whichever activities they’re drawn to. Only then can we have the ambition to end gender inequalities and/or misrepresentations in all aspects of life.

Expecting the Expectations

As a girl, I’ve noticed that standards have been held higher for me, whether rightly so or not. Often I’ve been told to be “a polite little girl” while boys were allowed to throw things and yell, and now that I’m in my twenties, I’m told by my mother to be “lady-like” when I either say crude things or bluntly state the obvious. But what really gets my goat is that I’m expected to have better grades than my male counterparts.

It’s been pounded into my head since childhood that girls age faster than boys, and sure, physically that’s true in most cases, but we’re really not all that different. I think when people place the expectation of being less mature or studious on boys, it makes them expect the same thing. Acting as somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if teachers and parents alike think the same thing about boys, they’ll be held to lower standards and not have the same consistent encouragement that the girls receive. I don’t know how many times in high school I heard a teacher say, “Boys will be boys,” followed by an eye roll. The male teachers seemed to empathize while the female teachers seemed to have given up on their gender altogether.

When my brother was in high school, my mumsy would offer to help with his homework and often demand he do it in front of her just so that he would get it done. While this may seem like she’s holding him to a higher standard, she actually wasn’t. While my brother toiled away at the kitchen table under my mother’s watchful eye, I was left to my own devices up in my room. I was expected to perform my homework tasks alone, because my parents believed I shouldn’t need help. When report cards rolled around, I usually had all A’s. But if a single B was on it, my parents scolded me and told me that I could do better. It was only after they admonished me for my B grade that they said they were proud. My brother on the other hand, would come home toting C’s and B’s, and even an occasional D. When this happened, my parents applauded his B’s as if they were perfect scores, and then they would say a C wasn’t so bad in a class such as that, but that he should study more. The rare D’s were just sighed at.

I remember asking my mumsy about this unfair judgement. She explained, “Katie, it’s different for your brother. Boys aren’t as serious about school work as girls. We push you because we know you have it in you.” I couldn’t believe that my supportive mother was implying that she and dad didn’t believe in my brother as much as they believed in me. I don’t think she would ever admit to it, and she may not have even known the implications of her speech, but there it was. I was the prodigal daughter because, well, I was the daughter.

I understood this concept better when I read an article called “Between a ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ Place”. In the article, the author said that “soft” characteristics, such as studying, paying attention in class, and sitting still are seen as feminine, and so boys often try not to be associated with them. Looking back I can definitely see at the middle school and junior high levels male students thinking it was cool to be aloof about class. Any male that broke this unspoken bro code was ridiculed, often by saying they were a teacher’s pet or an overachiever.

Girls and women are more often rewarded for their quiet virtue while boys and men are more often rewarded for being the ultra masculine, rebel archetype. I think it’s because of this division of accepted masculine and feminine characteristics that boys and girls have such noticeable gaps between their GPAs. Holding all students to equal standards is the only surefire way to see results. A kid needs someone to say to them what my mom said to me, “We push you because we know you have it in you.” What more assurance does one need?

“No Homo”

It’s a phrase often heard. But does adding, “no homo” at the end of sentence really clear up anything? It’s said as a disclaimer, to hopefully keep up someone’s reputation of being heterosexual if they’ve said something that could be viewed as homosexual by society. But what confuses me is how any one phrase apart from, “I’m homosexual”, could be taken to be a homosexual statement. As the Lonely Island song said, even a male complimenting a male friend could be construed as “homosexual” by their peers. And if the “no homo” disclaimer isn’t added at the end, it serves as evidence for that person’s supposed homosexuality.

This is a prime example of learned or interactional habits in society. By viewing stereotyped images of gay men and women, they become ingrained and somewhat solidified in the general public’s mind. When they next see behaviors they’ve only identified as homosexual, they assume, because that’s what is easy on the brain, that they too are homosexual. Thus the need for the new suffix “no homo”.

The Europeans did the same thing when they came upon a different culture in America. Many Native American tribes had practices that breached what the Europeans understood as gender roles. Many men in the tribes did what the white settlers believed to be the work of women and dressed similarly to their ideas of women. They even had sexual relations with other men in their tribe. But the Europeans didn’t bother to see the Native American point of view on gender. Many tribes had more genders than just the original male and female. Even if two people were of the same sex, they could be of different genders. Masculine female bodied and feminine male bodied people are examples of this. It was perfectly acceptable and even spiritually encouraging for members to partake in sexual relations with these other genders, even if they were of the same sex. In fact, having sex with a gender-variant individual had its perks: When it was considered taboo to have sex with a menstruating or pregnant woman, a gender variant could be a good substitute, it was exempt from punishment for extramarital affairs, and it was sometimes considered to bring good luck upon you if you slept with them.

Instead of learning more about the Native American cultures, the first Europeans to come across them assumed that their gender roles were fixed in what they believed to be homosexual. The Native Americans however, did not feel the need to say “no homo” or another equivalent after performing sodomy on someone of the same sex. It was their interactional learning that caused their children to be brought up as adults that understood that this was not a homosexual act. In many cases, being a gender variant was actually revered for its sacredness and spiritual power.

Blog at WordPress.com.