"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thanks MSN, but I'd rather have a vacation from patriarchy.

Remember back before the Second Wave of feminism when classified ads were separated out into "Help Wanted Male" and "Help Wanted Female" sections? Back then, it was common knowledge to folks that certain activities were meant to be engaged in only by one sex or the other. These days, though, what with integrated want ads and co-ed gym classes and all, at least we can trust the folks over at msn.com to make it clear to us the difference betweeen men women. One of their headline stories for today is a pair of travel articles that let you view a list of either "Top Trips for the Guys" (featuring a picture of men skiing) or "Girls-Only Getaways" (with a photo of women relaxing at a spa). After getting the blatantly glaring (and somewhat redundant) message that men are active and women passive, I thought sure that the actual articles would not be so full of cliches about men and women. Boy was I wrong. They ended up being just another reminder of the way the mainstream media still treats gender - by severely limiting us all through rigid stereotypes.

The list of destinations for the guys seems harmless enough (unless you count the "topless bathing beauties" mentioned in the blurb about Euro vacations). The activities include all things adventurous and sporty, like surfing, mountain biking, fishing, and skiing, with special attention given to the wide array of delicious food and live music to be found at each of the vacation spots.

The list of female getaways comes out swinging with this fun little introduction:

Guys are great: Handy with a wrench, a football or a remote control, they can—every once in a while—swoop in and save the day. They often make excellent traveling companions as well, but they also can make for somewhat stressful ones. Who wants to be constantly re-evaluating your relationship while hiking through the Grand Canyon? Who likes to be hurried through the Dior boutique on the avenue Montaigne because someone wants to rush back to the hotel?

Although the only somewhat redeeming qaulity about that paragraph is the impliction that women might enjoy a hike through the Grand Canyon, most of the girls' vacation ideas revolve around relaxing at spas and going shopping. The article encourages us to "shed some pounds in London" by shopping 'til we drop, and those who are "tired of cooking the same old thing for dinner" can spend a week learning to cook gourmet meals in Tuscany. "Clearly the only difficulty here will be maintaining the same dress size after a week devouring the best this gorgeous region has to offer — so be sure to schedule the shopping for the end of your stay."

The list for gals is not entirely lacking ideas for outdoorsy activity, but the presentation it gets is a little different from that on the guys' list. In the men's article, surfing destinations are included with no disclaimer, but here's what they have to say to us girls:

Surfing: It seems so cool, so relaxing, so exciting — but also so terrifying. If this is your perspective, then surf camp may be all that remains between you and mastering the waves. Surf Diva Surfing School in La Jolla, Calif., offers five-day clinics for beginning and intermediate students looking to do more than manage standing up on their boards.

The last travel idea on the list for women takes the cake. Entreating us to "Do Good in Ghana", the article suggests a "volunteer vacation" where women pay $1,025 (not including airfare) to devote two weeks to charity work. Of course this has the potential to be a rewarding experience, but would this ever be presented to men as a great thing to do for an all-guy getaway? Isn't this just a reminder that women are expected to be caring and giving of their time and energy?

This pair of articles goes much deeper than a simple list of great places to visit. By placing vacation ideas into separate mens' and womens' categories, they reinforce the entrenched (and insulting) notion that men can be adventurously active without fear and enjoy food and drink without consequences, while women need relaxing escapes to passively lie around and be pampered - as long as they don't neglect to maintain their figures and their roles as consumers. Thanks, MSN, but I'd rather have a vacation from patriarchy.