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

Friday, September 17, 2010

How is Gender at Work?

As you've probably figured out, it's hard for me to consume visual media without thinking about the ways in which gender is at work in what I'm seeing.

For example, yesterday, I watched an episode of Hoarders that followed the separate stories of a woman (Robin) and a man (Ken) with terrible hoarding problems that made their homes completely unlivable. The interesting difference between the two stories was that while Robin was facing the possibility that her home might be condemned and demolished, Ken was being threatened with six months of jail time as a consequence for the condition of his property.

Now, it's not like their situations were identical except for their gender. I wondered if maybe Ken faced incarceration because his yard was incredibly littered with junk, whereas Robin's problem was contained indoors, and one was just more visible and therefore violated more city ordinances or whatever, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that gender mattered in how these two cases were handled.

Whether or not that's true in this specific scenario, we do live in a culture that is quick to punish men through the criminal system and more reluctant to slap women with the same charges. (I should note that this is especially true of white women, and that women of color are often not afforded the luxury of appearing too "fragile" for prison.) In many situations, we assume men are acting rationally and therefore deserve punishment for their actions, and we are quicker to assume that women are mentally ill and in need of social services.

I'm not saying that we should be quicker to send women to jail or that we should stop punishing men who commit crimes, but it's important for us to think about how gender stereotypes act subtly on our social consciousness, affect our actions and reactions to people and events, and result in myriad inequalities.