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

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Options or Dangerous Double Standard?

My Women's Studies students always wanted to conclude that the fact that women are culturally freer to enjoy more "masculine" things (like sports, beer, and action movies) than men are to enjoy "feminine" things (like knitting, Twilight, and Lean Cuisine) means simply that women are advantaged and have more opportunities available to them. They didn't stop to think that perhaps things associated with women and femininity are so devalued that men are socially encouraged to avoid them at all costs, while activities associated with men are elevated such that it makes women seem "cooler" when they engage in them.

A good example of this is the ability of male comedians to get laughs by pretending to really like "feminine" things. I was reminded of this when watching a Daily Show episode from a couple weeks ago where Lewis Black expresses his disappointment in the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love for its inability to live up to the profound spirituality of the book and has the audience rolling with laughter at the notion that this heterosexual man would actually have any interest whatsoever in this feminine cultural phenomenon. (The video won't embed, but you can watch the segment here.)

Can you even imagine this scenario with the genders reversed? A female comedian waxing poetic about the latest Transformers movie with the audience laughing at the complete HILARITY at the idea that she might have enjoyed it? It would just come off as confusing.

Most women know from experience that showing off all the ways in which we like what "the boys" like can earn us a little bit of power, because it somehow gives us instant credibility if men know that we know all the rules in football or how to change a tire or whatnot. Growing up, I always felt like "one of the guys" for knowing my fair share about heavy metal music, video games, and Star Wars. I only regret that guys never expended nearly as much energy trying to impress me with their knowledge of anything "girly".