Reverse Gender Stereotypes at the Gym

I actually wrote a whole term paper on this exact topic last year. The rec center at my school had a section of cardio machines (treadmills, stairclimbers, etc.) and all the diagrams showing how to use those machines were women, while the diagrams on the machines in the weight room were men. On top of that, about 95% of the people using the cardio machines were women and about 95% of people in the weight room were men. Basically the thesis of my paper was that men and women are socialized to strive for different body types: men should be big and muscular, while women should be fit, but not too bulky.

This also reminded me of a situation a few months ago when I went to play ping pong at a local gym with my friend (a guy). When I walked in I realized not only was I the only girl there, but that my friend and I were the only ones under 50. I decided to shrug it off and try to enjoy myself anyway. However, as soon as I started playing, one of the men thought he would do me a favor by explaining to me how to play the game correctly. Ok….I’ll admit I’m not a table tennis prodigy, but I’ve played the game more than a few times in my life. And also, it’s fucking ping pong. Get over yourself.

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So this guy proceeded to talk his head off to me about all the rules and how I was holding the paddle wrong bla bla bla, and I was just trying to play but he wouldn’t let me. Then that guy had to leave, so I got to play with my friend who I had come with. No more than 2 minutes go by when ANOTHER guy comes up to me, gives me a disapproving look and says “you look like you need help.” I literally did not know how to react and didn’t want to be rude so I said “um….sure.” And he proceeded to explain to me everything I was doing wrong. In the end I had a pretty lame time, didn’t get to play any ping pong and left early. These dudes clearly all thought I was a delicate little lady who’d never played a sport in her life. That whole situation just made it more clear to me how laughable gender stereotypes can be sometimes when it comes sports. Even in a sport like ping pong (sorry, table tennis. They were very clear about there being a huge difference) a sport which has very little to do with muscle mass, I wasn’t taken seriously because I’m a girl. Oh, and my guy friend who I came with didn’t receive any “pointers” like I did, which he was actually kind of miffed about.

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Awesome Ladies #3: Carrie Brownstein

tumblr_m7grwwjuvM1qdde2go1_500 Carrie Brownstein is a musician, writer and actress.

She is most well known as the guitarist and vocalist of the band Sleater Kinney, and since 2010 has played in the band Wild Flag.

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For those not familiar with Carrie’s music, you may recognize her from IFC’s hilarious sketch comedy series Portlandia, which she co-created with Fred Armisen.

She also wrote a popular blog for NPR music called Monitor Mix, in which she wrote about everything from summer camp songs to why the 80’s weren’t actually that bad.

In 2006 Carrie earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s 25 Most Underrated Guitarists of All Time.

 

On being labeled as a “female musician”:

“I would consider myself a feminist. I really don’t understand how you couldn’t…I guess there’s a stigma attached to being a feminist or using that word. I think one is just a holdover from a time where it seemed anti-man or anti-fun, or just had this whole sort of overly academic, strident quality to it that is off-putting, you know and I think anything that’s overly academic is kind of alienating. It’s rare to have to embrace a word that has such a weight to it, you know it almost seems like you’re adding something that you don’t really want the responsibility of having. To call yourself a feminist all of a sudden you feel like ‘oh, do I have to know feminist theory? Do I have to understand what first, second and third wave feminism means? I don’t know what those things are necessarily, and I wasn’t a women’s studies major so I think there’s that part of it where you think ‘I don’t want the responsibility of calling myself this term.’ And the other part is thinking that it somehow is at odds with being female. That’s such a strange irony, how feminism and being a woman would somehow be at odds, but I think that some people feel that it is.”

So just to recap: Carrie Brownstein is a guitar-shredding, NPR blog-writing, hilarious and all-around awesome, badass chick.

And she can rock the heck out of some red lipstick:

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A few quick thoughts on Girls

So I finally got to watch the second episode of Girls after not being able to find it online and I have a few thoughts about it. First off, I should preface that I think it’s great that a young female writer/actress has one of the most talked about shows on television right now in an industry that’s been, and still is, predominantly run by men. I also think it’s great that Lena Dunham has a body type that is so common and normal in real life and pretty much non-existent in tv and film.

That said, this episode (“I get ideas”) left a bad taste in my mouth for a couple of reasons. I know that Hannah, the character Lena plays on the show is just that – a character. But I can’t help thinking a lot of the time when Hannah is speaking, it’s coming straight from Lena’s mind. Hannah is dating a guy name Sandy, who is black and a republican. The show got a lot of flack last season for not including any people of color and now the criticism is that Sandy, played by Donald Glover, is the token black guy. This is a valid criticism in my opinion, but at this point the show couldn’t really win either way so at least they’re trying I guess? Anyway, Hannah and Sandy get into an argument which leads to them talking about race and Hannah says the classic line, something to the effect of “I don’t see race” and “I don’t live in a world with divisions like that” to which Sandy replies “YOU DO!”

I’m pretty sure this is just the way Hannah’s character is and not a true reflection of what Lena Dunham actually thinks, but at the same time I wonder how much of it is Hannah and how much is Lena. Either way, I recognized so many people whom I’ve met and known in real life in Hannah’s “I don’t see race” spiel. Saying you don’t see race, especially when you are white and in a position of privilege, is failing to recognize the struggles that people of color have gone through and continue to go through. I haven’t seen following episodes but I hope this wasn’t just a one-and-done deal on the issue of race.

The other part of the show that rubbed me the wrong way was when Marnie tells Hannah she got a job as a hostess:

“A hostess?”

“Why are you saying it like that?”

“I’m not saying it any way, it’s just like…I don’t know, why?”

Again, I know this is Hannah the character talking, but just knowing the way Lena grew up (she attended St. Ann’s school in Brooklyn where the tuition for pre-school is, no joke, $27,000 dollars), I have a feeling she actually feels that a lot of jobs, jobs that plenty of people would be happy to have, are beneath her. Hannah was also unemployed, in New York City for that matter, for the majority of season 1 so clearly money isn’t really something she has to worry about.

I think these are all pretty standard issues that most critics have with the show, so I know I’m not saying anything new. I do enjoy watching it, despite my critiques. I think the important thing to remind myself is that in essence, the show focuses on a tiny minority of the population (i.e. rich white girls in New York), but it’s still an interesting and true-to-life representation of that particular group of people. Take it with a grain of salt.

Half the Sky – Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

I just learned about this amazing movement and organization called Half the Sky. It began as a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book tackles the issue of oppression of women and girls in developing countries. The message of the book is simple: when we help women, we are helping the world.

The book has also been turned into a 4-hour PBS series,

“the series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Their intimate, dramatic and immediate stories of struggle reflect viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offer an actionable blueprint for transformation.”

This serves as a huge reminder that gender equality worldwide is not just about women getting equal pay or defying gender roles – It’s about women and girls feeling empowered and being given opportunities in education. It’s about standing up to oppressive systems that promote objectification, sexualization and violence against women. it’s about women being treated as human beings.

 

Quvenzhané Wallis + The Oscars = Sexist/Racist Undertones

For those of you who don’t know, this is Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9 year old star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, for which she received a Best Actress nomination. She is a fireball of energy, an extremely talented actress for her age (hence the nomination) and wise beyond her years. Despite all this, much of the attention she’s been getting recently has had some disturbing and completely inappropriate sexist and racist undertones.

For starters, people are having a lot of difficulty trying to figure out how to pronounce her name. She spells it out in this video for everyone who hasn’t taken the time to figure it out themselves. It is still a fairly common and accepted practice to make light black men and women’s names (see: Top 60 Ghetto Black Names). There seems to be a very fine line between poking fun at a cultural practice and marginalizing someone because of their ethnicity or heritage. On the bright side, Quvenzhané is taking no guff from anyone about her name. In an interview about her upcoming role as ‘Annie’ an AP reporter said she was “Just going to call her Annie”. She responded, “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhane.” She’s proud of her name and she’s letting everyone know.

Unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t stop there for Ms. Wallis. Last night at the Oscar ceremony Seth Macfarlane who served as host made a joke about Quvenzhané’s age saying “She’s 9. To give you an idea of how young that is, in 16 years she’ll be too old for Clooney.” To be honest, at the time I didn’t think much of his joke, thinking it was more of a jab at George Clooney than anything. After reading numerous negative comments about this particular joke I realized that it’s a lot more problematic than it was perhaps meant to be. Black women have historically been over sexualized in this country and this joke was just a perpetuation of that process, not to mention that this girl is 9 years old. 

By far the worst media attention surrounding Quvenzhané is a tweet from the satirical news source The Onion. It read, “Everyone seems afraid to say it but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a c**t, right?” After a surge of outrage on Twitter, The Onion took the tweet down and quickly apologized via their Facebook page:

“It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting. No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire. The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.”

Yes, The Onion is satirical and not meant to be taken seriously. However, there is a huge difference between the intent of a joke and the impact it makes, especially when the joke is focused on someone who is part of a marginalized group. And again, maybe the tweet wouldn’t have been quite as offensive if it wasn’t directed at someone who’s still in elementary school.

A lot of people are responding to all of this controversy by saying that those who are offended “just can’t take a joke” and that it’s not a big deal. But it is a big deal. It’s a big deal to anyone who has ever been belittled or told that they were weird because their name isn’t “normal”. It’s a big deal to women, especially women of color, who have been told from a young age that their only attribute is their body, that their only hope of achieving anything lies in being hyper-sexualized.

This little girl does not deserve any of the disrespect she’s been shown recently. Luckily, she has a ton of support behind her, and honestly, she’s probably tough enough to handle all it all herself.

Valentines, Rings and Other Things

So yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I’m usually pretty apathetic about this particular holiday. I think it’s great in theory –  a day to show your affection for loved ones – but mostly what it does is build up a lot of unfair expectations for people in relationships, and causes a lot of resentment for those who are single.

I am in a relationship and have been for the past 5 years. We’re not big on gift giving or going on real “dates”, he never pays for my part of the bill and I like it this way. Our relationship is a friendship above all else, and I think that’s the way it should be. I don’t want to be treated differently or catered to just because I’m a girl.

That being said, yesterday I found myself getting angry at him because he didn’t get me anything for Valentines day – no flowers, no chocolate, no nothin’. I felt entitled and jealous of other girls who got flowers from their boyfriends. And then I stopped myself when I realized I didn’t do anything for him either. I didn’t get him a card or a gift and I didn’t even think twice about it. I didn’t feel like that was something that was expected of me, so why was I expecting it of him?

This is just another one of those gendered expectations that’s so engrained in our society that it’s rarely questioned. It’s just the way it is – guys are supposed to buy things for their girlfriends to win their hearts (or buy their hearts, I guess). And even people like me, who think most gender roles are socially constructed BS, get sucked into this Valentine’s trap of feeling shitty because a greeting card company told me I’m supposed to be showered with gifts in the middle of every February.

On a related note, here is a brief conversation I had tonight:

Guy: “I see both your ring fingers have rings on them.”

Me: “Yep. I bought them for myself.”

Guy: “Why would you want to by rings for yourself?”

Me: “I don’t know, why not?”

Guy: “No…that’s a man’s job to buy you rings.”

Me: “Well, the ‘man’ doesn’t have any money and I do so…”

I hate the idea of engagement rings. The tradition behind it is just so completely outdated. Essentially, a man spends a stupid amount of money on a piece of jewelry that signifies that his girlfriend is now “his”. I get that it’s more about commitment than ownership, but then why don’t men get engagement rings too (to be fair, sometimes they do. See: Cory Matthews)? And besides all that, the money that people spend on these things is ridiculous, not to mention the most popular/most expensive stone is fucking b o r i n g. It’s a clear rock. Have you guys never heard of turquoise? Or opal? Or literally any other gemstone that isn’t clear?

I guess this is my point, if I have one at all: there’s nothing inherently wrong about buying stuff for your significant other. There is a problem with girls expecting to be and paid for and given expensive rings just because they are girls. If you truly believe in equality for men and women, you cannot hold these kind of expectations.

In the Conversation About Gender Inequality, Men Must Be Included

Since the Superbowl this past sunday I’ve had a lot of thoughts running around in my mind regarding sexism and gender roles and what it means to be a man or a woman in our society. Mostly I’ve been angry and I’m not entirely sure who to be angry at. I watched the game with a small group in which I was the only female. I heard comments like “what a pussy” and “he’s gonna cry whether they win or lose, I don’t wanna see that.” I watched Beyonce’s halftime show, during which time almost all the guys left the room using it as a time to refill their drinks – it wasn’t the important part after all. They did see the end of halftime, during which they asked questions like “did her boob pop out?”

I drove home after the game feeling stressed and angry at the state of the world and it kept me up that night as I tried to fall asleep. It hasn’t stopped there either. Since then I’ve been hyper-aware (more than usual I should say) of the comments men make to one another regarding women. Having a group of friends comprised almost entirely of men makes me privy to a lot of commentary that I might not hear otherwise. Then again, I have to wonder if I’m hearing a watered-down version of what these guys would talk about if there wasn’t a girl present. And it’s not just men who are engaging in objectifying and sexualizing language in regards to women either; women are doing it too. I was involved in a conversation about why there were no longer cheerleaders at my former high school.

          “I heard one cheerleader gave every guy on the football team a blow job on the bus. That’s why there’s no cheerleading team anymore.”

“Remember that slut who was a freshman when we were seniors? She had sex in the locker room.”

I had a problem with this dialogue when it was happening, but it was only a day later that I realized just how biased and one-sided this conversation was. If the story about the cheerleader was true, why wasn’t she alone punished instead of the entire cheerleading squad? And for that matter, are we to assume that these football players had absolutely no say in the matter? Why weren’t they punished as well? Why wasn’t the football program scrapped along with the cheerleaders? Whether this story has any truth to it or not, for the guys on that football team it’s a funny story. For the girl, it’s a life sentence.

And then there’s the comment about the “slut” who had sex in the locker room. We have to assume that if she was having sex, there was probably a guy involved. But we don’t hear about him. He’s just a guy doing what guys do, and he happened to do it with a “slut”. Good for him. Those high school girls better be careful though, if they’re having sex with a guy who’s not their boyfriend, or if they’ve had a lot of boyfriends, or if they have sex at all, they’re at the risk of moving into “slutty” territory.

The thing is, we’ve heard this story before. We’ve heard it a thousand times – a man sleeps with a bunch of women, he’s a stud. A woman sleeps with a bunch of men and she’s a whore or a slut or easy or fast, etc. etc. We’ve all heard this before and I think most (too optimistic?) or at least a lot of people, men and women alike, agree that this is an unfair double standard. So why does it persist? I honestly don’t have the answer, but I hope that I can continue to make sense of it.

I think that a big part of the problem when it comes to addressing gender roles and double standards is that men are being left out of the equation. There’s a lot of talk about women’s liberation and what women and girls can do to be strong and independent and stand up to the patriarchy. This is all great, and I fully support it. The problem though, is that men are often left out of the conversation or scared away by words like “feminism” and “girl power”. Men aren’t being forced to look at at what what they can do to work towards gender equality because as far as they’re concerned, they’re comfortable and they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong.

Men, especially white men, are also vilified in a lot of feminist discourse. It’s not really any surprise that men then feel uncomfortable talking about issues like rape and domestic violence when the finger of blame is pointed directly at them. I have to admit, when I hear a guy say “But what about me? What about problems that I face as a man?” I don’t take him that seriously because the problems that he faces can’t possibly compare to the issues that plague me as a woman every single day. But this is not true, and this is not the attitude that will bridge the gap of gender inequality – it will only widen it. Boys grow up learning that to be a man means you must be strong and you must be competitive. They watch movies where men are heroes and being a hero means being violent and getting the girl. They learn to view women as both pretty objects for them to look at and a prize which they can win if they use all the right strategies. They learn that if a woman wears something revealing and is nice to you, that she owes you something, and if she is reluctant to have sex with you after she clearly gave the green light with her clothing choice and friendliness towards you, she’s a tease. They learn that if they don’t live up to this ideal of manhood, if they show emotion or don’t have enough sex, they are at the risk of being called a pussy or a faggot.

Men are taught all of these things growing up, whether it’s by their parents or the tv they watch or the kids they’re friends with at school. And when we hear statistics like 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, we shake our heads and wonder why it happens. But it doesn’t just happen, it is being done. And it’s being done by men who are taught that they can probably get away with it, or it’s ok because she’s a “slut” or she was “asking for it”.

Men need to be included in this conversation. They should be offended that other men get away with rape and sexual assault because it’s “in their nature” to do these things. They should be offended that advertisements see them only as meatheads who watch football and drool over blonde busty women. They should be offended by the fact that they cannot cry or show emotion at the risk of being called a pussy. I have seen the guys that I hang out with fulfill every stereotype of “manhood” in the book. I have heard them say sexist things and put on this act of manliness around their friends. But I also know that they are far more complicated than this and far more multifaceted than society would have us believe. I have seen them cry and I have had them talk to me about their feelings, about how they’re lonely or insecure – about how they are human beings just like me.

I know that there are deep rooted problems and mindsets that will not be changed overnight. There will always be people in the world, men and women alike, who believe that the way things have always been is how they should stay. I also know that if we’re going to change any of these problems it has to start with a conversation – a conversation in which men are invited to participate and given a chance examine the ways in which society has taught them to act.