Monday, July 18, 2011

Stereotypes (Part One)

from here

Although I raved about Confessions from an Honest Wife by Sarah Zacharias Davis last week, the opening of the final chapter had me scoffing out loud, and it makes me crankier with each re-read. It says (on page 177):
One of the wise and insightful women I interviewed for this book remarked that men have only five needs. Yes, only five.

Lots of sex.
A supportive wife.
A tidy home.

Good food.

Well-behaved children.
While I can’t authoritatively speak to generalizations made about men, I think we’d all agree that women are not quite so simple. We’re fantastically complex. Mysterious.
I cannot believe that this survived (presumably) multiple readings by helpful friends and an editor to end up being included in the book! Particularly a book about marriage, and particularly a book about marriage in which many of the women share their struggles with the fact that marriage didn’t end up looking like they expected it to. Maybe – maybe – this is because they were told their “simple” husbands would have just five needs. On behalf of all men, I’m deeply offended by this paragraph.

I've been noticing gender stereotypes popping up in various places recently. Not long ago, a mother with three little girls gave my son a couple of books that they didn’t read anymore, one of which was called That’s Not My Truck (which is great, you should totally read it). Apparently she was going to find someone else to give That’s Not My Fairy and That’s Not My Dolly to, as these were deemed inappropriate for a boy. 

My physio stated last week, with a confidence belying the fact that he had absolutely no evidence to back up this claim, that female soccer players aren’t good at scoring goals because they always kick the ball with the inside of their foot.

Then there are all of the books on marriage and relationships that make so many generalisations about women and men that it ends up seeming as though we’re from two completely different planets (Mars and Venus, perhaps?): he needs sex, she needs conversation; he needs to be respected, she needs to be loved; he needs to earn the money, she needs to cook the dinner; he has only five needs, she’s “fantastically complex” and “mysterious”.

It’s possible these stereotypes bother me because I often find myself feeling sub-female for relating more to the “typically male” traits. I also hate the fact that these stereotypes are applied so inconsistently, particularly to kids: Why is it that little girls can read – even obsess! – about trucks without too many adults getting anxious, but a little boy reading about dolls (never mind carrying!) is another matter entirely? And why is it that there are people who tread so carefully when making generalisations about race or class, but launch into generalisations about gender as if these are completely acceptable?

I’m becoming convinced that these comments should be pointed out every time and labelled as sexist, and that we should be as wary of stereotyping others based on gender as we are of making generalisations about someone based on the colour of their skin, or their job, or the radio station they listen to. All I need now is the courage to speak up and point out sexism when I hear it, and the wisdom to weed out these stereotypes from my own thinking and speech.

P.S. Yes, Sarah, I'll admit that it's completely hypocritical to say all of this and still refuse to dress my son in pink.


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