Thursday, December 15, 2005

Email Exchange: Inequities of the Sexes

[TBOs Note: I don't want to make a habit of posting email exchanges on this blog, but this one ended up being somewhat...well, you tell me.

It started by reading this: Cary Tennis' Advice Column on Salon (say it with me: Get the day pass!)

Which lead to a couple of emails and then I get this from co-worker, K:]


Well, maybe we *are* pissed off. (Women in general, I mean.) And you know what? Who can blame us?

Sorry, TBO, but it really can suck being a woman right now. You gotta be feminine, but you gotta be tough enough to do the same work as a man (for which you get paid less).

If you are straight and in a realtionship you probably work "the second shift"(particularly true if you have kids - men are notorious for either bailing or doing only up to about 25% of the work).

You're constantly reminded that it would be really great if you looked like a member of The Swedish Bikini Team (and I used that example wittingly*), and are bombarded with media messages that tell you that you can never be thin enough or pretty enough or flirty enough or femmy enough, while men get the
corresponding message that they can look like Kevin James of "King of Queens" and still flaunt a "No Fat Chicks" T-shirt with impunity.

While men get shows like "The Man Show" catering to their slobby need to slaver over nubile chickies bouncing on trampolines, women have to put up with soft-focus crap on The Hallmark Channel and are made to feel that if they aren't coy and adorable about their sexuality, they'll scare off vagina dentata-averse men.

Meanwhile, little girls are being sexualized at an ever younger and younger age.... Bratz, belly T-shirts for 8-year-olds, teeny girls in high heels and fingernail polish...



OF COURSE you're pissed off, you don't even know how well I can grok that.

I can even comprehend making gender bashing jokes as a means of release; even though you're essentially sinking to their level, and ultimately, what good does it do in the search for both equality and mutual respect?

In regards to why it sucks to be a woman right now, a few things:

1) It ain't entirely rosey on this side of the gender garden either.

2) Quite nearly all of the things you cite are external, which means you have some control over how it impacts your life.

The examples you give are all quite valid (except one, which I'll get to), but they are also, for the most part, easily adaptable if women decided to do something about it beyond kvetching to each other.

I mean, yes, men have the Man Show (a dubious honor at best, girls on trampolines notwithstanding), but if you're tired of the soft-focus crap on the Hallmark channel, a) don't watch the Hallmark channel (Hello!), b) demand something that does suit your needs.

Write a letter to some programming department. Write to the WE or Oh! network, and tell them what you're looking for. They may have a better idea for what you want. Until I run a network, I'm not going to be able to do anything for you.

3) ...while men get the corresponding message that they can look like Kevin James of "King of Queens" and still flaunt a "No Fat Chicks" T-shirt with impunity.

All I'm going to say here is: Let's look at how well that works out for men who decide to follow those "messages."

Let's not. I can tell you right now: It doesn't. Their lives usually suck. Just because that message is out there, doesn't mean it's effective.

On a similar thread of thought, of all of the women I know and talk to and relate with on a regular basis, do you know who has had the most action in terms of men and sex?

You, K.

Which means that you don't have to look or belong to the goddamn Swedish Bikini Team to have a good time.**

Which means that any perceived pressure from society that these commercials represent is, at least, partially self-induced.

It also brings forth the question "do you really want to associate with men who think the Swedish Bikini Team are the shit?"

I mean, really.

4) Little girls are being sexualized at an ever younger and younger age...Bratz, belly T-shirts for 8-year-olds, teeny girls in highheels and fingernail polish...

Q: Where are the moms?

A: Purchasing said items for their daughters.


*K is of Danish heritage.

**K does not look like a member of the SBT, but is quite a looker in her own right. No, she's not Uma Thurman, but maybe the pin-ups artists of the 40s & 50s have it right, and the world looks better when Marylin Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and curves rule the day. Maybe that's just me.


At 6:23 AM, Blogger patrice said...


here's the thing. women have been doing this for years, comparing their lives to the lives of me and saying how much harder it is. and men are always countering with the kinds of things you say.

the problem is, neither women nor men know what it's like, really, to be the opposite gender. well, some do, but they are faced with social issues all their own that I'd never want to deal with.

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine who was comparing passing a kidney stone the size of a beebee with having a baby. I've had a baby. he's passed a stone out of his penis. neither one of us is going to be able to compare to the other as he cannot have babies and I don't yet have a penis.

so where does that leave everyone? I don't think it's odd to want better things for yourself and to be mad about the status quo, but yes, turn off the hallmark channel for god's sake. but, seriously, writing to the networks so they'll make shows that suit you? seriously? think that'll work?

the essence of what you're saying seems to be that if you don't like something, change it. which I can totally get behind. and goes for men too. for everyone. but it's not always that easy and it's never usually quick. in the meantime, we're all gonna gripe about how shitty stuff is. c'est la vie.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger patrice said...

yeah, that first sentence? lives of MEN. lives of me indeed. everyone wants to be me.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

I'll pass on figuring out how to wrap a huge kitchen for my daughter...;^)

and please note that I said nothing about anything happening quickly, not about it being easy.

However, the actively doing something does more for progress than just sitting around and saying "didya ever notice" over and over again. Without MLK, black folk would still be living under Jim Crow rules, and that's the kind of drive that is needed in any attempt for equality until goals are met.

Do you see what I'm getting at? Maybe I'm fumbling over my own tongue.

The other thing I'm saying is "don't let the shit get you down." It's perfectly fine to get pissed off at the media messages, etc., but to let it affect your self-image, self-worth, the way you live is your own fault for listening and buying into it.

And yeah, I do think that by writing to programming departments an impact could be made. Not just
one person, but a movement of people. For an example, look at Moonlighting, a show that almost went off the air after 6 episodes until a letter writing campaign brought it back on.

Most broadcasting headquarters look at individual feedback in the following manner: 1 person who contacted = 10 more people who didn't. So if 1 person says "this stinks" there are 10 more who agree.

It's easier if the target wasn't a big conglomeration like ABC or HBO. But places like WE or Oh! (which may have combined by now); places that specialize in catering to a specific market are easier to infiltrate.

If a noticeable hit is created in that smaller niche, the bigger places take notice and start trying to emulate. (How many Sex & The City knockoffs are there? Friends? CSI?) So that eventually, the media landscape looks like you want it to look.

Somewhere in the last 30 years the power of the individual and the power of the people has been neutered. We need to reclaim that person by person.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Missuz J said...

My sister and I were having the conversation the other day that really, little girls are encouraged to do whatever they want--play wise at least. Barbies, trucks, dinosaurs, princesses, swords. Little boys, however, are discouraged from playing with dolls--dressing as princesses, or liking Strawberry Shortcake. I guess what I'm getting at is that I think, really, women have a lot more freedom to be whatever they want, while men are still socially stuck in smaller pigeon holes.

Now then--as for sexuality/apperance--yes, there are times when my extra 30-50 lbs make me feel like an unsexy blob--and yes, I have actually been told by men that if only I were a little thinner I'd be perfect--BUT the bottom line is, I've still never had any trouble finding it when I want it. Generally speaking, women have sex when they want to, and men have sex when they can.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

I've been interested in this thread for a few days, but have hesitated to say anything. Gender is an incredibly touchy subject, one in which individual opinions and observations are often cited as fact and personal anecdote colors all understanding. Statistics are inherently misleading. Guys like the beige and I, who may believe that the cultural impact of The King of Queens has been overstated, while still believing that, say, the wage gap requires correction, often find ourselves playing the middle . . . and as such defending positions we don't necessarily hold.

Missuz J, I think you do hit some things on the head, and I'm glad a woman brought the "sex when they want/sex when they can" matter up, because it just sounds like kvetching when men do it (footnote to you: show me the guy who told you that if only you were a little thinner you'd be perfect, and I'll show him a serious ass-whupping; we guys have to spend our lives, it seems, answering for punk-ass motherfuckers like that who are clearly a whole evolutionary step behind the rest of us).

A few thoughts:

I think the Salon article for which we were provided a link brings up the most important point; namely, that we use gender to give our microcosmic experiences macrocosmic weight. We want to say that things happen to us because of the patriarchy, or because women are angry all the time, or because gender relationships are the worst they've ever been, or because men are allowed to be fat slobs while women have to look like supermodels. We want to imagine that all miscommunication, all personal feelings of inadequacy, are functions of broad social phenomena that can be changed through education or political action. To imagine otherwise is to embrace the truly unacceptable prospect that life simply sucks sometimes, or that maybe I as an individual am simply not as cute/witty/fascinating as I'd hoped to be, and/or that some of these things either can't be changed or can only be changed internally.

This is NOT, I'd like to emphasize, to discount concerns about REAL inequities: The wage gap, family leave issues, the lack of decent roles in film or theatre for women over 40. It's not even to discount the problematic gender politics that boil under the surface in our media. But from where I'm sitting, the sexual arena is pretty ruthless to anyone who sets foot in it.

Who the hell watches The King of Queens, anyway? God. If that's what Americans are doing for entertainment these days, we've got bigger problems than slobs thinking they deserve to have sex with Swedish swimsuit models.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Hey--When do we get to discuss the INIQUITIES of the sexes? That sounds like a lot more fun.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Have I been misspelling it? Huh...

Let's check with good ol' MerrWebs...

oh...OH! yeah, that would be a hell of a lot more fun.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Yes, inequities was what you meant before; but iniquities, as you've just clarified, are much more interesting (inequity is the inevitable condition of things despite our best intentions; iniquity is where things get interesting . . . again, despite our best intentions).

At 4:16 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

It would probably be best if intentions actually had very little to do with iniquities.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

So, my friend JJ, a man, thinks I'm being to facile and dismissive in how I treat women's problems within this entry, and decided to "challenge" me by having me rewrite my response to K as though she were a minority. I'm assuming he meant black.

I could do that, in fact it is distressingly easy for me to do that. I'd change the media messages to "you need to dunk the ball, catch the ball or play the thug to make it out da hood." I'd include references to classic media distortions like Amos 'n' Andy through to homeboys in outer space. I'd compare the civil rights movement to the suffragette movement for inspiration. And the message would be the same: "you and your like-minded peers are the ones responsible for the change you want to see."

All of that is true in both instances.

So, I guess I'm in a quandary as to what, exactly, JJ is referring to, and I'm telling him to get the balls necessary to say whatever he wants to say in this forum...Just like everyone else did.

At 7:37 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

From your comment:
"you need to dunk the ball, catch the ball or play the thug to make it out da hood."

From your original post:
"Let's look at how well that works out for men who decide to follow those 'messages.' Let's not. I can tell you right now: It doesn't. Their lives usually suck. Just because that message is out there, doesn't mean it's effective."

See, I don't think you are quite on track with your understanding of "effective" here.

The forces (meaning as much systems as individuals) that craft those messages aren't trying to peddle ideologies that, if followed, will improve the followers life. They are advancing their own aims, and in that way the messages are effective.

An image-world in which women have to be foxy to get even couch potato average men supports the industries that market diets and drugs and makeup and fashion and more appearance-centric media. They don't care what the effect of the images are on women.

An image-world in which black kids are told their best options are sports and thuggery support sports celebrity marketing and hiphop marketing. And discourage the life choices that put minorities in the position to say "hey, this crap we are slinging is hurting our kids" and actually do somethign about it.

Can individuals see past these images and become the change they want to see?* Yes, of course, sure. But the very fact that those images are continuing to be peddled indicates that the mesages are effective.

Rich folks are rich because they sell shit people buy. And blaming the buyers ain't the answer.

We gotta burn the muthefucker down! Burn it down! Burn, baby, burn!

* - Give it up for the Mahatma.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

"Most broadcasting headquarters look at individual feedback in the following manner: 1 person who contacted = 10 more people who didn't. So if 1 person says "this stinks" there are 10 more who agree."

Actually, the general rule is that people are more likely to complain than praise, in about a ten-to-one ratio. You have to make ten people happy to get one "yay" but one disgruntled person is enough to say "boo."

Does this matter? I dunno. I'm getting drunk at work.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

This may come down to us watching different media, but I'll be less skeptical if, say, underappreciated (but well employed) John C. Reilly EVER plays someone who gets fucked (as opposed to someone on which someone's always fucking around). Sure, he got to marry Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl, but she fucked Jake Gyllenhaal, so dissatisfied was she with so un-Brad-Pitt-like a man. Sure, he was married to Renee Zellweger in Chicago, but he seems to have been cast to make it seem obvious why she would jump in the sack with the next beau-hunk that came along. Has Philip Seymour-Hoffman ever gotten the girl?

Yes, I'm sure you can come up with a dozen examples on the other end (although I won't acknowledge too many more examples from network television--outside of cable, Joss Whedon shows and J.J. Abrams shows, anyone who's paying that much attention is part of the problem, not part of the solution). And I could keep matching them, just to be contrarian, and because my pop-culture knowledge could exhaust Quentin Tarantino. There are, perhaps, more archetypes into which one may shoehorn the actor without matinee-idol looks, but they are archetypes, and most of them are there for our mockery. In fact, the one common thread among options for the less than preternaturally attractive actor is that they're supposed to be funny, trade wit and comic pathos for sex and sexibility (I'm certain that's not a word, but it sounded kinda cute . . . See? I'm not even funny in print); and don't get me started on what life looks like if you're neither devastatingly handsome nor even passably witty, 'cause I could sing you a whole concept album on the matter.

As someone who does tend to live life in the movies, I can assure you that living your life in the movies guarantees a perpetual self-esteem crisis. If, despite spending your life cultivating yourself like a bloody hothouse orchid, you still fail to possess Jet Li's nibleness, Clint Eastwood's steely resolve, Brad Pitt's washboard abs, Chow Yun Fat's mythic presence, Martin Donovan's dry brilliance, Jude Law's tiny figure and perfectly arched eyebrows, Bill Murray's note perfect deadpan or even Philip Seymour Hoffman's startling emotional transparency, you'll always see yourself coming up short, coming up . . . well, merely human. And it sucks. And maybe they're selling these images of perfection more often or more effectively than they are to men; I'll never truly know because they've sold it so well to me, and even the alternatives to perfect physical beauty that are available to men are things I seem to lack. I've bought into a myth up to which I cannot hope to live (they call that "preposition wrangling").

So let's step out of the fantasy for a while, folks (or change fantasies--people get to be old, ugly, fat, slow, ordinary and sometimes even a little boring in European films, and that goes for both genders), and worry about REAL inequity. For those of us who are--or have been--in the business of fantasy, we should do our part to write, produce, direct and patronize work that presents a more varied view of who we're supposed to be. For the rest of us (shit, which group do I even belong to?), we should take a look at what's REALLY happening, not what some dumb sitcom--or even a smart art-house noir flick--assures us is happening.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger JJisafool said...

"So let's step out of the fantasy for a while, folks ... and worry about REAL inequity."

Couple problems here, Ly.

Number one is you are preaching to the choir. The mass media works because it is for the masses, and we simply aren't the masses. Have you been out here in the provinces so long you've forgotten what life is like for people in the middle of the country? The people in my hometown live with a steady TV-IV drip, just as an example.

And B of all, making the separation between fantasy and real ain't so easy. You won't "fix" one without the other. Media studies are interesting to me precisely because mass media isn't the sum of the pieces of film and tv and text and whatnot, it is now an organism unto itself, a system which resists control in the same ways viruses do.

Check out the Media Ecology Association, pretty much anything McLuhan wrote, and I'll loan you Rushkoff's Media Virus. Because your appeals to stop mulling the images and get down to REAL business are falling on ears long deaf to such distinctions made too simply and out of hand.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

As someone who can't always separate the fictions from the truth they're intended to represent (by the best of the mediators, anyway), I realize the distinction isn't as simple as that. But art and media are (and, I think, should be) above all triumphs of the subjective. So if you have to "fix" the fantasy in order to fix the reality, the only way you're going to do that is get women and minorities in the gatekeeper positions in the media, get women and minorities writing, directing and producing the things we watch. And even then it's possible that a) they will only achieve such positions by selling out to the status quo and b) those that don't sell out will bring their own subjectivity to the table, hence creating a whole new set of unfair and unachievable standards, because all stories told implicitly either argue for or against certain kinds of behaviour. All the gender theory in the world won't change that.

Considering that you didn't even address the problematic nature of how men, as well as women, are portrayed in the media, nothing you say refutes the original point I think Jose was making (not that I would to speak for him just because I'm crashing at his virtual pad): These "images" women have to "endure" do not necessarily justify the sense of being put upon that sometimes dominates discussion of gender. Such things keep us thinking about gender instead of thinking about humanity.

And if it's really so much different and so much harder in the middle of the country, maybe they should avail themselves of the material that's just as available to them as to us, through the internet, the mail, the library, that allows them to see the world outside the network TV lens. I happen to know a lot of those people--many of whom are friends who are probably reading this debate right now--are smart enough to make such distinctions for themselves (I also happen to know that some of them have digital cable and are on Netflix, so it's tough to argue that they're somehow "stuck" with a different set of media options, despite the dearth of arthouse movie theatres in, say, Cedar City). It may be a little more work to keep cultural horizons broad in such an environment; but in the "provinces" (you mean coasts? cities?), we sacrifice a lot of time in exchange for the immediate availability of such alternative influences, so I'm pretty sure it balances out. In other words, we all have opportunity NOT to be "the masses" the way I think you understand it.

Lest we forget, I grew up in Montana. I probably watched LESS television there than I do now, and was introduced at a very early age to literature, philosophy, theatre, political science and jazz. And this was before the internet (or before any of us knew about it, anyway).

Finally, I do agree that there's a blurry line between media and reality; and as a long-time, and perhaps future, practitioner of media arts and sciences, I don't know that that's a bad thing. All of the art forms and journalistic principles that have converged into the various branches of modern media were designed from day one to exist symbiotically with the prosaic. I still think (hope?), however, that while they may occasionally function prescriptively in the microcosm, in the macro they're still more descriptive, reflecting some other urge, either primal or socioeconomic, intrinsic to us as a species.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

It's like I don't need to say anything anymore. Not that I mind. In the least.

The forces (meaning as much systems as individuals) that craft those messages aren't trying to peddle ideologies that, if followed, will improve the followers life. They are advancing their own aims, and in that way the messages are effective.

Yeah, and they'll remain effective as long as we allow them to be, chief. Pure and simple.

You're right, rich folks are rich because they sell shit people buy. Until people stop buying, that is. This is where the real power lies. So, yes! The buyer is exactly who you blame and who you try to change.

And if they're too deeply entrenched in the machine...wait, this was the R. Kelly trial episode of the Boondocks, so let me put it this way: I still side with Huey. Change the ones you can affect, and keep trying with those that aren't listening.

Beyond this, I love how this conversation has been taken over by two guys who think excessively and an upstart with an attitude.

Gives me an idea...

At 11:48 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Q: How does one recognize "excess" as it comes to thinking?

A: When you feel the need to contradict the guy whose position you're actually defending.


Who's the upstart with an attitude? Missuz J? Patrice? Or is JJ or myself both an excessive thinker and an attitudinal upstart?

And what of this "idea" it all gives you?

At 12:10 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

I think the excessive thinking bit is defined by the old "it takes one to know one" child's logic scheme. And in this way I describe you and JJ as "think too much" types.

So, that would make me the "upstart with attitude" due to my beige-ness. The mo' beige the mo' 'tude (or the mo' bettah, depending on the situation).

How would you two feel about a spout off? I'd mediate.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

nothing you say refutes the original point I think Jose was making

Yes, to everything within this paragraph.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

A spout off . . . interesting. Would you pick the topic?

I'm a little wary, 'cause I think he may be a touch more well-read than I (though that's a tough call). Still, on the right topic, the idea is enticing. Would we do it here, or on one of our blogs (as in "his" or "mine")?

At 3:05 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

the topic would be suggested by the readers, I would pick something deliciously juicy ("Male Contraceptives - Effective or Junk?"). And the place for the spouting would be on this blog, with the fall out taking place in the comments field.

I think JJ reads more of the contemporary stuff out there, where you have more of a broader influence...

It could be heaploads of fun, or a dud, but it's a chance I'm willing to take.

Gotta hear from the loudmouth, though.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Okay, after a day of thinking and shit, come up with this for JJ:

How do you propose to affect change, beyond "burning the motherfucker down?"

Especially considering that all we're doing is preaching to the choir and not the masses (according to you, at least)?

At 8:10 AM, Blogger JJisafool said...

I think youcan only affect change by making people better readers of the texts and narratives of their lives. You need to teach them to look for multiple explanations, verse them in media literacy.

It really isn't enough to just be able to read words in our culture. There is a new literacy.

So, when someone looks at Bratz dolls and sees sexualized images of children, I don't respond "Yes, but..." but rather "Yes, and..."

Like I said the other night, I think that the problems, the power dynamics, run so deep that the best this can do is glacial change. Hard to rally people behind that.

Really, I'd prefer to burn the motherfucker down. I'll settle for ripping down veils.

At least I'm not grabbing the veils from other people and waving them around saying "This is not the problem, people."


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