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Posts Tagged ‘gender bias’

OnĀ  my run today, while thinking on the discussions about gender bias and expectations, I heard this by Ani Difranco (from 32 Flavors).

And God help you if you are an ugly girl
Course too pretty is also your doom
Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
For the prettiest girl in the room
And God help you if you are a phoenix
And you dare to rise up from the ash
A thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
While you are just flying past

Ani Difranco is quite an inspiring woman. She turned her back on the big record labels because they wouldn’t give her creative control, and founded her own record company, Righteous Records (now Righteous Babe Records) with just $50. I admire her for the way she believed in herself, and for her courage in living a life of her own choosing, critics be damned.

Those particular lyrics speak to me, because they’re about the way women in particular are judged, often by other women. It’s bad to be ugly, but it’s just as bad to be “too” pretty (or for that matter, too opinionated, too smart, too successful, even too “perfect”). Only somewhere in the middle are we safe, because that way we’re no threat. Can’t be calling attention to ourselves now, can we?

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A male friend of mind said to me that he understood what I was saying in my post about having lost my voice, but he disagreed about the whole gender thing. He thinks that it is just as common for men in our culture to change from feisty to meek as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, and that we’re all taught to keep our opinions to ourselves in order to keep the peace.

I still think that it’s more acceptable in society, and probably in many families, for men to have dissenting opinions, and that it’s easier for men to be leaders without the fear of being called any number of the derogatory adjectives usually reserved for strong women that I bolded in my last post. He brought up Margaret Thatcher, and reminded me of some of the shark-like female lawyers that I’ve had a chance to meet recently.

I had to agree that there are examples of strong women in our culture, and that there are more of them in public positions than there were even fifty years ago, but I still think that there is a cultural bias regarding the expectations for behaviour based on gender. I think that even if a man was called a ballbreaker, he would take that as a compliment, because it conforms to the masculine stereotype of men as being powerful, whereas women would be more likely to feel shamed, because women are still “meant” to be kind, conciliatory, and gentle.

He says I’m full of s**t, and while that may have been the case a few decades ago, it isn’t true today.

Any opinions?

What has your experience been?

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I don’t know what the book is about, but I love the title, love that my boy is engrossed in it, and love that he thinks it’s the best book ever. I love that he sews, cooks, cleans, and plays dolls with his sister. I love that he doesn’t yet relegate jobs into gender categories and that he’s perfectly comfortable holding my hand in public. He’s a scabby kneed, scruffy headed, roller blading, bike-riding, stick wielding nine-year old boy who doesn’t own one pair of pants that aren’t torn to shreds but he still sometimes crawls onto my lap at dinner parties. He hasn’t yet learned to think that some emotions are “girly” and to be avoided, and wouldn’t think it strange to hold the hand of a friend. He has a capable mother, strong sisters, and has been raised in somewhat of a protective bubble in that he has had limited access to TV, and a much smaller dose of the still prevalent gender bias that inundates our pop culture than many kids his age. He does the things he likes to do, and doesn’t have to deal with the peer group pressures that many boys have to contend with. I don’t think he’s ever heard anyone tell him to “be tough”, to “act like a man”, to not cry, or to not “be a girl”.

I’ve said in previous posts like this one, this one, and this one, that there are gender differences, and that boys definitely do have different interests, as a group, than girls, but I don’t think that it’s necessary or biologically determined for boys to think of girls as less capable than boys or for boys to innately feel ashamed of emotions that our culture has deemed feminine. Those things are learned, and with effort, maybe we adults can protect our boys from internalizing those opinions until they are old enough to think critically.

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