Got a couple of things from the mail in recent weeks:
I apologize for the lateness on this one, but it’s a very interesting article on whether reality TV is really sexist, or just stupid:
Maybe reality TV just makes everyone look bad. Maybe the sterotypes pushed onward by these shows are no worse than the race and gender roles that the sitcoms before them upheld. But somehow I feel that beneath it all, there is a strong part of reality-TV culture that’s all about watching members of oppressed groups fall apart and make fools of themselves.
It’s really worth reading to see how Fellow-ette presents both sides of the argument before reaching this conclusion. In pop culture critiquing circles that focus on discrimination we often deal with the rationalization that it’s okay if a thing makes men look as stupid as women, or white people look as stupid as people of other races. Which is like saying a race was fair because everyone had the same finish line when they didn’t all have the same starting line. The more a group’s authority and autonomy are recognized, the more unassailable they are. White men have been stereotyped as dumb, brutish, immoral sleaze for decades, and it’s never stopped them from getting jobs, finding wives, attending the church of their choice or any other pursuit of life, liberty or happiness. (All stereotyping is ugly and wrong; I’m just saying it’s not all equal, and the power and autonomy held by the group being stereotyped is what makes it inequal.)
And this from SunlessNick:
There’s this radio show that usually plays in the shop I work in, where the (male) DJ takes song requests only from a certain category of people, decided every day. A couple of days ago, this was “people in uniform” – one woman called, saying she was a pharmacist – their uniforms are white, and the DJ’s immediate response was to wonder if they turn see-through in all the rain we’ve been having.
Would a female DJ have said that about a male pharmacist? Maybe, maybe not – but I doubt it would have had the same sense of being automatic – or of being, I don’t know how to phrase it, seen as key and defining, like a woman in white calls and *of course* the nation should wonder if her clothes are transparent.
As long as that kind of question isn’t answered the same way whether X is male or female – or the perceived significance of the answer or question isn’t the same – then asking it can’t be the same either.
This fits very well with Fellow-ette’s observations on reality TV. Mention a man’s clothes, and most of us think about what the clothes signify (even if they signify something that is, peripherally, sexy). A uniform on a man tells us he’s been through certain training and has certain duties. Beyond that we may stereotype in good or bad ways, but even the stereotypes are still about a person. For example we may think “military guy = bully/thug”. It’s a personality trait we’re projecting, for good or ill.
The DJ in Nick’s example is skipping the personality and going straight to the bod. He’s not lingering over what a pharmacist’s uniform might tell him about a woman (perhaps that she’s a caring health practitioner, or just someone who chose a job-safe major in college). No, he can’t even be bothered to stereotype, which is a terrifically sad point to have to make. He is literally stripping her of that uniform – of anything it might tell him about Her, The Human – to reduce her to what (virtually) all women have in common, no matter their careers, quests or personalities: a collection of female body parts.