Tag: feminism

Perfection in Gender

A response to this.

Dear Inez,

Before I begin I should make the following very clear. I understand that you did not intend any offense and that your blog post was not a political statement or an assertion of concrete gender differences. You were very clear that everything you wrote was based on your own personal observations and musings and not informed by some agenda or scientific study. As such, you might regard my rather argumentative reply, driven by both my politics and my academic background, as misplaced.

However, no matter how tentatively and hypothetically your points were made, they undeniably boil down to the following:

  • Women tend to search for perfection in a romantic partner.
  • This is indicative of a lack of love for oneself.
  • A solution is for women to be more man-like in their attitudes towards love and perfection.

You were quite right in one respect, this most certainly would not go down well in feminism class. Despite your benign intentions you’ve expressed an attitude that, despite our best efforts as a society, is still endemic to many. Furthermore, it directly harms the eventual goal of gender equality. It is for this reason I feel compelled to respond, and hope to convince you of the above. After all, all hypotheses deserve a thorough investigation.

Let’s look at the first two points. It might surprise you to know that although I doubt their robustness I am not going to argue against them. In regards to these statements, my problem is with what you’ve left unsaid. Despite the fact that you’ve seen enough women searching desperately and futilely for perfection, presumably out of a deep dissatisfaction with themselves, at no point do you ask the question ‘why?’.

I hope to show you that this is a question of great importance and that not addressing it, especially when generalising about gender, is simply not enough. So, why is there such a marked disparity between the genders in the way they search for love? And why do many women lack self-love?

I take it that you don’t believe that these are traits inherent to the sexes. It would be a great disservice to all women to suggest that they are simply naturally predisposed to dislike themselves and seek out external validation, while men are happy to bob along merrily, choosing jobs, degrees and lovers for their own merits, secure in the knowledge that they themselves are perfect just the way they are.

But if nature isn’t to blame then there’s only one culprit left: nurture.

It should be obvious that there is a great divide in how the genders are portrayed in culture in general and the media in particular. From films to magazines to advertising, men are portrayed as confident and self-assured while women are offered a wide selection of methods to hide their imperfections. I could argue this point further but I think the following sketch from Mitchell and Webb says it best:

In any case, what’s more important than the mere existence of these stereotypes is knowing how they affect us. Many studies have shown time and time again that stereotypes affect our behaviour automatically unless we exercise careful and conscious control over them (Devine, 1989). This effect cares little for whether you’re a member of a marginalised group or not, or even whether you’re explicitly prejudiced. Whether you’re with them or against them or even if you are them: negative stereotypes affect your behaviour towards members of that group (Correll, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2002).

What’s worse and more pertinent is that they affect our attitudes towards ourselves. Simply being aware of a stereotype can affect your performance on tasks you are perfectly capable of (Schmader & Johns 2003). In regards to gender, even if they’re skilled at something, merely being told that women are generally worse is sometimes enough to make them defer to a man (Foschi, 2009).

Although admittedly, it might appear that nothing I’ve said has anything to do with love and perfection, consider the following: what are the prevalent stereotypes of gender when it comes to relationships? What about beauty and self-confidence? Below are two adverts from the same parent company, one for him, one for her. I’ll let them speak to this point.

Given these stereotypes, would it be terribly surprising if there were a trend among women to seek out perfection in their partners, or that men would be so laid back in their search? Further to this would it be terribly surprising that women lack confidence in a world that constantly tells them that they should?

Now, given this context, let’s look at your proposed solution. For every woman who is too picky and insecure when looking for a partner there is an option: try and act more like a man. On the surface this seems like a good solution. If your own stereotype is getting you down, why not just adopt someone else’s?

Unfortunately, it’s harder than you might think. As damaging as gender stereotypes may be to both men and women, stepping out of them can be even more so. Women who adopt stereotypically masculine traits (read ‘confident and decisive’) are actively discriminated against (Rudman, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Nauts, 2012). The very same traits that render a man more attractive in the eyes of others simply serve to make a woman less. Just for the sake of completion, it should be noted that the same applies men for feminine traits (Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Rudman, 2010), but honestly, the fact we have a monopoly on leadership qualities seems pretty indicative of who’s got it worse.

So, where does that leave us? Even if the women you see selfishly chasing after some unattainable notion of perfection in order to feel better about themselves were to rail against the societal conditioning that helped them down that path, if they were to stand up and act more ‘man-like’ for the sake of their own self-respect, it would actually be to their detriment in the eyes of their peers.

Does that mean they shouldn’t try? Of course not! They should rail away, stereotypes and society be damned! But the central point is this: blaming negative traits of your gender (or any group for that matter) on the individuals that make it is missing the point by a long margin. These maligned traits and behaviours are part of a wider problem that is up to all of us, women and men and everyone between, to fight against with every effort that we have. As long as confidence and decisiveness are seen as manly traits, and pickiness, perfection and self-hatred are seen as feminine traits, there is a serious infection at the heart of our culture.

It is that illness which should be at the centre of our focus, and not some passing observation that women should “man up”.

Thank you for your time.

References

Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2002). The police officer’s dilemma: using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1314–1329.

Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Foschi, M. (2009). Gender, performance level, and competence standards in task groups. Social Science Research, 38(2), 447–457.

Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Rudman, L. A. (2010). When men break the gender rules: Status incongruity and backlash against modest men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

Rudman, L. A., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 165–179.

Schmader, T., & Johns, M. (2003). Converging evidence that stereotype threat reduces working memory capacity. Journal of Personality and Social …, 85(3), 440–452.

Misogyny and Mass Murderers

I shall try to make this post as brief as possible and do my best not to be a hypocrite, though the latter will be quite difficult.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week a young man went out and shot a number of women. Since then he hasn’t left our screens. After the first round of coverage, we’d learned everything about the incident itself, courtesy of excessive news coverage by 24 hour stations, and everything about his madness, courtesy of his manifesto being published all over the web and his last YouTube video being played by every channel and website.

Then came the second round, the dissection of his motives by bloggers and news sites alike. This particular killer’s actions have been attributed to everything from misogyny, to lax gun laws to Hollywood (Judd Apatow films by the Washington Post, The Hunger Games by Rush Limbaugh).

I am not here to add to this discussion. I am here to ask that it stop. Any mention of this man’s name only elevates his infamy, making his actions more successful and inspiring others to follow in his path.

After every mass shooting, after every serial killing we go through the same three-ring circus. The first is a frenzy of voyeurism, where no blurred Facebook photo, no shaky home video of the killer is too mundane or obscure to be broadcast.

The second is an orgy of opinion, where every cause tries to claim the tragedy as a demonstration of the evils they see in society. The killer is held up as a poster boy, as either the monster the evils created or the victim of their influence.

The third is a quiet chorus that desperately asks that we not award the killer the fame he desired. It carefully goes through the undeniable evidence that our voices raised in horror and pity only serve to feed the cycle of infamy that will inevitably create the next monster.

What’s most tragic about this particular cycle is that this incident has been co-opted by causes I believe in. The #YesAllWomen campaign and feminist perspectives in general, advocates for stricter gun control and tireless advocates for the better understanding of mental illness have all weighed in and held up this man’s actions as a cause to rally behind.

I don’t doubt that for every blogger who’s only trying to promote themselves through controversy there are another five who are doing it out of genuine belief but the point remains that on many of these blogs, this man’s name is said, mostly shouted. His picture is in the header. His last video is embedded in the article.

It is these people I address when I say please, let him fade into obscurity. The causes you promote are important and worthwhile and don’t need this incident to draw attention to them. Don’t let your fervour lead to inspire the next killer and to contribute to the death of his victims.

There are better ways to promote better mental health than holding up a case like this. Feminism doesn’t need a misogynist to commit mass murder to validate its points when rape and domestic violence statistics exist. Even gun control advocates can let him become another number to bolster their cause, without having to show his face.

Let his name die and you might prevent another from taking his place.

© 2018 Michael Scoins