When I was little I knew that I loved women. At that age, I thought I knew a lot about women. I watched Golden Girls and Designing Women. I had a crush on Cindy Crawford and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I watched Pipi Longstockings fight pirates and He-Man’s sister She-Ra crush the evil Hordak and his minions. I knew that I loved my momma and grandmas. I knew to respect women based of what my parents taught me. As I grew up, I respected women as individuals and viewed them as equals in the workplace. I thought I knew the right things to say and the right way to act; but like most things in life, knowing what something actually is is usually plagued by our misinformation. Could this misinformation be a symptom of years of certain aspects of the media and pop culture failing us? Could negative gender stereotypes have been subliminally conditioning us to accept and misconstrue what we would ultimately believe?
The entertainment industry has came a long way since the days of the dimwitted damsel in
distress that must be saved from some sinister scoundrel by a plucky protagonist. Or have we? Gender stereotypes seem to be prevalent in almost every facet of the media and pop culture yet most of us overlook it. Despite the new Wonder Woman movie and her undeniably formidable addition to the Justice League…people still complain that her character is overly sexualized. Despite women playing pivotal roles in the world (examples like Joan of Arc, Marie Curie and even female astronaut Valentina Tereshkova); negative gender stereotypes will still pop up. Whenever we see an activity linked to a specific sex and the association that it subliminally constructs in our psyche alters our perception; then we are experiencing a gender stereotype.
In college I was an English major with a concentration in literature and a minor in creative writing with a concentration in poetry. This led to me taking a lot of classes where the texts that I would read forced me to venture outside of my comfort zone. That comfort zone was hit with a two-and-a-half ton nuclear bomb explosion of feminism when I walked into my Feminist Literature course at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. As I stated earlier, I knew that I loved women but the respect for women that was engrained in me since I was young would soon be questioned. Not so much questioned…but put in the midst of the nuclear blast. The first day of class, I held the not secured door for a short, young white woman whose thick dreadlocks fell atop her loose fitting flannel shirt. Her eyes squinted behind her thick framed glasses as I was met with a spitefully resounding, “I can get the door for myself.” So to not cause a fuss, I respectfully let go of the door and told her know that ‘I didn’t mean any disrespect; but it was just how I was raised’. I sat down in the circularly configured desks and I already decided that this class wasn’t for me. In an already very liberal minor, I decided that I didn’t want to deal with the confrontations that could occur from a man being in this class. Associate Professor “M” walked into class and we all began to say why we were taking it. I don’t remember what I exactly said but it sounded a little something like ‘I took this class to get a different perspective on literature and people’. I also began telling her (in front of my dreadlocked classmate) that I felt like my presence might make people uncomfortable because I had already had a negative altercation with a student. This explanation began a conversation which led to the instructor begging me to stay in the class to offer another perspective. Should I have been so brazen in our discussion? Probably not. Should she have reacted so negatively to my genuinely sincere gesture? In my opinion…no.
I learned a lot in that class and we had some amazing discussions. The instructor gained a lot of respect for me and one of the biggest things that I learned was that I knew absolutely NOTHING about women. The things that I thought I knew by my upbringing or the things that I viewed in the media/pop culture, whether positive or negative, did not reflect the reality that surrounded me. One of the biggest guides in my understanding of women was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. In this story, the narrator thinks that the wallpaper in her room symbolizes something and she must interpret it. She must internalize this because it impacts her and her alone. The story’s deeper meaning is that the wallpaper itself symbolizes the entrapment that encapsulates her in regards to her family, the medicine that is forced upon her, and the patriarchal traditions that she endures. By the end of the story, the narrator has stripped all of the pretty wallpaper off of the wall thusly ‘stripping’ herself from the bonds that have held her captive. Her husband faints when he walks in the room and sees her in her mental condition, thusly showing him in a moment of weakness THUSLY bridging the gap between he and his wife. The husband’s assumption of not only his authority but his superior knowledge dominates his wife. This dominance causes her to retreat into the obsession over the wallpaper. This book allowed me to question the mental constraints placed on women, viewed stereotypes that I never even thought about, and realized the seriousness of women’s rights (and also the seriousness of depression).
Women are men’s equals in regards to their intelligence and should be given every chance that is given to a man; but as men, we need to realize that sometimes a stereotype that we see on TV and/or the media does not perpetuate reality. Being a woman is tough. We as a society and a world have a lot of work to do. As long as women are still being viewed as sexual objects instead of our fellow employees…then we have a problem. If a women is being paid less for a job where she is doing the same exact thing as a man…then that is a problem.
Me opening a door for you however is not adding to your problems though. I know that you can open the door yourself but as a sign of respect to any human being; I’d want you to open the door for me as well. So like I always preach, we must learn to live together as a cohesive unit in this world. Women will come in all shapes and colors. We will have women as MMA fighters, astronauts, lawyers, or homemakers. We have to be diverse to make the world go around. Is everything going to be perfect? No way…because just like everything else in life; it’s not going to be exactly like it is on TV.
Featured Image: Housewife cartoon image by and attributed to JosephineRN28 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53894269