Sunday, 31 May 2009

Gender Politics

I'm probably barking up the wrong tree with this, but I'm reading The Importance of Being Earnest, and a short while back I read The Great Gatsby, and I'm getting a similar picture from both about what seems to have been a Victorian feminine ideal.

I call it the witty idiot. It's an intelligent, presumably capable woman, trying very hard to pigeonhole herself into a position inappropriate for her. Presumably all young women would behave like little girls - such is the fashion - but when these women go girly and faux-innocent, what I find jarring the Victorian man apparently finds attractive. Oooh, it's a 20 year old pretending to be 9! How charming!

We needn't necessarily stray as far as the Victorian era. I get similarly irritated whenever I have the misfortune of being subjected to Gilmore Girls. It's the same idea. Unusually intelligent and mature women behaving and talking like little girls -ostensibly for the sake of wit and humour, but the performance is pursued so relentlessly and comprehensively I just don't buy that that's all it is. It emits the sour reek of infantilization.

Why do I even care? I'm a man. Well, first of all, this might be a good opportunity to come out of the closet: I am a raving feminist. I wonder how many of my friends know that. However, I suspect that there's something more than a desire for social change driving me here. It seems to me that the same way too many women seem to be just girls with curves, a whole lot of men are just boys with muscles. That's where I come in.

It takes - or should take - more to be a man than just self-sufficiency. What women seem to lack in independence and accountability, men appear to lack in active compassion. I don't know what I'm basing this equivalization on but I'm going to stick with it. It's almost as if one sex manages the doing and the other the caring. I suppose there's an evolutionary logic behind this, but that doesn't really make it any less pathetic. Being an adult - here's that word again - means being an active, involved human being. In order to be active you've got to be able to stand your ground; in order to be human you've got to be able to want to for reasons other than your own advancement.

I'm getting ahead of myself. What upsets me is how little room I allow compassion in determining my actions. This isn't to say I'm a boorish, unthinking thug. I've just recently described how timid and ridiculously inoffensive I tend to be around people. But I'm almost never motivated by love in my actions. It's always a decision - sometimes with an "ethical" rationale - but never engaging people or taking an action towards them because I love them. It's like I don't consider it a good enough reason. I don't have sufficient respect for love. I end up a deficient man.

In other news, remember that plastic bag scene in American Beauty? I had a moment like that today. With an actual plastic bag. I was a little transfixed by it; so much that I didn't even bother to pick it up like I usually do, loyal citizen and civil servant that I am. I do genuinely believe that from the right perspective anything in the world can be dazzlingly beautiful, but in truth the incident itself wasn't so deeply moving as it was amusingly reminiscent of that awesome, awesome flick. And it's a good excuse for a clip:

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