showing respect for Ashley Judd

April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

The only weakness I see in the MissRepresentation film/movement and in Ashley Judd’s op-ed is the hesitation to directly address (what I see is) the heart of the matter: that women are treated like objects. A male actor with greying temples is mysterious; a female actor who doesn’t dye her hair is old. The difference is in the depth of the judgement; the man’s appearance is assumed to indicate something deeper but the woman’s appearance stops there. She is what she appears to be, so she damn well better appear how we think she should.

But the first judgement there wasn’t on appearance. It was on gender. We distinguished between the male and female actors, as if that was the most urgent identification. It’s obvious that if we make gender the primary identifying factor of people we are going to assume there is some important difference. I don’t believe that to be true, and in fact if we are going to treat men and women equal, this cannot be the first characteristic we look for in others.

Do you realize that one of the very first lessons we teach children about identifying people is to differentiate between men and women? We say “Why don’t you say hi to those boys?” or “Thank the nice lady.” It’s simply assumed that we identify people by their gender — but this is a brick wall across the path towards viewing all people with the same lens and in fact it is not an important distinction. There is not a person in the world (except perhaps with some mutation of genes or hormones) who inherently adheres 100% to the expected stereotypes of their gender. Look biologically – men have estrogen and women have testosterone in their bodies, certainly to significantly lesser degrees than each other but it’s there. The social expectations associated with each sex mean nothing. Men are not always aggressive and women are not never aggressive; women are not always more in touch with their emotions and men are not necessarily less so. That applies to every single expectation. I’m not even just talking stereotypes, most are much more insidious and subtle: “Women care about their appearance.” “Men like to show off.” These mean nothing. Every person has a combination of all possible characteristics in degrees totally different and also often similar to others, regardless of gender. Perhaps it would be fair to say that high levels of testosterone in males increase aggressive tendencies but this could be manifested in so many ways it isn’t worth identifying in such a way, and people with less testosterone are also capable of showing those traits because of factors besides testosterone levels. So the statement fails to be useful or even accurate.

So why make the distinction?

What ensues is a long conversation that I would love to have with ANYone. Yes, that means you.


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