Gender Roles, June 2013

I’m currently in a transitional phase, or as I’ve become accustomed to calling it: “Between Trapezes.” This feeling I have is neither filling nor empty, neither lonesome nor comforting. I have left high school (a retrospectively very secure stage of my life), and am waiting for this intermittent stage to settle on the next phase of my journey. For those who don’t know, I will be attending Simmons College in Boston in the fall. Making the college decision was a difficult one: I had a lot of great options to choose from, but at the end of the day, I made a decision based on size, location, and cost. (No, I didn’t have the opportunity to sit down with colleges the way I’d hoped in my earlier post.) One of the more interesting facts about Simmons, is: it is an all-women’s college.

Attention to you avid readers out there: you know I once promised you a gender-oriented post a while back. But as time has gone on, my thoughts on theimg matter have developed, and I hope you all will accept this accumulation of ideas as a peace offering. 

A lot of girls are turned off by the idea of an all-women’s college, but why? Through small talk with my close circle of friends, many seem more concerned with getting, what my parents would call, their “MRS. Degree”, than an actual education. Upon hearing this, my thoughts resembled something to the effect of: “Ohhhh great.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s novel, The Feminine Mystique. For those unfamiliar: in 1957, Betty Friedan sought to conduct a survey of and for her fellow Smith College classmates around the time of their 15th annual reunion. By chance, Friedan stumbled across a topic that lit a fire within her, and prompted her to pursue answers to a seemingly unanswerable question: Why are women wildly unhappy with their lives? After conducting multiple interviews with women who would not be considered anything but ordinary by any means, Friedan wrote her conclusions in her book, The Feminine Mystique. The thought processes of women were mandated by male-dominated advertisements and alternate forms of media, which portrayed two paths for housewives of the 1960’s: crazed working women or content homemakers. Taking into account societal pressures, the choice was simple. I was surprised to read in an article by opinion writer for CNN, Rachel Simmons (unrelated to the college), that 50 years later, women are still plagued by two conflicting life paths.

Simmons writes, “From the earliest age, girls are flooded with conflicting messages about their sexuality. They are socialized to be “good girls” above all: kind, polite and selfless. Yet they are also told — via media images, the clothing that’s marketed to them and the messages conveyed by some adults — that they will be valued, given attention and loved for being sexy. The result is a near-constant anxiety about not being feminine or sexy enough.”

Huh. Isn’t that true? I know I feel it, at the very least. With this confusing message sent to young women today, who could blame my peers for searching for a husband at such an early age?; the quest for male validation still runs rampant in the veins of feminine youth culture. I applaud Dove for their recent campaign, showing women their true beauty versus their perceptions of beauty. When I watched that video (a few times, I must admit) I cried. My thinking was changed immediately. What do I really look like? Do I have inner beauty I’m just not seeing? Who do I rely on to make me feel beautiful? 

But I refuse to join the onslaught of radical feminists who believe man-bashing is the solution to this ever-present problem. The societal norms and expectations have embedded themselves in the psyche of both men and women. I was discussing this very issue with a friend of mine over coffee the other day, and she presented me with two questions: “Amanda, when I say race, what do you think of? And when I say gender, what comes to mind?” My answers were, as I’m sure many others’ answers would be: black, and females. The history of American civil rights are engrained in my mind as a young caucasian female, and subsequently, I draw those two very clear conclusions on race and gender.

While I can assure you these are not the last of my thoughts on the matter, I will leave you, dear readers, with this parting thought: As a society, we need to eliminate the (now innate) boundaries we have established for ourselves between men and women. The issue goes beyond suffrage; that was resolved almost a century ago. But in our daily lives, literature, films, and television commercials, we as people need to take care to eliminate the daily double standards that stand on the matter of gender. For instance, why do young girls who skin their knees on the playground get, on average, 2 more minutes of coddling time than boys, who are expected to merely “suck it up”? Why envy the sex symbols of movies, when both men and women use such harsh language to condemn the sexual escapades of women in real life? As a starting point, I encourage you to be aware of these societal red flags around you. Give it a try!

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2 responses to “Gender Roles, June 2013

  1. great one Mandi! gender roles are hard enough to tease apart without the socio-economic changes that force more families to grapple with both parents spending their daytime hours away from the family, earning a living.

    and for the record I am completely opposed to man-bashing!

    :~D

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