Stereotypes and Change

When I was a young boy in elementary school, pink was a color reserved for scary girls and cooties. My memories of the time are hazy, as it was a while ago, but I still remember that pink was taboo. After a while, though, in middle school, things started to change. One of my best friends got that shirt—I’m sure you’ve all seen it—that says “Real Men Wear Pink” on it. As soon as caught on to the trend, I got a pink button-down shirt that I think I still have somewhere and wore it because I found it amusing.

This is an excellent example of a privileged group seeing a cause, thinking it needs them, and distorting its meaning. The sentiment is sound—it’s silly for men to be stigmatized for wearing pink! But the end result in this case isn’t progression; if anything, it’s regression. Femininity becomes absurd, and any man who unironically wears pink is still probably going to be looked at funny. The underlying problem still exists, possibly worse than ever.

Middle school fashion is far from the only place this sort of thing shows up. Just the other day, I was at a bar with some friends who pointed out that I had ordered two “girly” drinks, whereas the guy next to me had ordered a shot of vodka and a gin & tonic. After I mentioned that I thought gendering drinks was absurd, I was challenged to order a Cosmopolitan to prove my point. The waitress asked why I was ordering one and smirked as I explained myself, and the whole situation was kind of ridiculous.

I suspect many people have found themselves in similar situations, laughed it off, and explained that it doesn’t matter if they order a girly drink because they are secure in their masculinity. My point, which I assert to be the correct point, is that I can order a drink because I like the way it tastes, and I should be not be expected to drink a certain thing (or drink other things with a certain attitude) because I happen to identify as male*. I hope I got this point across, though I suspect that I did not.

There appears to be a related fear among people that social movements are going to force them to act in a certain manner. Maybe they’re afraid that if I got my way, men would be forced to wear pink shirts and drink Cosmos, and women would have to wear flannel and drink nothing but vodka and Budweiser. A friend of mine’s mother once told me that she was anti-feminist because she was perfectly happy being a domestic housewife and staying in the kitchen.

This is not the point of my social justice. Maybe it differs from person to person, but I don’t want to force anyone to break out of their gender stereotypes; I want to force society to stop making gender stereotypes. If you’re a man and you want to talk about your chest hair and fart in public, or if you’re a woman and you want to stay in the kitchen all day and cook and clean, that’s fine. What’s not fine is when you expect someone to do these things because of their gender and pigeonhole others into thinking about themselves in such a way. People should be able to make their own decisions about their identities and live in a society that supports those decisions.

 

* I am not sure exactly how trans people think about gender, since it is obviously more important to them than it is to me. I hope I am not being insensitive with anything I say here—if I am, please let me know! And if anyone wants to send me some links that can fix my ignorance on the topic, they’d be much appreciated. I’m not even sure what the right questions are to be asking, but it should be obvious that my (potentially naive) opinion is that gender is a kind of arbitrary (and therefore useless) construct. Since I’m lucky enough to be able to ignore any of the potential effects gender would have on me, though, I’m probably not qualified to make such judgments.

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2 thoughts on “Stereotypes and Change

  1. Cameron says:

    So I did a fair share of the ‘girl drink’ accusations (indeed, I think I started it). I just want to say that I didn’t really judge you. While I’m not sure about other people, if it sounds like I’m judging you for something but I’m sitting next to you and laughing about it, I really don’t care and I’m just poking fun. To be honest, I was incredibly surprised when the bartender called it a ‘fru fru’ drink (also, cosmos are supposed to be pink, so I think perhaps she shorted you quite a bit on booze).

    In fact, Long Island Ice Teas are one of my favorite drinks (they get you smashed) and while I don’t like Blue Moon, I’d attribute that more to my taste in beer than my gender opinions. I spent a good part of my summer drinking 2 parts watermelon pucker, 2 parts Morgan’s Tattoo, and a can of cream soda (which is probably the best-tasting drink I’ve ever had).

    Gender stereotypes annoy me and the only reason I started in on them at all the other night was that I was hoping the others would pick up on the sheer absurdity of the accusation (and, I think to some extent, that did happen). While it was only a small part of the post, it was a microcosmic example of the whole stereotype. And the underlying absurdity (as outlined in your post) is just too much for me to handle without a nice side-order of smarm.

    (Also, according to guyism.com, a Tom Collins is one of the ten manliest cocktails, so the situation wasn’t only absurd but clearly incorrect.)

    • Oh, I should probably clarify, since this wasn’t very obvious in the post: I didn’t feel offended or judged or anything. It takes a lot to offend me personally. In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s possible.

      Still, the situation was a good example, and I don’t feel like I was quite able to make my point very well sitting at the table. Honestly, I don’t remember who brought it up, or why, but it doesn’t really matter. There are many reasons to poke fun at me for what I was drinking (who orders a Tom Collins at Kilroy’s, anyway? And Blue Moon? Seriously? Aren’t I supposed to be a beer snob?), and I love it when they come up! But “you are drinking drinks not normally associated with your gender” is not one of them.

      And I wish I could remember what you’d said in the area of pointing out the absurdity of the situation. I certainly do love jokes that point out absurd things! I think they are an excellent means of communication. But they’re also pretty easy to misinterpret, so I try to be careful with them.

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