If this doesn’t make your Saturday, I don’t know what will. In the latest insufferable piece by Suzanne Venker (more on that in a moment), Fox News accidentally selected a photo of a same-sex couple to illustrate an article about the value in traditional gender roles. They’ve since changed the photo to, literally, the boy/girl stick figures that adorn bathroom doors (if that’s all you’ve got left, I think it means we’re winning), but luckily Jessica Valenti nabbed a screen shot before they figured out their awesome error.
The article this excellent photo used to sit atop is classic Venker. If you’re not familiar with her work, imagine all of the least logical things you’ve ever heard anyone say about gender roles, all the worst mischaracterizations of feminsim past and present, all of the broadest stereotypes about men and women, and give that lumpy ball of icky ideas a pulpit.
Her piece is called, “To be happy, we must admit women and men aren’t ‘equal.'” A few key ideas, though please, by all means, read the whole gd mess.
The complementary nature of marriage—in which two people work together, as equals, toward the same goal but with an appreciation for the qualities each gender brings to the table—has been obliterated. Today, husbands and wives are locked in a battle about whom does more on the home front and how they’re going to get everything done. That’s not a marriage. That’s war.
Feminism didn’t result in equality between the sexes – it resulted in mass confusion. Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.
Prior to the 1970s, people viewed gender roles as as equally valuable. Many would argue women had the better end of the deal! It’s hard to claim women were oppressed in a nation in which men were expected to stand up when a lady enters the room or to lay down their lives to spare women life
That’s enough of that, I think.
A few notes in response:
- Replace “Gender” with “Person” and You Have My Attention: She writes about appreciating each gender for what they bring to the partnership table. If we swap that out for “person,” you might get me on board. I’m not saying there are not statistical differences in skill sets and preferences between genders, but I’m arguing that the variation between Man 1 and Man 2 is probably just as great as between Man 1 and Woman 1. In other words, bucketing ourselves by gender in order to make a partnership work is pretty likely to fail. So she wants to stay home with kids, great! But what if he’s the one who cooks? Oh no! How will we ever bring our best gendered selves to this marriage! Instead, bucket yourselves by, oh I don’t know, what you’re good at, what you prefer, what your logistical and emotional bandwidth can bear, what you compromise on, etc. All of that requires more communication than assuming she of the ovaries will be the nurturer and he of the big muscles will be the provider.
- Protectionism and Pedastalism Are Not Equality. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth remembering. If your primary argument is that ladies were treated more delicately back in the day, and that more of them survived the sinking Titanic (yes, this is actually in her essay), don’t you think that’s pretty weak? I do not want men to stand for me when I enter a room. I want them to listen to me when I talk. I want to be part of the conversation. I want to be an equal player in decision-making. They can keep sitting, that’s just fine. As for holding doors open, I have no strong feelings about who should enter buildings first, all I know is that if I’m carrying something heavy, help me out, you know?
- Mass Confusion Isn’t the Worst Thing – I will give Venker this; I think there is a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be “manly” or “womanly” in this day and age. I write about gender on the internet and much of the feedback I get is about “not knowing the rules.” Should a guy pay for a date? Should a girl let him? If she offers to split should he accept? How do you flirt with objectifying? Is a little objectifying okay, especially if we all do it? This shit is confusing! And it should be! The change I want to see is for the conversation to reorient from how do I treat this person because they have XX or XY chromosomes to how do I treat this person like a human, i.e. with respect for their agency, their preferences, and their stated desires.
- Every Partnership Isn’t Going to Look the Same – And this is also a good thing. In most of her writing, Venker consistently ignores non-hetero couples. It kind of makes sense; if you’re whole money-making MO is to be the voice of reason on traditional gender roles, you kind of have to cross your fingers and hope no one asks you about all those other couples that don’t have the parts that help you know what they’re “supposed” to do. But by ignoring same-sex couples (or any other non-Cleaver family arrangement), Venker is taking the rhetorical easy way out. Plenty of people have to negotiate the “mass confusion” she speaks of because there are no existing structures for who should do the laundry and who should pay the bill. These people have figured out ways around this horror show of a rules- free existence, and I think we heteros can take some lessons.
Okay, so I’m done with that. She gets me a little riled up, you know? Can we go back to making fun of Fox?
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