My name is Molly. I write essays for fun.
How Gender “Ordering” Leads to Disorder
As infants, we are wrapped in blue or pink; as young children, we play with blue trucks or pink dolls; as teenagers, we play video games or go shopping. During these impressionable ages occur most of the persistent culture pressures. Even though there are not immediate repercussions of having a boy play with Legos and girls play with Barbie dolls, it teaches the lesson that there are differences between males and females that go beyond biology. In Pink Think, author Lynn Peril quotes teen advice columnist Millis Duvall: “Girls are born female… Femininity, on the other hand, is learned,” (19). These expectations follow us for years without any critical questioning. When someone deviates from these norms, it’s noticed – and scrutinized.
In reality, no one lives up to these expectations because they are not biological, they are socially constructed. Because they are socially constructed and not based on biological truths, they are inherently incorrect. Thus, these norms do not assist social order. They hurt people. I wrote this piece because I read a few books/watched a few films (imagine that), and there were examples of societal norms inflicting either physical pain (Guyland and Havoc) or emotional pain (Pink Think and Mona Lisa Smile) upon individuals in many of them. I want to talk about that here.
Guyland, by Michael Kimmel, examines the psyche of the average American male using both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Kimmel argues that Guyland – the “land” of men between the ages sixteen and twenty-six – is rife with gender policing, peer pressure, double standards, and aimlessness. Guyland is characterized by a “topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset” in which young men can “shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood,” all the while still attempting to prove their masculinity (4). Not surprisingly, these topsy-turvy, confusing years can result in less-than-desirable situations. A major aspect of Guyland is the pack mentality which takes a number of forms, including hazing. Hazing is discussed throughout Guyland, perhaps because it is so multifaceted. There are “formal” hazings which occur on teams or in frats, and there are subtle forms of it – for instance, a male may have to prove himself as a drinker to a group of guys when they go out to the local sports bar. Kimmel describes hazing as “a rite of passage; it is a way you earn a place that is different from the one you currently occupy,” (83). While females also participate in hazing, Kimmel notes that “girls hazing girls ultimately reflects and sustains the dominance of guys,” further proof that gender-related actions are harmful (86).
Furthermore, there is an entire chapter on “Predatory Sex and Party Rape,” no doubt a result of the aggressive pack mentality taught to boys at a young age. “Challenging your roommates, stepping in to stop sex from happening when a woman is clearly too drunk either to consent or to refuse sex, is a betrayal of brotherhood,” (230). While this situation traumatizes the female physically and emotionally, it is difficult to imagine that the male is not emotionally impacted in any way, either. But as a male, he cannot express these emotions. As Kimmel notes, it is only through sports where men can safely emote: “sports enables men to defy the cardinal rule of masculinity – ‘Don’t Cry’,” (129). Living a life where one is cut off from expressing emotion must be detrimental to some capacity.
Havoc incorporates many gender constructs that leads to physical violence and extreme emotional damage similar to the anecdotes about hazing, pack mentality, and predatory sex in Guyland. Kimmel quotes 25-year-old Dave from Chicago: “[Girls] have all the power… the power to say no. I want sex with them, and they’re the ones who decide whether it’ll happen or not. Some bitch decides whether or not I get laid… It’s not fair,” (227). This sense of entitlement plays itself out in one of Havoc’s most harrowing scenes. Initially, Allie and Emily are the center of attention at a hotel party in East L.A. They’re clearly using their sex appeal to win over Hector and his boys. Ultimately, the girls let on, they want to be part of the 16th Street Gang, which is essentially a brotherhood. The gang initiates (hazes) women by rolling dice and forcing them to have sex with as many men as the number indicates. The men feel entitled to use Allie’s and Emily’s bodies as bargaining tools, effectively turning Allie and Emily against themselves. Whereas before women may have felt power in sex, now they are ultimately powerless.
Lynn Peril’s Pink Think is essentially a step-by-step guide to becoming inflicted with the “problem with no name.” Indeed, on page nine, Peril quotes Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963): the problem, essentially is the insistence that women “could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity,” (9). Peril divides the book into facets of a woman’s life where pink think (code for “femininity”) is applied: childhood, teen years, marriage, sex, charm, and careers (heaven forbid she works). Peril draws upon hundreds of examples of pink think, generally from 1940s-1970s media and pop-culture.
“It’s up to you to create a female aura around her before she can even say ‘goo’… Ribbons and ruffles and other ‘pretties’ will subliminally impress her with the specialness of her own gender,” wrote beauty expert Eve Nelson in 1967 (25). The mid-20th century was rife with literature which instructed women how to be feminine. Disguised as helpful manuals (How to Fascinate Men by Charles Contreras), silly quizzes (“Am I A Career Woman?” “How Do You Rate as a Girl?”), tear-jerking essays (Alan Beck’s “What Is a Girl?”), and gossipy books (The Seventeen Book of Answers to What Your Parents Don’t Talk About and Your Best Friends Can’t Tell You), the maelstrom of advice coming at women was essentially a guide on how to lock oneself up.
DON’T JUDGE ME. I WATCHED MONA LISA SMILE AND THOUGHT ABOUT IT CRITICALLY. Mona Lisa Smile continues this whirlwind of advice and shows the audience how unabashedly serious society was about feminizing women: they taught classes on housewifery at Wellesley College. Julia Roberts’ character, art history professor Katherine Anne Watson, challenges her students by questioning their life goals: are you truly traditional housewives – or can you be something else? Watson finds that some women, like Julia Stiles’ Joan Brandwyn, are content with their role as a college-educated housewife. In a way, some women attempted to “own” their label as a housewife; after all, in some cultures, the caretaker of the family is its most valued member. To many women – even today – their role as a mother is enough to satisfy. But, of course, there is a difference between pink think and being the main caretaker of a household. Pink think is pure drivel: “Golly! No ‘Knee Room’ ironing table?!”; “Don’t show too much INdependence; it can be irritating but DEpendence can be used to cater to a man’s ego”; “The ‘normal boy’ is attracted to the completely feminine girl”; “For the true woman, then, children and husband come first, way before self, for that is how her altruism expresses itself,” (119, 116, 45, 194). Every single one of these is entirely restricting.
Socially-instilled norms are simply that: falsely constructed, and not the least bit biological. At best, these norms lead girls through the pink-toys section at Toys R Us, and the boys to the soccer balls and trucks. At worst, they lead women into a life of submission and a false sense of control (see: Beyonce’s “Who Rule the World [Girls]“), and men through a life of violence.
Michael Kimmel, “Guyland,” 2008.
Mona Lisa Smile, 2003.
Lynn Peril, “Pink Think,” 2002.