“Dear Madam, I find thee exceptionally captivating and would be honoured is thou didst accompany me to a most excellent dance rave this night.”
“Thank you, dear sir, for the emphatic offer but I disirest not to be wooed at this time.”
“Very well, milady. As disappointed as the answer finds me, I must accede to thine own self-wisdom. Shouldst your position alter, I pray, considereth me!”
“O, I shall, good sir! I shall!”
I’m getting a little tired of hearing how the feminists have ruined chivalry for us straight men.
A recent article/essay from Psychology of Women Quarterly defined acts of chivalry as “benevolent sexism” and since then there has been no shortage of responses to this redefinition. Why are the mean feminists making it so hard to be respectful? Why do they hate gentlemanliness so much?
And aside from the article from the quarterly publication and its reactions, the internet is a great place to find inane articles where feminism is pitted against chivalry. As if to suggest that, only one of these two incompatible forces can survive and, right now, it looks like feminism has taken the lead.
My friend Christina posted a link to a blog entry a few days ago that introduced a somewhat flippant but easily interpreted approach to understanding heterosexual, male, and white privilege:
Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This got me to thinking about how I understand my own privilege as I, as many regular readers might know, identify as Scalzi’s target audience, a straight white male.
Firstly though, I think I’d like to touch on why so many straight white men resent or get their back up when that dreaded word “privilege” comes up. It is easy to interpret the discussion of privilege as blame thrown at straight white men, crediting them for all the social injustices that take place in the Western world. These men become defensive because they didn’t create the rules to the game or select their role any more than Scalzi’s Hardcore mode players, gay minority females, did.
It is 2012 and we still haven’t reached gender equality. There is still evidence to suggest that women are earning less, on average, in the workforce than their male counterparts. Culture is still rife with constant reminders that suggest that a woman’s body is, unless meticulously trimmed and sanitized, a horrifying spectacle. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything revolutionary when I suggest that much of what keeps us entrenched in a sexist culture are the ways in which women are framed in the popular media.
In that regard, I can understand why some people would get up in arms when we see, once again, a woman in the role of the domesticated housewife grace the silver screen. The “housewife” is a trope that we really ought to be leery of. The smiling, obedient and well-maintained archetype has been long-identified as an oppressive ideal that suggests and encourages women to bear the brunt of the household work, raise the kids, keep the husband/father happy, and do so with a smile; the satisfaction that is derived from putting her family’s needs before hers is “the housewife’s” reward.
Additionally, anytime a housewife enters the frame, we can assume that, unless the film is intent on flipping the status quo, heteronormativity is not far behind. Standing beside their determined, breadwinning husband, the “housewife” is one of the footsoldiers of the heteronormative, patriarchal, slut-shaming army at its most cliché.
However, a film that features a housewife is not inherently evil either. It is not fair to immediately dismiss a movie as sexist simply because it features a stay-at-home mom. There are, after all, moms, and dads for that matter, that opt to stay at home and act as the primary caregiver for a growing family. These people do exist and a portrayal of such a lifestyle in a film ought to be criticized on a case by case basis.