Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Men Can Do: Resist Gender Essentialism (with Accessories!)

(Note: Title suggests that you can take the man out of academia, but it's harder to take academia out of the man.)
Melissa over at Shakesville, as often happens, says what I wanted to say, just...better, regarding blogging during the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence project:
Today is the final day of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence, during which I suppose I have blogged exactly as often as always about violence against women, in America and abroad. Sometimes it feels like it's all I ever write about; sometimes it feels like I can't possibly write about it enough to do the issue justice; often, those feelings exist within me simultaneously. All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon.
And it got me to thinking about one of the themes of feminism for me: Small Daily Acts of Feminism. I tend to think that (1)The 'little' things are often only seemingly little and (2)Lots of (seemingly) little things add up. Take, for instance, my little pink phone.

When I bought my current cell phone, there was a choice of cover colors. I wanted something not-plain, and my only real choices seemed to be the US flag or a pearl-ish pink. Being not-so-patriotic these days (or at least not finding an flag phone to be something on my list of wants, it was a no-brainer. Also, from time to time, I like to express my disdain for the strictness of traditional gender roles. At times that feels silly--like having a pink phone says anything to anybody about the rigidity of what 'being a man' means. It feels trite and pointless sometimes.

And yet: I've had lots of good conversations with people about gender norms that began with an offhand comment about that phone. These days, I usually respond to people who say "Nice pink phone" with "Thanks. Do you like pink too?" or some such. And then, I try to follow it up with simple questions about why pink ought to signify 'feminine' at all, why I can't have some traditionally 'feminine' likes and dislikes without it being a judgment on my worth, etc. And this is a little thing. And yet, conversations being had that wouldn't be had without this little thing make me think that, even if it's just a little thing, it's not nothing. Even if it is teaspoons emptying the ocean, it's better than no teaspoon at all.
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