Tell us what the rules for women are, so we can break them

It’s hard for women to do anything right if you want to measure by the constraints that society puts on our behavior.  Jay Smooth put out this great sarcastic video rant that sums this up well following the debate around the hacking of celebrities’ private photos. You should watch the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:

There’s a lot of stuff in the news about women, how women are treated, right now. And I want to contribute and be a part of the conversation, but I’m having trouble keeping track. Does anyone have a complete, up-to-date list everything women are supposed to do and not do so that they qualify for having their humanity respected? Like, ok, I know that if women want to feel safe in public, they’re supposed to “not dress a certain way” and then if they don’t dress a certain way and they still get harassed and assaulted all the time, there are other things that they’re doing or not doing to earn a right to safety, but what are those other things? I’m having trouble keeping track.

Even with parents or other positive influencers who encourage young women to defy expectations, they’re going to run up against these rules at some point. Society is still going to tell you that you can’t eat too much (but don’t be anorexic), be too smart (but don’t be an airhead), pursue sexual pleasure on your own terms (but don’t be a prude). We’re reminded of that double bind any time one of these stories surfaces.

Another rule that some people clearly want to set is to never make this about sexism. The real issue at play in the celebrity photo hack is (men’s) free speech. When Bill O’Reilly says a spokesperson is out of her depth and lacks gravitas, it’s just a coincidence that she’s a woman. People of color come under the same kind of attacks when they rightly point out racism. While feminism had a moment of glory at the VMAs, and is arguably on the upswing, you simultaneously hear people on Fox News saying that feminism keeps women from “be[ing] what God designed them to be.”

The irony of course is that feminism makes things better for both the men and the women who make these complaints. Feminism works to dismantle the idea that there are rules for any gender to strictly follow.  Those rules hurt everyone. It’s one of the reasons I cringe at campaigns that use phrases like “real men” and “real women,” even when they are using them to good ends. “Real men don’t buy girls.” Well, decent human beings don’t buy girls. There’s no such thing as a “real man” and a “real woman”, and we don’t need to police each other ‘s behavior in the context of gender. Let’s just all be decent human beings, and hold people accountable when they aren’t.

What rules were you taught to follow based on gender? How have you managed to break free of them?

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

7 thoughts on “Tell us what the rules for women are, so we can break them”

  1. Calling men asssholes?You do not deserve a penis.Your man card has been revoked!Where is your sense of dignity?where is your sense of belonging to the male community.Men like you are the reason why so many men …..argh,just forget it.

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  2. What a loser you are .I can tell by your character that you are not a genuine man.Your obviously not good with the ladies either.How dare you ! What are you,desperate ?Do you want to please females that bad?Did you accept that men are nothing but slobs and all men are responsible for bad things women suffer ?Did you oneday accept that men are pathetic wrongdoers and forgot your ego,you own self esteem?
    Chivalry is the cause of misery for men today because people like you put us down and remove all the blame from women even if they somewhat deserve it.
    You basically want to stop society from dictating women but you want men to know be dictated?People like you are the reasons for problems in this world.You are responsible for making the oppressed the future oppressors ad it’s already happening.
    In today’s world,black people can easily get away with racism against white but the reverse is not possible.The same in the gender issue.You have no wisdom at all.

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