No Girls Allowed: The Gender Problem in Film

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The considered greats of directing are almost always all male

I’ve always been interested in the world of film, but lately (now that there is a light at the end of my PhD thesis tunnel) I’ve been dedicating more time to watching “the classics“. However doing some research into the essentials of cinema has brought home a sad fact: very few of the “great” directors are women. On top of this, look at any list of must-watch films and you’ll notice that there is a lot of gendered genre-bias too. Basically: if you’re looking to become a film buff, you’re going to run into a gender problem.

KStew <3

KStew <3

The lack of women directors in cinema has not gone unnoticed. Just last week it was reported that since the 1970s only 15% of Australian films have been made by women, a trend that continues today despite female film graduates making up 50% of the cohort. The Tumblr site “Sh*t People Say to Women Directors” also went viral this year, shining a light on the rampant sexism experienced by women in the industry. Actress Kristen Stewart recently commented, “Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It’s crazy. It’s so offensive it’s crazy”.

But let’s imagine we put aside the sexism involved in producing many of the cultural products we consume, for a second. What we find is that what counts as film cannon is overtly biased toward stereotypically “male” genre films. Searching for “films every film buff must see” reveals lists like this:

Not saying the Godfather isn't good though

Not saying The Godfather isn’t good though

1. The Godfather: Part 1
2. The Godfather: Part 2
3. The Godfather: Part 3 (srly?)
4. Citizen Kane
5. Vertigo
6. Casablanca
7. Psycho
8. Raging Bull
9. Notorious
10. Taxi Driver

These lists are overwhelmingly dominated by films about male gangsters, men in power, male killers, men beating each other up, and so on. Admittedly there is one romantic drama in this particular list, but in many, romantic comedy and fantasy adventure is basically left out. Such films daren’t been seen tainting such lists (even though we can all admit that The Princess Bride is an *absolute* classic, but never features in any top 100 lists).

bechdel-test

Bechdel test explained

And, even if we decide that the Godfather: Part 3 is actually deserving of a top spot, applying the Bechdel test to these films reveals very few lead female characters, let alone ones that talk to each other about topics other than men (The Godfather: Part 2 passes).

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

However, abstaining from watching films created by men, or that fit into a “male” genre, or that predominately feature men isn’t going to do much. Certainly boycotting male directors in favour of female ones would achieve little more than just missing out on some actually awesome films. I’ve long been a fan-girl of several auteurs (directors who are visionaries imagining a distinctive world) who are men, such as Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, David Lynch and Pedro Almodóvar. If we ran with a top films list from these guys, it would look something like this:
Dancer in the Dark
The Life Aquatic
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Mullholland Drive
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Pretty great. I don’t recommend missing them.

Film is a way of framing the world

Making films involves framing and reflecting on the world

But, film is an incredibly important tool for philosophising about the state of the world, humanity and existence. One can assume that the greater the diversity of people from different life experiences musing on this, the better. So I wonder what we are missing when we leave women out, both as characters within films and as the creatives behind the scenes.

Seeking out female directors, films of different genres, and films that feature strong women might be a good idea. If nothing else, this can act to provoke mindfulness about the gendered aspects of film-loving. So, just incase you’re googling “films every film buff must see”, here are some alternative lists to consider (according to me).

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3...)

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3…)

Awesomest films (by female directors):

The Virgin Suicides (Sophia Coppola)
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair)
An Education (Lone Sherfig)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July)
Clueless (Amy Heckerling)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

Best ever films (that happen to be romantic):

– Four Weddings and a Funeral
West Side Story
Calamity Jane
– Annie Hall
Amélie

Favourite films (that feature amazing female leads):

Million Dollar Baby
All About Eve
Black Swan
Ghost World
The Wizard of Oz

No, our watching practices aren’t going to defeat sexism in film. But being mindful of our viewing habits can’t hurt…especially when it comes to determining what “counts” in the land of the film buff.

The Problems With Marriage Equality…But Why We Should Still Fight for it

Currently, my girlfriend and I cannot get married. Not that we’re planning our Pinterest pages or anything, but the point is: same-sex marriage is illegal in Australia. Recently a friend shared this video, an ad in support of the “Yes” vote for the upcoming Irish referendum on same-sex marriage:

What struck me most was the emphasis on “family” made in the video created by BeLong To youth services, underscored by the tagline “Bring Your Family With You.” I was torn by this message. While the idea of parents and extended family coming out in support of their lesbian, gay and bisexual relatives is moving (albeit unrealistic for many), it also reinforces the idea that this fight is centrally about maintaining the primacy of the blood-related family in society, which only extends itself via legal marriage.

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From Paris is Burning

This idea of family is far from the reality in many queer communities, where kinship ties are made with many non-blood relatives, especially for those who are thrown out of home when they come out. This different conception of “family” in the queer community is illustrated most clearly in the 1989 documentary ‘Paris is Burning.’ Created by Jeannie Livingstone, the film reveals an underground world in New York of “drag balls” where young (often homeless) African American and Hispanic youth find belonging, joining different ball “families” who compete and perform. Ask anyone who has found belonging in LGBTIQ spaces, and I’m sure they’ll tell you that family often means much more than who your genetic relatives are or who you are legally bound to.

Some people have used unique ways such as combining handfasting with traditional marriage, to represent polyamorous union

Some people have used unique ways such as combining handfasting with traditional marriage, to represent polyamorous union

It is also important to note that within queer communities sexual and emotional partnerships are not always so clearly between two people. Campaigns for marriage equality generally seek to change the legal definition of marriage from that between “a man and a woman” to “same-sex” marriage but still for a partnership of two. This does not reflect the reality of many queer people’s lives, who may be in polyamorous relationships or who might enjoy other partnership dynamics not reflected by a dualistic definition. Add to this the fact that many transgender and intersex people are often left out of proposed “same-sex” marriage bills, and you can see that the fight for marriage equality sometimes refers to a very narrow idea of partnership and family that is in conflict with many queer people’s experiences.

1509307_675883508915_2761431560733048872_nI raise all of these points to highlight the very important fact that “marriage equality” often does not reflect the kind of relations that currently occur in queer communities, nor the central needs of these communities, and to that end is not the “final” frontier of LGBTIQ rights. However, this does not mean that marriage equality is not worth fighting for.

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Some in the queer community argue that marriage is assimilation

Every time my girlfriend and I go to a wedding we are reminded that we do not enjoy the same legal rights as our heterosexual friends because of our sexuality. Here the ban on same-sex marriage acts as a symbol of difference and exclusion. Some in the queer community argue that difference is good, and should be celebrated: assimilation is not the way. Although it’s all well and good to embrace difference, it’s quite another story when you have the law labelling you as different. Some have also suggested that gay marriage creates a situation where there are “good” (married) gays and “bad” (unmarried) ones. However, we can already see that unmarried versus married straight people are sometimes treated differently in society, which highlights that the problem here is how we value marriage altogether, not whether some people should be allowed to marry. Often I forget that I’m in a “same-sex” relationship until I get reminded by society; discrimination on the basis of having a loving relationship with someone seems utterly ridiculous.

marriage-equality-supporters-washingtonThe fact that you are legally obliged to read out the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman” at weddings in Australia also causes our sympathetic straight friends much guilt, consternation and dismay. Often celebrants read out the law, and then at the bride and groom’s request make commentary on their rejection of the definition. While some do this quickly and quietly, the best way I have seen this dealt with is to labour on the point. When straight couples get up at weddings and say “this law is outrageous!” I think this makes the point better than “abstaining” from marriage altogether.

1_123125_122946_2081208_2087895_030903_wedding.gif.CROP.original-originalMany feminists in the West have fought against the insular and restrictive aspects of the institution of marriage since the 1960s. The gains of this have been changes to social understandings of marriage, where women are no longer seen as the property of their husbands, and where divorce is a legitimate option for those in unhappy or dangerous partnerships. While the institution of marriage is not perfect, and indeed is an institution where the law comes into the intimate sphere of a relationship, it is arguably not what it used to be. Except that is still between “a man and a woman” (in Australia at least).

20081117_lovedontdiscrim_560x375Of the weddings I have been to, what I have seen is a celebration of people in love, making a public declaration in front of their friends and family (however that is defined). Sure, queer people can still have parties that mimic this, but while discriminatory laws are in place there is ever the reminder that inequality between heterosexual and homosexual people is legally sanctioned in this country.

10809965_494942430647416_1137332444_nThe fight for marriage equality is not the end of the road for LGBTIQ rights, not by a long shot. But it is an important stone in the path to justice, and winning equal marriage in Australia would remove one roadblock that we keep getting stuck on. So let’s fight to open up this path, not stopping at marriage, and along the way take everyone with us in the fight against entrenched discrimination.

Fifty Shades of Feelings

A few people have asked me what my thoughts on the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey saga are. After wading through endless articles arguing for and against the recently released film, I didn’t feel very comfortable with how either side was addressing the debate, with fans often being demeaned amongst the critiques. You can read my response, The ‘mommy porn’ myth: who are the Fifty Shades of Grey fans? published on The Conversation.

Like many people who have engaged with Fifty Shades, I had a complex (and at times contradictory) set of responses while watching the film. Here’s a rundown of how I felt, represented via the aid of Buffy gifs…

1. When the lights went down

one

2. When the dialogue started

two

3. When we were introduced to Christian

seven

4. When Christian tries to seduce Ana by biting her toast

three5. When Christian was creepy as f*** and tracked Ana’s mobile phone

eleven6. When the characters finally got naked 

five

7. When the sex started

four8. When Ana orgasmed about a million times losing her virginity

nine

9. When I checked in with my girlfriend to see how she liked the “red room of pain”

six10. When Christian sold Ana’s car

eight11. But then my mixed emotions because it was a strangely alluring danger fantasy

buffy_because_its_wrong_who_are_you_spike

12. But I still wanted Ana to just tell Christian to f*** off

ten13. When Christian was all “I like BDSM because my mother was a crack whore”

tumblr_mdwullwUCF1rp4xpeo1_50014. When shit got a bit real at the end

tumblr_lx1vm3PPdC1qh01r8o1_40015. Now, every time I see an article saying Fifty Shades is extremely dangerous

Beep-me-buffy

Date Night Films for Any Occasion

Watching-Scary-MoviesIt’s that time of the year again – the dreaded V-Day. If you’re not shacked up and hoping your partner will finally buy you flowers, you’re probably single and trying to avoid restaurants filled with loved-up couples. Either way, you may be looking for a movie to watch with your boyfriend/s/girlfriend/s/genderfriend/s this weekend (that is, unless you’ve decided to go see Fifty Shades or protest at the cinema). So just in time, here are my recommendations for snuggling up with your handsome self or your kissing buddies:

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

What If – When you need an offbeat but surprisingly good romantic comedy 
This quirky Canadian film came out in 2013, but with little fanfare upon its release, you may have missed it. Starring Harry “Daniel Radcliffe” Potter and MPDG Zoe Kazan as the strangely named characters Wallace and Chantry, the dialogue is delightfully relaxed and the side plots are just as entertaining as the central story. Offering a nuanced approach to the complications of love and commitment, this rom-com is well worth a watch.

Your fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead are answered

Fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead made real

Imagine Me and You – When you feel like a gay chick flick
Same-sex rom coms are few and far between, but this one is a real winner. It has a pretty crappy rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this assessment is just factually and scientifically incorrect. This film stars Hot Cersei (Lena Headey) alongside Piper Perabo, and it’s a match made in lesbian imagination heaven. The best thing about the film is its adherence to all of the elements of your usual trashy romcom, but with a gay storyline. What more could you want?

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

He’s Just Not That Into You – When you feel like a chick flick that is truly terrible
I love this movie. With basically no redeeming features, this film is utter garbage, reinforcing every terrible norm of gender you could imagine (women are desperate to marry, men are either liars and cheaters or weaklings, women have no agency in the dating game, women are controlling, etc). I tried to do a feminist analysis of this film once, but after the opening scene had 8 pages of notes and had to stop. Because it is so devastatingly awful, this is one film where you can truly take a break from thinking. My favourite quote from the film is “It’s hard to focus on nutmeg when the guy who might be the guy of my dreams refuses to call me”

the-future-paw-paw

You can’t go wrong with a cat narrator

The Future – When you need a film that reflects the difficulties of relationships
Written, directed and starring the effervescent Miranda July, this film explores human connection, loneliness and making mistakes. Narrated by a cat, Paw Paw, this magically-real film is one to watch when you feel like something that reflects the messiness of making yourself vulnerable in love. This one’s a keeper.

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

Paris, Texas – When you feel like epic cinematography with poignant themes
Directed by the visionary Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is a quiet and compelling film. Exploring the complexities and old scars of family relationships, this film slowly sinks into your skin, as you bask in its desert landscapes. Hopeful but dark, this is one to watch when you feel like some existential reflection on date night.

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that's pretty cool

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that’s pretty cool

Dancer in the Dark – When you’re feeling like a gut-wrenching drama that will leave you audibly sobbing
So you feel like a big depressing cry – this is the film to go for. Directed by the sadistic Lars von Trier, this movie is a masterpiece of film making that uses Dogme-like techniques to make the film seem exceptionally real, even as characters consistently launch into song (did I mention it’s a musical?). I once re-watched it in a philosophy class, and when the lights went on at the end even the teacher’s face was dripping with tears. I was basically having a fit with how upset it made me.

The_Shining_4

Plus Shelley Duvall is weird looking and rad

The Shining – When you don’t feel like sleeping properly again
I felt like I should include a horror movie on this list, but since I haven’t seen many, this is one of the only ones I can recommend. Because apparently watching scary movies is fun for some people. It’s a classic, so if you haven’t seen it already, get on it and make snuggling up to your crush/es on the couch all the more necessary. To calm down afterwards, be sure to watch The Simpsons parody.

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Cabaret – When you need a musical that’s edgy and political
I cannot get enough of Cabaret. The choreography, the songs, the historical political themes, the Liza Minnelli. This film literally has everything you could want in a film, let alone a musical. It’s the film to watch as a compromise when your partner/s can’t stand musicals but you desperately need some camp realness on date night. You’ll probably want to download the soundtrack afterwards too – and will be strutting down the stairs belting out the lyrics in no time, no doubt to your lover’s delight.

A film all about women

A film all about women

All About My Mother – When you feel like intertextual stimulation
The film to watch when you feel like having a discussion about the way it re-imagines the archetype of the Southern belle, and how it re-works the themes of A Streetcar Named Desire and All About Eve. Or, if you’re less of a wanker than I am, this film is enjoyable on the themes of motherhood and female relationships. Director Pedro Almodovar is a true auteur, and the film has sublime casting and beautiful character development. You don’t really have to be an English major to enjoy this one.

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

Paris is Burning – When you feel like a documentary
My favourite documentary of all time, Paris is Burning explores the drag-ball scene of late 1980s New York. Directed by Jennie Livingston, the documentary is told by the people living as superstars in this underground world. As much about race and class as it is about gender and sexuality, Paris is Burning is ultimately a story about being erased by “normal” society but finding family in the effort to achieve belonging.

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Adaptation – When you feel like great screenwriting and an unpredictable plot
Written by Charlie Kaufman, and starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, this film just couldn’t have more going for it. It’s funny, dramatic and a little bit off at times, which makes it very enjoyable. Plus did I mention Nicolas Cage? Playing twins? Double the Nicolas Cage can never be a bad thing. While you’re at it, please also watch Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Fantastic Mr Fox – When you realise Wes Anderson made a stop motion animation of a Roald Dahl book and you haven’t seen it
Admittedly I’m just listing films I like now. I love director Wes Anderson, even though he’s clearly a privileged motherf***er, he is damn good at making films. If you’ve got a whole weekend with your loves or yourself, I’d recommend just marathoning his entire oeuvre. Meanwhile, Fantastic Mr Fox is romantic and cute, full of adventure and beautiful to look at. A totally rompy delight. Do it.

Goldblum good times await you

Goldblum good times await you

Jurassic Park – When you feel like some Jeff Goldblum
If you’re one of those crazy crackers that hasn’t seen Jurassic Park since it came out at the movies (or indeed, if you were born post-1993), you need to watch this classic STAT. Not only is the fourth one coming out in July (i.e. this is planning in advance for a future date night), it is just literally one of the best movies ever. Also there is probably never a time when you don’t feel like some Jeff Goldblum, and this is peak Goldblum material. Yes. Oh yes.

Happy film watching!

The Trouble with “Natural Beauty”

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An image from the Tree Change Dolls’ tumblr site

Today a friend sent me a link to a new trend that basically caused me to have a rage blackout: dolls that have been “made-under”. Labelled “Tree Change Dolls“, these are generally hyper-feminine styled dolls (such as Bratz) that have been found at op-shops and transformed through changing their hair, shoes, makeup styles and clothing, to look more normal and natural. In the words of their creator, Tree Change Dolls involve “swapping high-maintenance glitz ‘n’ glamour for down-to-earth style”.

But before you all rush off to procure a Tree Change Doll of your own, it’s worth unpacking what it means to “make-under” a doll. Is it more ethical (as the subtext of the Tree Change Dolls website would suggest) to have a doll adorned with the natural beauty look, rather than the hyper-feminine aesthetic more commonly seen? And why is a make-under really any different to a make-over?

Firstly, let’s look at one before and after image from the site and what a make-under involves:
tumblr_nianihXYdz1u8oyeuo1_12801. Reducing prominent and cartoonish features such as the eyes and lips
2. Removing signs of obvious makeup
3. Conditioning and relaxing the hair which is worn out rather than having it styled up
4. Starting with a naked doll and finishing with a clothed one
5. Maintaining a clear complexion one the face of the doll free of any abnormal markings

Here we can see that the effect of “stripping back” actually mimics a “putting on” of layers. Quite literally the features of the dolls are transformed to conform to a different standard, that of “down to earth style”. In effect, the dolls are not made-under, they are made-over, with the same dramatisation of before and after we would expect from any other visual representation of stylistic aesthetic change.

Another Tree Change Doll, so liberated

Another Tree Change Doll, so liberated

Rather than radically challenging or interrupting expectations of femininity, the Tree Change Dolls set up a new system of signifiers in hyper-femininity’s place: the end result being a set of dolls that all look remarkably similar. The dolls featured on the site all have similar “natural” faces, wear knitted jumpers and 50s-style feminine skirts or alternative-style dungarees, creating an overall effect that looks like the dolls have stepped right off the pages of an alternative women’s magazine (such as Australia’s Frankie), which fetishises the domestic, the home-styled and the “real”. This styling supports a fantasy that one can retreat into a more authentic world of natural beauty, eschewing the limits of oppressive gender norms and escaping the fakery epitomized by the glamour of the pre-made-under dolls.

The pre-made-under dolls have a striking resemblance to drag queens

The pre-made-under dolls have a striking resemblance to drag queens

But, I hear you ask, isn’t a “stripped-back” simple style a less problematic norm than the make-up caked faces of the pre-tree-hugged Bratz dolls and Barbies? Perhaps not. The idea that we might adopt styles of self-presentation as if in a cultural vacuum, supports the circulation of more insidious gender norms. It presents us with the idea that there is a way to look like a “real” girl: and it certainly doesn’t involve wearing visible makeup.

Me playing drag queen at home in my 20s

Me playing drag queen at home in my 20s

When I was a child one of my favourite party themes was “make-up”, and on three separate occasions I held parties where my friends were expected to do-over their own and other’s faces – the only thing being that it was about being crazy, drag-queenish and fun. On my eighth birthday I ended up with green sparkly leaves coming out of my nose, purple fangs and giant blue eyes. The point of this story is that make-up can be about repeating expected styles of beauty, but it can also be very fun. While Bratz dolls might present a beauty style that is over-the-top and homogenous across dolls, the Tree Change Dolls also opt for conformity over experimentation.

As I have written previously, Bratz dolls encapsulate a sheer excess of femininity that is an indulgence rather than a necessity to attract a male gaze. Indeed, with the cult of natural beauty comes a sense that you can’t play around with beauty products or clothing if you want to – you’d just be reinforcing an always-already-oppressive style.

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Monster High Dolls: similar yes, but experimenting with the limits of acceptable presentation

The reason to be deeply concerned about these Tree Change Dolls is that they represent a broader trend toward securing a fixed sense of what a real girl looks like – rather than disrupting the normal when it comes to gender. In fact it seems that Bratz dolls have evolved in recent years – into the now popular “Monster High Dolls”, which, though shiny and long-haired and “pretty”, adopt quirky, strange, monstrous stylings, transforming previous limits around normal looks. While there could be a lot more diversity of styles of gender presentation in these kinds of toys, the worst thing we could do is try and offer a “stripped-back” look that returns us to some kind of original “natural” point. Sometimes the natural might actually be the most fake of all.

The #Tay4Hottest100 Controversy

Taylor_Swift_Hottest_100_640x360Lately there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle going on in social media land about the recent bid to get Taylor Swift’s song ‘Shake It Off’ into the Triple J Hottest 100 this year. Instead of a straightforward essay-style argument about it, my girlfriend Geraldine and I decided to record a video of us discussing the issue. We had fun talking about it, so you might enjoy listening to it. If not, there’s always this instead.

No Gender December: Back to Basics

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Radical idea: ANYONE can play with pink or blue toys – out of control!

This week was a dismal one for the Australian Government. One of their many low points was Prime Minister Tony Abbott (apparently also the “Minister for Women“) dismissing the newly launched No Gender December Campaign, saying “Let boys be boys, let girls be girls“. Cue gigantic face-palm.

Abbott’s remarks came in stark contrast to the point made by Greens Senator Larissa Waters who introduced the campaign in Parliament, who stated the point was to “Stop with this nonsense of marketing for boys and for girls. Toys are toys and lets let kids be kids.”

The point of No Gender December? "Stereotypes Limit Thinking"

The outrageous point being made by No Gender December? “Stereotypes Limit Thinking”

The backlash in some of the conservative press, has unsurprisingly banged this story under the headline “WAR ON BARBIE“. If you’ve read some of my previous posts on children’s toys, you’ll know that I am a fan of Barbie. Or more specifically, I have difficulty accepting campaigns against stereotypically “feminine” toys, like the time everyone got really pissed off about the femmed-up Merida doll. But aside from my critique that a lot of the children’s toy debate becomes laced with femmephobia, we still need to make sure we don’t miss the fundamental point – that children’s toys are often gendered along the binary male/female, and this is not a good thing

Let’s step it through so you can rhetorically battle bigots if you need to:

The binary is often reinforced in ways we might not notice

The binary is often reinforced in ways we might not notice

1. What even is the “gender binary”?
The gender binary refers to the idea that gender can be neatly divided into a binary male/female. This binary is a pervasive norm, particularly in Western society (some other areas of the world treat gender differently). The idea that everyone can fit into this binary has real consequences for people whose bodies do not conform how “male” and “female” bodies “should” be.

A common question: "Is it a boy or a girl?"

A common question: “Is it a boy or a girl?”

For example, babies that are born with “indeterminate” genitalia may undergo surgery to make them “normal” to fit into one of the two categories. Estimates of this indeterminacy are as high as 1 in 100 births. This is often referred to as being intersex. Another example is in sport – you have to conform to the categories of either man or woman in order to compete, and determining this is a big issue. Many athletes are subject to “gender testing”. Here, “gender” is sometimes based on chromosomes (whether you are XX or XY), other times, levels of testosterone.

But we’re not just forced to physically conform to this binary, there are social expectations tied up with the binary that affect our ways of being and acting in the world too.

Simone-de-Beauvoir-01

De Beauvoir

2. But wait, what is the difference between “sex” and “gender”?
Many people now make a distinction between sex and gender, with sex being described as biological features, versus gender expression, as social phenomena. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said in The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. In other words, women are socialised into a second-class gender status. This fundamental distinction between sex and gender is integral to many analyses of gender – indeed it has been used by many feminist writers to show that biology is not destiny.

Judith Butler <3 <3 <3

Butler <3

But this distinction is not without criticism. For example, Judith Butler argues that sex is “always already gender”, given that proclamation of sex at birth (“it’s a girl”!) assumes a gender trajectory for the child – that is, we expect that a baby without an apparent penis, who is then assigned as a girl, will grow up to be a woman. This gendering entails a set of social assumptions about what girls should enjoy, how they should dress, and how they should act. Really Butler is arguing that sex/biology are perhaps more social and constructed than we think – given that we look at a certain formation of flesh and imbue it with a whole heap of social meanings.

Summer-Beef-2013_Outdoor

Eating the right kind of food is about becoming the right kind of man


3. But aren’t men and women are just physically different and that is just a scientific FACT?
I’m not saying that hormones and other chemical and genetic factors mean nothing to shaping humans, but socially shaping the body to fit into expectations of the gender binary happens throughout the lifespan. Have you ever walked into a gym and seen the gender imbalance between the weights and the cardio rooms? Women are expected to be lithe and skinny, and men big and bulky, so women and men are taught to shape their bodies differently.

Women are often sold chocolate on the basis that it is pleasurable

Women are often sold chocolate on the basis that it is pleasurable

 

 

Men are expected to eat lots of protein (hamburgers, steaks), while women are meant to be constantly dieting (salads) which also inevitably leads to bingeing (hello chocolate). This is reflected and reproduced in advertising of food and fitness products.

And don’t get me started on brain differences. There are literally oodles of books and journal articles that go into how the brain is wired through experience (i.e. the social), and how our expectations of gender affect child development (or at the very least, how we perceive differences).

Girls are often expected to be nurturing, playing with soft toys and imagining themselves such as "nurse" or "mother"

Girls are often expected to be nurturing, playing with soft toys and imagine themselves such as “nurse” or “mother”

4. Okay but what do toys have to do with it?
Expectations of gender are heavily reinforced in childhood – a critical time when children are starting to develop a sense of self and how they fit into the world. While Abbott is happy to argue that “above all else, let parents do what they think is in the best interests of their children”, as sociologist James Henslin notes, our parents and wider society are highly complicit in reinforcing particular norms.

The type of clothes we are dressed in changes how we are able to move about in the world

The type of clothes we are dressed in changes how we are able to move about in the world

For example, this manifests in:

  • The types of clothes we are dressed in, noting that sometimes clothes change the way we move about in the world (it is difficult to climb a tree in a dress or kick a ball in sandals)
  • The type of play we are encouraged to engage in – not just the kinds of toys we have, but also how rough versus nurturing we are expected to be
  • The types of emotions we are encouraged to express – anger, stoicism, bravado, sadness, compassion or nurturing
Screenshot from the current Toys 'R Us Catalogue

Screenshot from the current Toys ‘R Us Catalogue

 

Here’s where the colour-coding of toys comes in. As you may have noticed, toy manufacturers often make toys marketed at boys blue (or primary colours yellow and red), and toys sold to girls pink (or purple, teal or pastels) and stores often separate toys according to this schema of girls vs boys toys. Thus you get aisles that are predominately blue, and ones dominated by pink. The problem isn’t the colours in themselves. The problem is the different kinds of toys that are marketed according to the gender binary, as signified by the colours chosen for the toys designated “boys” versus “girls”.

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A double page spread from the depths of the catalogue

Analysing the current Toys ‘R Us catalogue, it is clear they’re making an effort to pay lip service to the gender issue – they have a boy on the front playing with a kitchen set (with the caption “just like home!”). But as you wade deeper into the catalogue, you’re met with more and more of the stereotypical stuff. Some examples of “boy” toys: space stuff, robot stuff, dinosaurs, action equipment, trains and transport, excavation and trucks, scientific equipment, pirate stuff, architecture and building, dragons, science fiction and fantasy, racing cars. And “girl” toys: dolls, princesses, woodland creatures, phones, drawing stuff, makeup, jewellery kits, accessories, fashion stuff, baby stuff, horses. It’s actually pretty crazy when you start to consider how this gendered marketing of toys might lead to the cultivation of particular interests along gendered lines, starting at a very young age.

Tony Abbott: A bit of a dick

Tony Abbott: A bit of a dick actually

From what I can see of the No Gender December campaign, the point isn’t to “Ban Barbie”. The point is to challenge the way in which toys are divided along the gender binary, thus reinforcing  differences between how “boys” and “girls” are socialised.

In conclusion, Abbott is a bit of a jerk. But we already knew that. Did I mention that time Tony Abbott allegedly punched a wall near a rival student politician Barbara Ramjan’s head for intimidation? Or that he constantly alludes to his “hot daughters“? Or that when in opposition he continually called for Australians to “ditch the witch“, Prime Minister Julia Gillard?

Well, he might be the Minister for Women but I guess boys will be boys.