I hate talking about gender roles. I won’t even listen to other people talk about gender roles. Within the realm of all progressive fronts of social change, cultural movements regarding gender are the most immediate. The history of nontraditional women is frustratingly short and our cultural education is exceedingly androcentric. I think it’s already a small miracle that young people today don’t think like clones of their parents. Whereas we can comfortably throw around ideas about poverty and human rights from a distance, ideas about gender roles apply universally. And above all, I feel that nobody has yet produced the right answer to the question of gender roles so far. I’ll show you what I mean.
A lot of people like to throw around condescending rhetorical questions that go something like: why do you you think (foo) can’t (bar) just because s/he’s is a man/woman? In the heat of the moment, pointing out someone else’s gender insensitivity makes you feel like some kind of prejudice-fighting social hero. However, antagonistic attacks like these are ad hominem and require just about as much thought as a fart. Most discussions about gender roles have become so predictable and droll. “She can do whatever she wants.” or “That sounds like a double standard.” All that’s left are thoughtless questions and fart-like answers, one in reply to the other. The same thing usually happens to any social movement that becomes stylish and mainstream, not that I’m complaining.
The image that comes to my mind is a camaraderie of rich wives sitting together in their grand English-style sunlit home talking about the importance of racial equality over some hot tea. Oh wait, I shouldn’t say that. It would imply that English folks are all rich, which is racist, and that men can’t be domestic and drink tea, which is sexist. On the other hand, we applaud shows like Adventure Time that boldly present a independent, strong, female scientist in a position of political power.
The truth is, everybody says mildly sexist things occasionally. It is hard to avoid doing so when our culture and upbringing were designed that way. “Your new knowledge is in conflict with your old assumptions,” goes one webcomic that I follow1. At school and online, people publish articles about gender all the time, and unless they are right on point and conservative about their breadth, people usually hate it. Any one exclusion or oversight might bring out the loudest and most ignorant bunch who point out mentions of rape that ignore male victims or the symmetry of culturally-distorted body image. There are a dozen things that might get you into trouble with the gender police, and each one makes it more discouraging to write anything regarding gender. The problem is that we blame writers for their shitty gender ideas, rather than the culture that teaches them. That’s like yelling at a 19th century guy for being racially insensitive. People should be rewarded for attempting to change their cultural preconceptions, not scolded for getting stuck.
People occasionally have good conversations about gender too, but until we agree to stop using gender roles to feel morally superior, the loudest few will continue to ruin the conversation for everyone else.