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Mad (Wo)Men

Posted by Dirck on 29 July, 2010

I hesitated to write this down, but I have permission from one of the participants.

Picture, if you will, one member of a couple inviting a couple of friends over for the evening. While one spouse stands in the kitchen, sharing drinks with the guest, the other attends to their slightly unruly child. The party at no point becomes unruly, but is slightly ribald, with sexists comments about short-comings of the opposite gender and rampant objectification of various people in the entertainment industries– the latter accompanied by epithets like “eye-candy” and “yummy”. The whole thing wraps up only when Junior’s bed-time rolls around and a certain level of quiet is necessary in the house. The guests depart, full of merriment and apparently unaware of having said anything that the child-watching parent could possibly have taken amiss.

I will not be surprised if you picture something very like an episode of Mad Men, with a trio of well-groomed louts in narrow ties, drinking martinis or beer, while a woman in a dress with a slightly stiff skirt and extremely stiff hair-do pursues the child. It’s an obvious setting for this sort of grim, unconscious sexism. I have mentioned in various previous entries that as much as I’m a fan of the styles of the early and mid-twentieth century, I’m not particularly big on some of the underlying oppression, and this is exactly the sort of thing I’m quite set against. I actually sort of agree with this fellow, who worries that the popularity of Mad Men is somewhat underlaid by a popular desire to be able to oppress someone.

However, if I suggest to you that you should be picturing a modern house, and that the party-goers are all women, the youngest in her twenties, the oldest in her forties, and that they’re drinking tea… what’s that do to your image? The “yummy” actors are in a couple of current vampire-theme TV shows. The spouse doing kid-duty is a bearded chap with a Sheaffer Imperial in the pocket of his light summer shirt.

So, is it less of an issue if women are making unguarded sexist comments, and it’s a guy who feels slightly smaller in the world? I hope you said no. People are people, after all, and we do not build a good society by making some members of it feel small. I don’t blame my wife unduly for her participation, as she was not an instigator and apologized almost instantly when the guests left and she had a moment for reflection– one can get dragged along by the way a group is thinking, and regret it bitterly when the group dissolves– but I am surprised that such a thing could develop amongst people we actually like. It’s not even that there was sexism, but that is was so clearly unconscious. I will admit to having thoughts sexist, racist, and various other -ists drift through my head, but they’re always followed by the thinking part of my crying out, “Where the hell did that come from? You just go sit in a corner of the parietal lobe until you’re ready to play nicely!”

I guess my point for the day is that one should be aware of their actions. I encourage a freedom of choice (given the way I dress and the strange hobbies I pursue, I’d better), but I also call for self-governance. I’m fairly certain that my mode of dress or means of writing are not actively offensive to others. If they were… I hope I’d amend them. Hermits and castaways have absolute freedom to act as they wish. The rest of us have to take into account that there’s people around us. It’s no more wise to declare sexists or racist notions aloud than it is to whirl a knife around on the end of a string– you can get away with it if there’s no one around, but with an audience someone is bound to get hurt.

Well. I see the soapbox still works. I hope to not need it again any time soon.

slightly later– I should also mention that as with an experience as a visible minority while teaching in Korea, there is an element in me that welcomes the whole experience. While I was somewhat crabby during the events of last night, as soon as I hit on the Mad Men analogy, I though, “Ah, this is why the late ’60s where so filled with unrest! I get it now!”

Today’s gender-neutral pen: Parker 50 “Falcon”
Today’s ink that means no offense: Diamine Majestic Blue

3 Responses to “Mad (Wo)Men”

  1. sadieruin said

    I’m not sure how I feel about your point, on one hand I compleatly agree with you, on the other I don’t find anything wrong with saying someone is attractive, be that through calling them yummy or hot or what have you. The anthropologist in me who can’t seem to shut off would point out that all societies are predicated on the hierarchies they construct among which attractiveness ranks high (although among chimpanzee’s etc. attractiveness factors into breeding much more than in human societies of our current generation). As a single female however I also feel it is okay for me to point out attractive males and females more so than if I were not single.
    But getting back to the point, I agree sexism and racism that run unchecked are a detriment to all who hear such things, I think that was your main point, and that point I compleatly agree with. Alas it still occurs no matter how many marches seem to be put on, but ending it in one’s own social circle is generally a smart move, or at least bringing it out into the open for conversation and critiquing purposes. Bravo sir.

    • There’s got to be some allowance for “Gosh, that person is attractive,” of course, and I made a crack yesterday about Janet Leigh that someone could flog me with the hypocrite-stick over, but there comes a point at which it starts being ojectionable through objectification. “Say, doesn’t X carry him/herself well?” and stereotype construction worker hooting are far enough apart that there’s plenty of room for free expression while keeping in mind the “object” is still a sentient creature.

      Can’t tell I’m a Buddhist, can you?

      • sadieruin said

        Ahh yes I would agree with you on Janet Leigh. I see what your getting at (I think anyway) and that is that there is a line between, “Doesn’t X look rather dashing today” and “Hey baby show me your cookies”, and that line is more about decorum. Again taken into account that these are cultural constructions, while I would probably be moderatly offended at some guy in a car pulling up to me and talking about my ‘milkshake’ I know that for some that is actually a perfectly acceptable comment. Do we take culture to task or ourselves as the makers of it? Or are we merely destined to attempt to teach the younger generations the error of our ways? Such a though provoking soap box you’ve gotten yourself on.

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