Relatives. Gotta love ’em. In a particularly memorable email from a family member this week, he closed with the following: “We are doing quite well. I think [insert name] is making a pie for me. We went shopping this morning…I’m exhausted. Thank God shopping is for women. The effort would kill us men.” My initial reaction was nervous laughter. The contemporary gender enthusiast in me then wanted to throw my Swiffer through the window. (I didn’t, of course, because that would upset MissDre, who is currently the only person using said device)
I’m now going to dissect this email and shed light on everything that happens to be wrong with it. Bear with me. I may start chucking books.
1. In all honesty it’s not anyone’s fault, per se, for automatically assuming that women do/should cook for men. This is a historically entrenched social norm that has been in place since the dawn of mankind. It’s also enforced by the media. How many commercials, for instance, that feature cooking utensils, recipes, products, or food-related stuffs of any kind have women in them as the protagonists? Most of these commercials, by the way, illustrate the female prowess in the kitchen by contrasting it with the socially constructed assumption that men are total dolts in the kitchen and need women to clean up after them. We all (hopefully) know this to be a sham. I know dozens of men who are better in the kitchen than I am and are damn proud of it. Furthermore, who cares? Why does it matter who’s good in the kitchen and who isn’t? As long as that tofu fiesta scramble gets in my mouth I really don’t give a shit who made it and how it got there, be it man, woman, or lemur.
2. I’ll address the shopping part next. Not only is shopping *not* exclusively for women, it’s also unfair to leave men out of the vast, exciting world of retail. Personally I’m too terrified of massive stampedes of people to shop anywhere except from the comfort of my keyboard, but the point here is that it’s unfair to label it as a uniquely female experience. Or even a uniquely male experience. It’s a human experience. The idea that shopping “could kill men” is also essentially saying that men aren’t strong enough to use the parts of their brain or body that shopping requires. In being sexist towards women, the author of this email is also being quite sexist towards men.
3. The worst part about this entire experience was the total lack of sensitivity with which said email was written. Being a relative, the author should know by now that I am, in fact, a woman. The idea that he didn’t even think that I would be offended by this is truly unsettling. I’m aware of the classic conundrum of generational gaps, but from a sociological perspective that smacks strongly of ageism. If we blame a person’s age for their chauvinism, we’re ultimately excluding them from any possibility of modern enlightenment due to their predetermined intellectual failure. Then it becomes an excuse for their offensive dialogue, ending in a cruel recycling of outdated, archaic, and ignorant ideologies. But is it really too much to ask for a little human decency? Perhaps a pinch of empathy? I’m fairly certain that “freedom of speech” didn’t mean freedom of abusing the gift of speech and all of its components.
The sad, brutal reality is this: we are very much informed, be it consciously or not, by gender norms. We are a progressive society in many ways, sure. But instead of patting ourselves on the back for the gold star on our paragraph-long response to centuries of even worse oppression, we should be concentrating on what is, what isn’t, and what should be, based on the life we seek to make for ourselves.
And trust, me. I plan on awkwardly bringing all of this up at the next family reunion.