Tag: gender roles

What’s for Dinner? (One Mother Confesses)

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overworked momWhen University of Baltimore MFA student Melinda Cianos suddenly realized she’d never shown her family how to serve themselves dinner, she felt called to instruct.

My father worked at Bethlehem Steel for 20-some years and my mother never finished high school. There weren’t conversations around the dinner table, or elsewhere in the house for that matter, about how and why I should attend college, so I didn’t. I started a family at 22 years old; I had more than enough to keep me busy so I don’t how not having a degree found its way in to start gnawing at me, but it did. I looked away from it until I was 34, at which time I thought, “I’m ready.” What I didn’t realize was that I might be the only one in my household who was.

How Not to Talk About Women in Science

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photo via Nature
photo via Nature

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It’s a schema dreamed up by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel that asks three simple questions of a given work of art:  does it feature two female characters with names? Do they talk to each other? About something other than a man? Not so difficult, right? Actually, you might be surprised (or perhaps not surprised at all, if you’ve been paying attention) at all the films that fail the Bechdel test:  The Social Network, the (original) Star Wars trilogy, Slumdog Millionaire, The Princess Bride, Trainspotting, When Harry Met Sally… I could go on, but I’ll stop. The Bechdel test exposed the lack of female presence in Hollywood films; now Johns Hopkins professor/acclaimed science writer Ann Finkbeiner has come up with a similar test (the unimaginatively-named “Finkbeiner test”) for stories and profiles about women in science.

The Masculine Label: Do Women Prefer Jerks?

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“Dating Data” columnist Sara Lynn Michener answers a (nice) young man who thinks that bad behavior might lead to better dates.

Dear Sara, I am 20 years old and I read your column. I was hoping maybe you could teach me to be a little more masculine. I am in love with a girl, but she’s not in love with me. I realize your gut reaction would be for you to tell me there’s “No way to get someone to love you,” and yeah I sort of agree, but I think maybe part of it is a matter of ‘manning up’ as much as I hate saying shit like that. I was wondering if maybe you could give some advice on how to fall between being a “bad guy” and being a “nice guy.” Because right now I think I’m the nice guy she doesn’t like.

I think the only way to begin to answer this question is to go Back to the Future. As in George McFly vs. Marty McFly. Both boys, it is important to mention, are fairly physically weak. Biff is the only one with muscles, and Lorraine isn’t interested in him at all, thank goodness. At the beginning, George is a meek pushover with an annoying laugh, and Marty is exciting, confident, rebellious, and, well, from the Future. George can’t compete with one of these things, but has the upper hand unbeknownst to him: he is not Lorraine’s future son. This scenario is not going to happen in the real world (at least not until someone invents time travel, further complicating all of our love lives). But I mention it to bring up a very specific point: You will always have the upper hand of not being the other guy; no matter how hot you think she thinks he is. You never know what his faults are, and everyone has them. In romantic relationships, sometimes the faults of the cutest guy in the room don’t make him any less cute, but make the relationship impossible. I’ve dated some amazing men, but the things that ended our relationship were very important signifiers of why each union would never have functioned long-term.

Gender Roles on Campus: Are Today’s Students Regressing?

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In this weekend’s New York Times, Lisa Belkin writes about her discomfort with the gender roles she sees on campus (she’s a professor at Princeton):  women who are intelligent and confident in the classroom, and subservient/skimpily dressed outside of it:

“Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at [a Halloween/slut-themed] Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college day. What has changed?”

Some commenters have called Belkin out for assuming that girls in short skirts are being oppressed — perhaps they’re just asserting their sexuality the way they want to. (See the debate over the anti-rape SlutWalk protests for more discussion of the same issue.) But something about Belkin’s subtly troubling account rings true, to me at least. I always get kind of creeped out by the wintertime phenomenon of college girls trotting across Charles Street in sleeveless dresses, dodging snowdrifts while wearing high heels. Aren’t they freezing? (Consider also the series of frat-centric scandals that have erupted over the past year or so.)

Belkin asked some of her journalism students to help with the reporting, and the quotes they contribute give me an icky feeling inside, too: “‘A guy is more or less dependent on the women receiving his advances so if she is not interested, then tough luck for him,’ [one male student] said. ‘I think that in a way the girls relish that power. They can pick and say, “I’m not interested in that guy.” ‘ ” Hopefully these young women are feeling empowered by more than just their ability to reject guys. But an upsetting number of students — both male and female — seem to see it in exactly those terms.

If you’re a college student (or a parent of a college student):  does Belkin’s account ring true? Are today’s students moving in the wrong direction, in terms of gender roles? Or are here expectations outdated?

How Mr. Mom Turns Ward Cleaver

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My wife and I used to be cool. Like other twenty-something couples in the Baltimore arts community, our partnership paid little mind to conventional notions of gender. She was by far the primary breadwinner. I cooked all our dinners. We shared all other homemaking responsibilities evenly. I was proud of our enlightened attitude that allowed us to work out an idiosyncratic domestic partnership with seemingly no regard for traditional gender roles. No one would dare say we weren’t a liberated, modern couple.

That began to change when my wife became pregnant. We were careful to limit her exposure to germs and toxins, so taking out the garbage became solely my domain. It was a portentous change, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t have the foresight then to see that soon virtually all of our superficial feminist merit-badges would be sacrificed on the altar of parenthood.

Our son is fed breastmilk exclusively. We prefer not to use bottles. We’d rather not leave the baby with a sitter. And from these few seemingly innocent parenting preferences sprang a “Leave It to Beaver” style family arrangement: Mom stays at home with the child and keeps the house in order; Dad supports the family financially and is occasionally guilted into washing a few dishes. Okay, so it’s not quite that simple. But my wife does cook dinner more often she used to, and just last week she baked chocolate chip cookies. Bittersweet, as with every delicious bite came the thought that somehow we were setting the movement back 50 years.

Maybe there are other ways we could set up the family unit, but with no family in town to help out our options are limited. And though we’re in our late twenties, we’re the first of our Baltimore friends to procreate, so we have to learn as we go.

What remains to be seen is what becomes of our arrangement when the kiddo moves on to solid foods. Will we continue in our grandparents’ family roles, or will we revert to our hip, genderblind selves?

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