Fitting in makes all the difference, doesn’t it? When you fit in, things work out for you, and it’s almost effortless. Fitting a type means you fit into a group. Not fitting a type still means you fit into a group… a group considered “other”. What is it that makes a group “other”? What makes them second rate, able to be marginalized easily? Gender is one of those types, divided into female and male groups.
Being a man means something way different to me after having spent a few years in college. It is now clear to me that gender norms and expectations are so pervasive in societies worldwide, that breaking them down seems impossible. Yes, I knew that those who identified as female have had and continue to have struggles, but I genuinely had little clue of the scope of these struggles. A few things led me to see the widespread nature of the problem.
Flashback to my freshman year” A student in one of my classes used the term “mankind” in an answer and was quickly corrected with the term “humankind”. The entire class knew what this young man meant, but the professor corrected him. A female professor. A rude, oversensitive, bossy woman? Not at all. A studied, helpful professor who explained why “humankind” is a better way to describe all human people.
A light bulb went off in my head. We assume the masculine in a lot of our speech. This was my first serious realization of gender bias and inequality. From there on out, I became fascinated with the topic. If we want to make a move in a more positive direction for gender equality, wouldn’t our speech be a great way to start? The male gender bias is evident in words like mankind, workmen’s compensation, manpower, chairman, alumni… it goes on. More women are enrolled in and completing undergraduate studies in pursuit of a “bachelor’s degree”, a term with a lengthy history leading back to the 14th century. Why not recognize this academic achievement with better, more inclusive language?
Gender bias is much more deeply rooted than language. If we look at the playthings marketed towards children, we can see the divide. Toys that are geared towards more instrumental, adventurous, building tasks are marketed with young boys in mind. Cars, long a symbol of freedom and power, are a popular choice for boys as well. It’s no surprise that beauty kits and domestically themed toys (in pastels and pink) are geared towards young girls. Am I saying that the options for boys and girls are always limited? No, that’d be silly. Am I saying that toys present a dichotomy between what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man? Hell yes.
To quote the 1995 research (on gender based reasoning about toys) of Carol Lynn Martin, Lisa Eisenbud and Hilary Rose, “Different types of toys encourage distinctly different types of play and learning.” We begin to form identities as children. Can Jenna still be a girl and want to build something with Bob the Builder? Why can’t Jimmy learn to be caring and nurturing as a child? And can the pink and yellow Power Rangers please be manufactured with some more muscle tone? Let’s follow the call of a UK gender equality group called “Let Toys Be Toys”… and let toys be just that.
On to athletics, because so many forget that NCAA March Madness includes a women’s tournament! My lovely campus at Iona College houses two D1 basketball teams in the MAAC conference. Attendance rates for men’s games are through the roof and with good reason, because they’re great! Catch a women’s game… sometimes I think the library is louder than the gym at that point. Iona College Women’s Basketball had one of its best, if not the best season this year — but attendance didn’t seem to change radically at all.
There’s a lot to be said for the popularity of men’s sports over women’s sports in this nation. WNBA salary caps in 2012 were about $878,000 according to an ESPN W report. That’s for an entire team! While paydays in most major sports (male) are considered over the top, that certainly doesn’t seem to translate to women’s sports. What about the average working person? Here in the States, the Department of Labor reports women earning 81 cents to every dollar earned by a man. JFK signed the Equal Pay act in 1963 when women made 59 cents on the dollar. Have we really not come full circle 50 years later?
As I said earlier, being a man means something different to me now. Through studies of religion, sociology, ethics, history, and much more, I have come to understand exactly what the female and male gender prescriptions are. Being a man used to mean that I should be physically strong, dominant, aggressive, robust, and much more. Was I always all of these? No. Am I always all of these? No. “Do you even lift bro?” Actually I don’t. I’m still a man, though.
More than that, I’m a male feminist. Sex and gender are two different things. The former is focused on biology, and the latter focuses on social constructs (or norms) that define “appropriate” female or male behavior. My sex makes me a man by biology. Does leadership, strength (in its forms), compassion, nurturing, and the ability to clean a room or make breakfast fall within femaleness or maleness? It does not and should not.
This article only scratches the surface when it comes to gender bias. I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend to know everything there is about this topic. There’s a lot to be discussed and acted on. All of this should concern men, and men shouldn’t be afraid to speak out and say they’re feminists — and equally as important, seek to listen. More men should join in on this. That’s why I am. I’m a male feminist because I believe that women should be able to claim equal rights and opportunities in all circles, be it social, political, or economic. To pretend that this equality exists in the States or the world is to ignore an issue that has been around too long.