Sunday, May 6, 2007

Gender Bendin'

Last night I watched “The Groomsmen,” an endearing film about a group of guys who get together the week before one of their best friends gets married. Like many movies, the film offers various characters to balance out the film: the partier, the serious one, the funny one, the insane one, and so one; but what this film really pulls off is something way deeper than that.

In the movie the men are each other’s support networks. They don’t rely on their women to solve all their problems, to cook and clean, to wipe away their tears – like is often portrayed in films. Instead, they show that men can be just as aggressive as they can be sensitive. This may not be a secret to me, but it is my contention that in general, films over-generalize and perpetuate the masculinity of its characters. So many movies have been created to show the intricate web of women whom rely on one another for love and friendship, and this film showed its audience the other side of the coin.

They do other things as well to smash the typical characteristics of men: instead of hiring a limo filled with strippers, so that the groomsmen could get blow jobs as they drove towards Atlantic City for a weekend of debauchery, they opt to play a game of softball. When one of the friends drinks too much and is about to engage in an extramarital affair, his friend reminds him of his commitment to his wife. Later, this friend wakes up to a hangover, only to have his good friend’s dad cook him a hearty breakfast. Lastly, one of the characters left town for eight years because he was afraid to tell his buddies that he is gay. As he opened up to his old pals, they all accepted him for who he is…not shoving heterosexual rhetoric down his throat.

It may seem simple, but you see, these types of films are the ones in which help women. For every man who is not able to be himself – because he must conform to societies gender role of aggressive, straight, unfaithful, unloving, insensitive, etc. – a hatred towards the norm rises, and that anger may come out in the form of abuse against women. It may also come out as a perpetuation of commidification or objectification against women...burying their sensitivity under machismo: "let’s look at women instead of dealing with our own problems."

Many experts have delved in to the subject of gender roles in American society. Nancy Chodorow's essay, "Family Structure and Feminine Personality,” highlights one way in which a perpetuation of misogyny exists. She basically says that most men are raised by their mothers or grandmothers – although this is currently changing a bit, as more men are stepping in to the stay-at-home dad role – they become FIRST accustomed to being gentle, sensitive, and so on; however they must soon step in to their SECOND stage of development in our society: the manly, masculine, aggressive, boys-are-not-allowed-to-cry mentality. This is what society expects of them (generally). In this self identification process men must see themselves as unfeminine – if they want to survive in this world – and therefore begin to scorn their mothers, and all things feminine in order to emphasize their new identity.

One has to wonder how things would be different if these gender roles – femininity and masculinity – were not extricablly assigned to a particular biological sex. Clearly a lot of people cross the “lines” all of the time: While there may be the societal definitions of both male and female, there are also people who are biologically male, but present as a female; and biological females who present as a male. There are biological females who present as a female, but identify with being male, and so on. Really, there are many combinations. Unfortunately the majority does not accept this as real.

Some states are making progressive strides towards changing this.

In Vermont this week, a bill banning the discrimination of people based on their gender or, more importantly perhaps, their gender identification, has passed their legislature, and now awaits their governor’s John Hancock. If signed, it will go in to effect July 1.

The Advocate reported on the bill and quoted a representative from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as saying, “transgender [residents will] finally crack the dehumanizing and untenable barrier of second-class citizenship and the pervasive discrimination it encompasses."