Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

On Gender Roles and Advertising


Sorry for the mixed bag of posts today.  I often wish that the political struggles of 2011 would just go calmly away so that I could focus on other things in life.  :0)

I have a love/hate relationship with feminists – probably not so much with more contemporary feminists, but that’s probably neither here nor there.  My primary beef is with what seems to be a continual focus on the idea that women who choose to stay at home with their children “put their projects and dreams and career on hold to selflessly care for the children and perform all the other unpaid domestic labor.”  The underlying assumption often seems to me to be that the only way to determine one’s value or worth or meaning is whether or not money is exchanged in some way or if the primary focus of your life happens outside of your home.  Five years of college and four majors later, I have to say I disagree. Then again, this as we shall say is beside the point at present.

My point was really rather to highlight a post by The Feminist Agenda on “Those gender rebels at J.Crew.”  In the post Rachel discusses the reaction from a segment of conservative types who take issue with the changing discussion in our culture over things like gender identity.  In response she writes:

If the real fear here is that the kids will turn out to be transgendered, then let’s talk about that.  First, it is true that trans people often have to engage in therapy – they need a diagnosis to get the meds they need. But why is that? Because of other social constructions such the DSM and western medical conventions. We have chosen as a culture to categorize gender dysphoria as a mental health issue. We have chosen to say that when a person’s gender identity doesn’t fix the box we put them in, the problem is with the individual, not the box itself.  Second, if something as simple as wearing fingernail polish can derail your gender identity, why are there any trans people in the world at all? They all went through years and years of gendered socialization, and somehow it didn’t work. And now they probably do need therapy, because they’re traumatized by it all. There are countless incentives in our world to suck it up and perform the gender you were assigned to rather than transitioning. If, in the face of all that socializing and policing and bullying and belittling and incentivizing acceptable behavior, there are so many people still making the choice to transition, then the claim that wearing some nail polish or playing with the wrong toys is going to derail your gender identity just seems kind of weak. (emphasis mine)

And that by far seems to be the crux of the issue in most conversations about identity – both gender and sexual.  I know the conservative types won’t ever admit it, but I’d venture a guess that deep inside of themselves not a single one of them ever made a conscious choice about who they were.  I know I didn’t – it’s always been something that welled up from deep inside of me.  I have about as much control over my gender identity as I do over my heart beating or the weather tomorrow.

I also understand the need to simplify and boil all of life down into something that fits neatly into bins.  There’s this underlying human need to classify things which I suppose provides a great deal of comfort and security in a world that is anything but.  Desiring that sort of comfort and security, though, only ends up denying that same comfort and security to someone else.

We’re a highly complex and varied country and it would be nice if we could have conversations about these realities coupled with public and social policies that reflected it.  Instead, what we’re left with is denial under the banner of “fair and balanced.”


5 thoughts on “On Gender Roles and Advertising

  1. The breadth and depth of the issues you post about continues to amaze, enlighten and delight me. I can only imagine the great education you are providing for your children.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I’ve certainly agonized over the ways and whys of what we do. I can only hope that my children agree with you when they are adults. Our goal has always been not necessarily teaching facts and figures so that my children know what to think, but rather the skills and foundations necessary to know how to think (and where to find the answers to your questions).

  2. She is providing a wonderful education indeed.

  3. Pingback: It Gets Better and The Trevor Project | Under the Maple Canopy