False Dichotomies of Womanhood

If someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say? Young boys and girls respond very differently to this question. This is most likely because people parent boys differently than they do girls. Girls are taught to be polite, while boys are encouraged to speak their minds and figure things out for themselves. Girls are conditioned from a fairly young age to value certain personal qualities over others. John Stossel talks about a study done where girls and boys were asked to describe themselves. “The girls described themselves as ‘nice,’ while the boys described themselves as ‘talented,’ ‘smart,’ ‘good at math,’ ‘funny.’” Being nice is important, but I wish people taught their young girls that being nice doesn’t men you have to boring. You don’t have to choose between being polite and being intelligent.

I think that as we get older some of us girls figure this out. However, some of us don’t. We look at girls in exposing Halloween costumes and automatically assume they’re slutty idiots. We see a girl wearing a lot of makeup and assume she’s probably a complete ditz. Similarly, a girl who likes to read and excels academically must be a prude with no social life. We need to realize that a woman can be smart and sexy and that what she wears or does with her body is her choice.

I saw this trailer for the first time a few weeks ago and was very excited. Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism and The Purity Myth are two very important books to me. I read her blog, Feministing, on a regular basis and all of these things have helped me become more comfortable calling myself a feminist and getting over the social stigma that comes with being labeled as such. This is the trailer for a film based on Valenti’s book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women.

Young stars like Miley Cyrus and Jordin Sparks have been vocal advocates for “purity rings.” These girls have so much influence over their fans and they choose to waste it on touting archaic gender roles. Instead of telling young girls that they are equal to men and that they should be just as assertive and confident, they relay messages meant to keep women “in their place.” I’ve also noticed that these girls that wear “purity rings” have a strange sense of superiority. They’ve been told to believe that having sex before marriage somehow makes you less of a woman. This is such a dangerous idea to implant. They’re being led to buy into the lie that they are nothing more than the number of people they have, or haven’t, slept with. As Jessica Valenti says in the video, “What the virginity movement really wants from women is submissiveness, and they’ve been prescribing a return to traditional gender roles as the cure.”

Personally, I’m not the least bit domestic. I can only cook a handful of dishes that I like to eat. Maybe this is because I was raised by a single mother who, while being an excellent cook, is also a mechanical engineer. She taught me the importance of an education, while some of her friends felt it more important to teach their daughters how to “get a man.” I’d like to have a family some day and I know that I’ll have to learn how to iron properly and cook something on the stove other than hotdogs, but I plan for my marriage to be a partnership. In this day and age, I think it’s become quite obvious that being a good mother and wife doesn’t mean you can’t also have a career and I certainly plan on having one. In Mother Nature Hrdy says, “The trick was to convince a woman that being chaste was both in her interests and the same as being a good mother. A mother will have an obvious stake in compliance when the status of her offspring depends on her ‘virtue,’ on how well she measures up to patriarchal standards.” This still goes on today, but I’d hope that women don’t worry about meeting men’s standards, or anyone else’s standards for that matter. Be your own person. I guess that’s the point of this post: be who you want: sexy, reserved, intelligent, outspoken, funny, confident, etc. You don’t have to subscribe to the false dichotomies that have been set in place by society.

About nitiapablo

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4 Responses to False Dichotomies of Womanhood

  1. I like the way you start out this post, you seem to be saying that women are equally invested in stereotyping other women. Why do you think that is? Why would women be so highly invested in a social/cultural system that pins easy labels on other women?

    And what do you make of Hrdy’s claim that monogamous sexual relationships (here extended by the virginity movement to include premarital sex) is social way of addressing an inherent biological insecurity: that males need a way to verify paternity of their children? Because Hrdy comes out as very much in favor of serial monogamy, I believe she calls it a compromise that children win. On the other hand Bonvillain has identified restricting sex before marriage as a marker of male dominance.

    I guess I’m asking a really broad question. Valenti is making a connection between the prevalence of the “purity myth” in American society and traditional family roles that subordinate wives to husbands. But can you relate that to broader patterns of monogamy that Hrdy is picking up?

    • nitiapablo says:

      I’m not really sure why women contribute to stereotyping other women. Maybe it’s something that women have internalized. It reminds me of the example in the book about how Chinese mothers-in-law mistreat their sons’ wives. Maybe women feel like they’ve earned the right to stereotype other women since they themselves have to deal with it.

      Maybe women worry too much about being agreeable and cooperative. It’s an ego stoke to be considered the best team player, the one who doesn’t disrupt the order put in place. I think we all want to be seen as team players, but at the same time we want to be the MVP. It sort of reminds me of hazing within sororities and fraternities. Sometimes it’s awful and can get out of hand, but this ridiculous “tradition” continues and people that hope to become a part of the group still submit themselves to the various forms of humiliation and dehumanization. Maybe women wear their struggle as a badge of honor and don’t see why other women shouldn’t have to go through the same struggle to get to the same position.

      From my understanding, Hrdy doesn’t believe that monogamy is natural nor does she believe that women are naturally less promiscuous than men. Also, Hrdy gives examples of communities where the children whose mothers have had relations with more than one potential father have a better chance of survival. Perhaps this is all to say that monogamy has its place in some societies, while in others it hasn’t been very practical. I understand Hrdy’s claim of monogamy as a way to authenticate paternity and that children prosper in this situation. However, I don’t think that the virginity movement’s main focus is to promote monogamy. I agree with Bonvillain in that it is a way to assert male dominance. It’s not about insuring that children are well taken care of. It’s about controlling women with archaic social restraints. I think it’s about equating women’s virginity to goodness.

  2. jrcavileer says:

    This bit: “I read her blog, Feministing, on a regular basis and all of these things have helped me become more comfortable calling myself a feminist and getting over the social stigma that comes with being labeled as such.” Irked me. The idea that there’s still a stigma, one that people have to overcome, is something that needs to be deleted forever. While it may still be hard to overcome in our society, and more-so in others, equality among sexes (and other groups) is a given. Society can not be just otherwise.

    Also, the part about the purity ring! Hopefully adding to your argument, but a friend of mine was part of a band ‘catering’ (I so badly want to say pandering, but I’m afraid that will come off as pretentious) to the same crowed. Their label had them doing the same thing, preaching abstinence before marriage, and I’m positive their label wasn’t explicitly religious.

    I’m guessing if children are going to worship these pop-idols, they should at least assume the roles religious authority use to fill in reinforcing gender roles… right?

    • nitiapablo says:

      I don’t think that “the idea that there’s still a stigma” can be deleted until society becomes more accepting and understanding of feminism. I also don’t think that equality among sexes is a given, but I do think that it should be. I guess the idea that there’s something to overcome is in place because there definitely is something to overcome. People throw around words like “feminazi” and claim that all feminists are ugly, man-hating lesbians. It’s true that some feminists are extremely aggressive and angry. Some are lesbians, and some may even hate men. They have every right to be who they want to be, however, these qualities and identities aren’t part of the definition of feminism and most people wouldn’t like to be associated with a label that carries such a negative connotation.

      I completely agree that it’s a stigma that needs to be eliminated. But, it’s something I had to deal with. Even female friends of mine would make comments about feminism and spout popularly believed myths about feminists. I’ve had to explain to them that the goal of feminism is equality and that, quite frankly everyone, men and women alike, would benefit from a society that values men and women equally.

      And oh my goodness! Was your friend part of the Jonas Brothers? hahaha. Just kidding. You say their label wasn’t explicitly religious so do you think they were secret religious fanatics? Or do you think it was just a marketing thing because it’s a popular movement? South Park made an interesting assertion in an episode where they claimed that the reason Disney made the Jonas Brothers wear purity rings was so that they could get away with selling sex to young girls. This may be crude, but I found it hilarious when they were talking about how Christians were so blinded by this promotion of purity and virginity until marriage that they couldn’t see that their daughters liked the group because “Jonas Brothers make little girls’ ginies tingle.”

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