Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don’t let Your Boy look like a sissy for Halloween

The above is from The Onion.  Once again, those familiar with the political leanings of The Onion, will totally see this as a piece of satire, but those unfamiliar will take this video quite seriously.  When one creates a product, I believe that it is important to be aware that it will be distributed beyond it’s target audience.

The video is meant to be an attack on those that are homophobic, however; I believe it sends a far more direct message about gender policing.  The video connects gender to sexuality, when in fact they are two very separate entities.  From a very early age, we discipline children into performing gender in a very specific manner.  Boys are taught to be strong and aggressive as this supports our patriarchal society; that it leaves them disconnected and emotionally stunted is often understood as unimportant.

Often when we talk about sexism, we focus on the ways in which it negatively impacts women, however; videos like this highlight exactly why gender should be a concern of men as well.  If a role is so rigid that it restricts individuality, it limits personal growth.  Though the example of Halloween has been used, policing occurs on a daily basis.  It takes the form of telling a child not to cry, or to man up in the face of fear, even withholding of affection.

The withholding of affection is specifically damaging to young boys.  As they age we are less likely to cuddle them, kiss them or display any form of overt attention.   When we consider the healing power of touch and its importance in socialization, the sudden withdrawal is not only confusing to children but emotionally scaring. We believe that part of establishing masculinity is forcing the withdrawal from their mothers in order to establish a distinctly masculine persona.  This means a specific rejection of the feminine that exists in all things.

Male or even masculine is not necessarily the opposite of feminine and it is only our devaluation of womanhood that makes the realization of gender fluidity seem so threatening.  What makes this video so interesting is that while it seeks to challenge heteronormativity and the gender binary, it reinforces it by its erasure of gender queer bodies.  True challenge means acknowledging those that do not adhere to gender whatsoever and change their presentation continually. Their invisibility in this critique helps to maintain the dichotomy that The Onion is claiming to challenge.

Invisibility is insidious because it keeps conversation focused on dominant bodies, thus reinforcing the hierarchal order of society that we have normalized. Erasing their existence even in satiric routines like this, is a reflection of the ability of certain bodies to create and inform discourse.  Even the most liberal amongst us are capable of using power coercively.  We have a tendency to avoid a nuanced examination of social norms because we fear revealing the ways in which we invoke personal privilege.  It is far easier to look at the large connections thereby ignoring the ways in which we contribute to the very imbalance that leads to “othering".”

It would be quite easy to watch the video created by The Onion and agree that forcing boys to perform certain behaviours because of a fear of homosexuality is wrong, it is however another matter to extend that argument and examine the inherent sexism and the erasure of gender queer bodies.  Hitting people with a brick only serves to create  a small opening to what are often real and enormous social marginalizations. If we do not begin with the position that intersectionality is paramount,  the conversation is necessarily stunted and only reinforces inequality as the norm.  Where we begin conversing, is just as important as what we hope to achieve by sharing ideas.