by Grace Williams
First, to be clear, I am not a man, but I have a brother, a father, a stepfather, and enough male friends and colleagues to care about how we, as a society, treat our men. I am a feminist;I spend a lot of my time thinking, talking and writing about gender roles. I feel pretty confident sharing my opinions with our community in response to Garrett Coble’s March 7 op-ed “Your Whiskey Should Taste Like Whiskey: An Essay on Manliness.”
I get that the article was supposed to be funny. I watch Stephen Colbert. I lived in Sanderson when a six-foot-tall recreation of Ron Swanson’s “Pyramid of Greatness” was displayed in a hallway. But I also read the Dave Barry WSJ piece Coble referenced in his op-ed, and I believe that the satire comedians like Colbert and Offerson (sic) have based their careers on gets oversimplified into plain, old fashioned, unfunny sexist humor at the hands of writers like Barry and other champions of “recovering manliness.”
Women have fought for generations for our right to move past the social constructs that dictate a narrow range of society-approved behavioral norms for our gender. Thanks to feminism, I wake up every morning and decide if I want to put on pants or a dress, then I go to a job that I earned for myself with the college degree I graduated with, and when I go home I either cook or don’t cook, depending only on what I feel like doing. I know that I can date who I like and marry exactly when I’m ready and not before. Maybe I’ll have kids, maybe I won’t. Thanks to feminism, I can pick from any of these options and not have to feel like any less of a woman. I can mix and match as I make decisions about my life, and that is a great feeling.
Men deserve that too.
I’m not saying being a woman is easy or fair—we still get paid three fourths of what men do at the same jobs, female superheroes are dressed like kinky strippers (if they make it into the public eye at all), and we face shame and intentional humiliation when we’re the victims of sexual harassment or violence. I don’t have time or space, unfortunately, to get into every other gender that is excluded by the hetero-cys-male/female false binary. But at least I can order whiskey or white wine at a bar and not have that be some affront to society.
It seems that as me and my feminist sisters have seen our range of acceptable behaviors widen, men have seen theirs contract. Maybe that’s because once a behavior is deemed accessible to women, it becomes inherently “unmanly.” I’m sure if manly-man idol James Bond went to a bar with an adherent of neo-masculinity he would be pretty disappointed to learn that “clear liquors are for rich women on diets.” I can’t believe I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I have to defend James Bond, the grand poo-bah of post war womanizers.
Men are, above all, human beings. Human beings are complicated creatures; we all have feelings and should be allowed to express them. We all have different taste preferences and should be able to eat and drink what we want, we all have the right to take “selfies” or use a GPS if we want to. None of those activities should be considered gendered (i.e. only permissible by people of a certain gender), and the sort of ham-handed humor that relegates them to the feminine sphere is insidious and damaging to individuals, regardless of the intent of the author.
As for the underlying assumption that society was better in some earlier time … well, it’s pretty hard to muster up the nostalgia for the “good ole’ days” described in “Your Whiskey Should Taste Like Whiskey,” of westward expansion and Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, unless you’re coming from a position of privilege. Specifically, it’s hard to fantasize about being a pioneer or soldier unless you are an affluent Anglo Saxon male who, if transported back in time, would get to have all the fun of exploring the wilderness and expanding America. But guess who wouldn’t have fun if we turned the clock back to 1901 (or really any time): me, since I would be expected to cook, clean, and pop out babies without taking a break to go out in public without a chaperone, let alone vote or own property. Or what about ethnic minorities, like those of African and Chinese decent, who were by and large limited to backbreaking, dehumanizing physical labor in the name of America the Great? I haven’t taken a history course in a while, but I’m pretty sure Teddy Roosevelt didn’t build the transcontinental railroad with his mustache. And let’s not forget that Lewis and Clark weren’t venturing into vacant pristine wilderness—Euro Americans built this county on top an existing civilization through dishonesty, fraud, warfare and genocide.
Yes, time marches inexorably onwards. That’s a good thing. Let’s just make sure that we’re working on creating a just society that allows each individual to feel empowered to be themselves, whatever their gender. And let’s keep creating comedy that’s original, clever and funny for everyone.