Last time we talked about why feminism isn’t about keeping score. Today, let’s move on to feminism misnomer #2:
2) FEMINISM ISN’T GENDER SWAPPING
Gender, unlike sex, is a social construct that begins to shape each of us starting from the time we’re inside the womb. Studies indicate that pregnant women who know they’re carrying a male fetus are more likely to drink, smoke or engage in reckless behavior than those informed their baby will be female. Once born, babies are likewise treated very differently. Males are more likely to be playfully tossed in the air and bounced around, whereas females tend to receive more baby talk and tender affection.
As we get older these gender disparities grow greater, extending to our clothes, our activities and what’s considered acceptable behavior. It shapes how (and what) we learn in school and what occupations we’re more likely to pursue. It affects how we interact with people of our own gender and those of the opposite.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t wide variation in how individuals adapt to these gender norms. Many women prefer pants to skirts, sports to ballet, math to English. But it does mean they will be treated differently when making unconventional choices for their gender, and as such, they will inevitably behave differently. And herein lies the problem with films that try to demonstrate gender equality by creating characters who are written as if they’re members of the opposite sex.
For example, let’s take Amy Schumer’s TRAINWRECK. Now at the onset I had high hopes for this one. In the opening scene, a father (Colin Quinn) comically uses a doll to explain the fallacy of monogamy to his two young daughters. The scene not only provides humor but also does a convincing job of setting up the sexually promiscuous, party lifestyle the protagonist adopts as an adult. Her enculteration has taught her to embrace sex, fun and independence, while shunning monogamy and convention. In short, she’s given free reign to “act like a guy.”
The inciting moment comes when free-spirited Amy has a one-nighter with Aaron (Bill Hader), a doctor, who disapproves of her radical lifestyle and pressures her to settle down. He also regularly and openly discusses every nuance of his relationship and feelings with his best guy friend, LeBron James. In other words, to quote author CARINA CHOCANO, he “plays the girl” in keeping with conventional gender traditions.
I was interested to see where Schumer was going with this parody of genders, daring to hope it might mimic 1930s screwball films in which the romantic couple, inevitably two polar opposites, help each other strike the perfect balance to discover their best possible selves. Instead, it panned out like the majority of neo-traditional rom-coms (1980s and beyond): the male love interest gets everything he wants with little to no compromise whatsoever, while the female completely changes who she is for him, blindly embracing patriarchal values. After all, as the movie suggests, it’s in her own best interest.
In other words, the movie wasn’t a parody after all. Rather, it was a standard, contemporary rom-com with a gimmick: for a portion of the film, the males and females swap gender roles, but “normalcy” is restored by movie’s end.
Such a missed opportunity!
Worse, still, it doesn’t fulfill the promise of the premise. Amy’s character was not raised to be a traditional female. And it would seem Aaron was likewise not raised to be a traditional male. Why then must they shed a lifetime of enculturation to present an ending that seems unworthy of either character? And worse, why must this story insist that gender is in our genes? It’s not.
We can, and must, do better.
Next up from me: What Feminism is not: Myth #3
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