International Women’s Day and Casual Misogyny

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today in class we were talking about NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and how she (or rather, the popular portrayal of her) is an embarrassment to women everywhere because, although she’s ostensibly famous for her sport, she’s a) not as great at it as her fame would suggest, and b) far more famous for taking her clothes off and being a spokesmodel in skanky ads. We talked about how offensive it is to both men and women to depict women as empty-headed, easily-controllable imaginary objects just sitting there for male consumption, and I said something about how it turns them into these infantilized child-women, whereupon a student piped up with, “That sounds like a really bad superhero. Infantilized Child-Woman to the rescue!”

So we came up with a whole scenario for Infantilized Child-Woman, who goes around “rescuing” women from intelligent, deep conversations that aren’t about men, and turning them into flirtatious bobble-heads with one flick of her ruffled costume, and who foils male criminals by strutting around seductively until the cops arrive. Her arch-nemesis is Intensely Nerdy Boy, on whom her powers are useless because he prefers the smart girls he meets at ComicCon, and his secret weapon is a Fandom Gun, which makes everyone he shoots it at so involved in a fan community that they stop paying attention to Infantilized Child-Woman. Muahahaha!

I’ve been thinking about this today, a paraphrase of something I saw browsing just now on my lunch break: we need to stop thinking of sexism as part of an identity — i.e., so-and-so is a sexist therefore a wife-beater, a rapist, a woman-hater, etc. — and start thinking of it in terms of actions. Anyone can casually devalue women, and we, both men and women, do it all the time. So many things, from using pornography (i.e. consuming women’s degradation) to implying that women shouldn’t complain about discrimination (because we can, like, vote now and stuff), are sexist, and no amount of, “But I love women/am a woman!” negates that.

We might rightly roll our eyes at the antediluvian attitude that a woman’s place is always in the home and preferably in the kitchen. We might, I hope, get involved with charities that help free women from sex work. But it’s easier to let slide that sort of casual, condescending misogyny that applauds Danica Patrick equally for taking her clothes off and finishing 40th in some race, because it’s so subtle and so ubiquitous. It’s the kind of sexism that we need to be most careful of because it’s the easiest to slip into, the easiest to absorb from women’s magazines and sitcoms, and, I think, the toughest to eliminate.

But we have an obligation to value women, to treat them with the dignity they intrinsically have as image-bearers of God, creations whose absence prompted God to call something “not good” for the first time ever. Christians must strive never to be open to the charge of denigrating or diminishing that value, however casually or incidentally.

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10 thoughts on “International Women’s Day and Casual Misogyny

  1. Dang, I wish I could write one sentence in a hour like you jot off paragraphs over lunch break. Well said, and spot on.
    Lately I’ve been reading about real repentance — not the go-forward-at-a-revival-meeting-and-cry-for-ten-minutes stuff, but the root-sin kind of repentance in which we acknowledge that our hearts cherish fill-in-the-blank for than Christ — and your post speaks so poignantly to the same issue. The Spirit seeks to deliver from the sins we slide into so easily — or as you put it, casually — that we don’t notice it happening, which are the really problematic categories of sin, because we have bought the world’s lie that they’re not really sinful at all, just only human. As in, “What do you expect, ’cause after, I’m only human.” For a Christ-follower, however, the inherent lie is right there, and it must not be allowed to pass unnoticed or unrebuked; we are not, in point of fact, only human. We’re regenerate, in union with Christ, and means we’re *not* only human, insofar as those two words gives us a pass to neglect the work of Christ to justify *and* sanctify His chosen.

    Sadly, our culture loves to employ tools like Danica Patrick. Even more sad, it trains our children to yearn to be made tools themselves, instead of redeemed sons and daughters. The (palindromic) irony is that the Deceiver, who whispers, “You’ll be like God,” really just turns the drooling listeners into dogs.

  2. If Danica Patrick is taking off her clothes in “skanky ads,” I suspect that has less to do with any attempt to depict women as empty-headed and easily-controllable, and more to do with the fact that research has repeatedly shown that images of sexy women cause men to think more short-term, and hence to buy products that they don’t really need.

    • You don’t think half-naked women in skanky ads appeal to an emasculated man’s desire to be in control of women? C’mon. And it’s not just that — the empty-headed business is all about objectification. Whose opinion matters to the marketer? The fool, consuming the body with a pretty face and nothing of importance to say, as he opens his wallet at the ticket booth for Sheol.

      • There’s a lot of research on this (see e.g. “Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice” in the Journal of Consumer Research). Half-naked women in “skanky ads” appeal to men’s desire for sex. You can call that “objectification” if you like (although most men want sex in the context of a real relationship, so I don’t find the terminology helpful). However, “skanky ads” work at a subconscious level, making men abandon prudence and forethought and, as you say, open their wallets. The advertisements are used not so much because they INJECT certain thoughts, but because they REMOVE certain thoughts. They operate even if the woman is displayed in a context that suggests the opposite of “empty-headedness” or “controllability.” The answer Jesus gave in Matthew 5:29 is “don’t even look” — but it can hard not to look in a society where such advertisements are EVERYWHERE. And, for that matter, the use of sexuality to manipulate men isn’t always entirely the man’s fault.

          • No doubt. But my main objection to the theoretical framework of “objectification” and so forth is that I don’t believe it matches the data. In particular, it includes what I believe to be inaccurate hypotheses about how men perceive women. Consequently, it leads to solutions that don’t help in dealing with the (very real and serious) problems that exist.

            • I don’t happen to think objectification is primarily about male-female relationships necessarily, so there you go. And I am dealing with a pretty technical definition of objectification — the problem as I see it is mostly about agency, not passivity.

  3. By the way, Danica Patrick seems an odd poster figure for “Infantilized Child-Woman,” given that she manages to hold her own in what’s traditionally very much a “man’s world.” She has a median finishing position of 8th in the Indianapolis 500 (which doesn’t mean much to me, personally, but it seems to command respect from many men). As to “easily-controllable … for male consumption,” you just KNOW that by the third date she’ll say “scoot over, honey, I think I’ll drive.”

    • Yeah, should have made it clear that this was part of a much longer conversation dealing with lad-mags and the like generally, not just Danica Patrick, about whom I doubt I could talk for more than a paragraph or two equivalent.

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