My husband counts the dog when we have a girls vs. boys discussion in our home. He’s adapted quite well over the years to being outnumbered in a girl dominated house. He’ll purchase feminine products if he’s sent a photo of the package, he’s never encountered a thong that he hasn’t tried to fold, and he gets teary-eyed when watching chick flicks.
Recently, I was reminded of Legally Blonde while listening to one of my daughters discuss with her father her disappointment over the way women still have to overcome stereotypes and obstacles that men do not. I admit that when I first viewed the movie, I was expecting to hate it. It’s silly. It’s pink. It’s so girly. But the idea of pink girls who overcome stereotypes and kickass won me over. Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods talking about “passion, courage of conviction, and a strong sense of self” was a brilliant way to end the movie.
As I listened to my daughter lambaste the press for giving airtime to Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits, I thought about Elle Woods and her coordinating pinkness. As Annie moved on to how insulting these double standards are, I nodded in agreement, remembering how Woods was characterized as a Marilyn and not a Jackie in the movie.
Of course, Annie was referring to the press coverage of the current election cycle. As a politically aware 24 year old with a strong idea of the gender binary, she makes a great point: It is time, past time, for the shift to occur that takes gender out of the conversation. And that’s when I realized what my daughter was saying. Applying the same lame lens to men doesn’t fix the problem.
Then I started to pay attention and realized my own culpability in perpetuating stereotypes. I’ve influenced my daughters in not-so subtle ways in my effort to make them less girly and more badass. “Real athletes don’t wear pink shoes.” “How can that be a sport? Those girls wear spandex and don’t run.” Sheesh, as a young mom, I had a lot to learn about empowering girls rather than ungirlifying them.
How do we change the conversation and end the national propaganda that perpetuates stereotypes? As a woman who has been on the receiving end of being labeled as bitch for having a strong point of view, who grew up not knowing that it was okay to be both athletic and girly, I’m guilty of being satisfied with the small steps: a woman on the bench, a woman as a vice presidential candidate, a female astronaut.
Small steps aren’t getting the job done. I’m reminded of Michael J. Fox, as Lewis
Rothchild, confronting Michael Douglas in The American President (another chick flick), "People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand." The response, however, is the point. “We've had Presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand, because they're thirsty. They drink it because they don't know the difference.”
How many people, especially women, truly understand how stereotypes about women influence our national debates, elections, and opportunities? Who is our next Helen Reddy? Victoria Woodhull? Carrie Chapman Catt? A shift this big requires a constant presence and voice. It requires that people listen and consider how they can change the conversation.
I don’t consider myself an active feminist or a political activist, but as a woman and a mother of daughters, I am realizing that I cannot hope that their lives will someday be barrier free if I am not committed to changing the dialog. I have put gender stereotypes on the top of my “things to change” list.
As for chick flicks, I challenge the industry and America to embrace the feminine gender as an equal component. I celebrate that what makes girls girly and the fact that I have a husband who gets it as well.