Monday, July 05, 2010

Thoughts Before A Book Review

I have just finished reading Susan J. Douglas's Enlightened Sexism which I will review here soon. The book is about the popular culture and its treatment of feminism, sexism and women and will give us a big and lovely meal for discussion.

But we can have snacks or tapas beforehand! One of the sections of the book notices in passing that women are assumed to be naturally empathic, in the rulebook of life, even if women are also assumed to be bitches who can't make friends with each other, who are queen bees and who have cat fights. Now that's a whole list of animals!

Paradoxes like that are natural in all sorts of cultural myths. But that empathy thing really hit home with me. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't a very empathic child, what with mostly living inside my head, building imaginary worlds (with one citizen: me).

I had to work on it. Because empathy is important. To assume that one gender comes with a prepackaged empathy makes that work look yet another invisible and unpaid female chore. It also suggests that men are naturally not empathic and so can't become even a smidgen more able to identify with what other people are going through. This is not true, in any case, given the people I have known in meatspace (yes, even goddesses have meatspaces).

Popular culture is like that, though. The myths are fast-food myths: You gulp down the hamburger and fries and don't realize that you have also taken in about 10,000 calories worth of evo-psycho propaganda. A moment on your lips, a lifetime on your hips! And that is indeed one of Douglas's theses.

The wider framework of these thoughts consists of the consequences when something (empathy, leadership, gossiping) is assumed to be natural or unnatural for one gender. It becomes --- natural? --- in the sense of being unquestioned and in the sense of our quick reptile-brain responses.

A nail that sticks up from the sea of nails? Is it a female nail? Then hammer it down because it might be a queen bee! Is it a male nail? Then it might be a leader we other nails wish to follow? A female nail may stick out only if she is also caring and empathic and maternal and has totally (like, totally) unselfish reasons for sticking up. Ask female politicians about this.