Androcentrism: It’s Still a Man’s World

Sociologists use the term “androcentrism” to refer to a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity. According to the rules of androcentrism, men and women alike are rewarded, but only insofar as they are masculine (e.g., they play sports, drink whiskey, and are lawyers or surgeons w00t!). Meanwhile, men are punished for doing femininity and women… well, women are required to do femininity and simultaneously punished for it.

The above quote is from Sociological Images, a great site which specializes in social commentary based on visual information (posters, advertisements, magazine covers, billboards and so on). The article the quote is from also refers the reader to the image to the right which a reader sent in (the source is unknown):

Originally intended for the cover of “Candy,” a magazine about transversal fashion, the model is none other than James Franco, but it is the message that is important.

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. Because you think being a girl is degrading.

In my intro to women’s studies course we were taught that male characteristics are the standard against which female characteristics are measured. Men are stoic, women are emotional. Men are aggressive, women are passive. We don’t turn it the other way around and say that women are empathetic, men are insensitive. Well, we can, but if we do, we’re accused of being feminists (which usually means that we hate men). We’re not allowed to criticize men or masculinity, but it’s all right to criticize women and femininity.

Masculinity is the ideal. When a girl likes to do masculine activities, she’s called a tomboy, when a boy likes to do feminine activities, he’s called a girl. As if that’s the worst epithet that can be thrown at a man. “You’re such a boy” doesn’t carry the same sting as “You’re such a girl.” We don’t usually think that a little girl who wears pants is a butch or a dyke, but a little boy who wears pink is a faggot or a queer.

It’s actually men who are the losers according to this mindset. Women are relatively free to express their “masculine” side (as long as they don’t go overboard), but the reverse is definitely not true. It’s no wonder that boys and men hide their “feminine” side. So in a way women have more emotional freedom than men do.

Except for one thing: men like women to be feminine, but when they are too feminine, men just don’t take them seriously. (Think of Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde.”) That’s because overt femininity is devalued in our society. We want women to be feminine and then, as the quote at the beginning of this post points out, we punish them for it.

That’s one reason why it’s so dangerous to allow ourselves to be seen as sex objects. When men sexualize women, they don’t do it because they respect them. They do it to cut women down to size, to reduce them to their narrowest role, so that they can take over the important roles and retain their power.

Women are usually more accepting of feminine men than men are, because we see it almost as a form of flattery. We’re comfortable around them precisely because they’re not always trying to put down our female characteristics. On the contrary, they embrace them.

And yet women usually pick masculine men as partners. That could be because a masculine man makes them feel more feminine. The catch is, he doesn’t necessarily value their feminine characteristics. So women and men are constantly at odds with each other.

I’ve heard it said that men who are raised with sisters make better husbands. That’s probably a sweeping generalization; I’m sure it depends on whether or not they were taught to respect them. But a man who is raised in a “man’s” world is conditioned to devalue and disrespect the females in their lives.

The battle between the sexes will never be resolved until men and women learn to respect each other for who they are, whether they are masculine or feminine or a mixture of both. Men need to learn that their masculine qualities don’t make them kings of the hill and women need to learn that their feminine qualities are not weaknesses.




DSD: Disorders of Sexual Development and How We View Gender

Which one is the "real" female?

DSD, or disorders of sexual development, is a controversial term because of the word “disorder.” Many who “suffer” from sexual abnormalities (another charged word) take issue with the idea that they are abnormal. They view their conditions as natural variations that have always occurred, in much the same way that homosexuality has always been with us. But, also like homosexuality, people with DSD are often seen as either freakish mutations or frauds.

Some cases of DSD are clear cut and can be verified biologically. Babies can be born with the sex organs of both sexes (also known as hermaphroditism). People with the condition may have irregular chromosomes: XXY for example, instead of the typical XX (female) or XY (male) set. The genes on the chromosomes may be defective. Or the body may lack the receptors that allows sexual hormones to be put to work.

But classifying sex by chromosomal or hormonal evidence can be tricky. What many people don’t realize is that the fetus is sexually ambiguous until around seven weeks when the sexual structures (known as “indifferent genitals”) begin to develop into the organs of a male or female. But in approximately one in 2,000 births the differentiation isn’t conclusive.

However, unless there is reason to suspect DSD from outward examination, the presence of the “other” sex’s organs may not be discovered until adulthood, if then. Some people go their whole lives never suspecting that they have sexual organs of the opposite sex, or that their sex chromosomes are defective, or that they cannot utilize sexual hormones appropriately. Often the only clue they have that something is wrong is that they “feel” more like the opposite sex than the one they were assigned at birth.

And then there are individuals who identify with neither sex (or with both). They often refer to themselves as “intersexual.” This is sometimes used interchangeably with DSD, but it is mostly used as an attempt to purge the terms that apply to their condition of their pejorative nature.

So why am I writing this post for a feminist blog? In other words, how is this a feminist issue?

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Disney’s Female Characters

It seems that Disney is losing its nerve. It has never shied away before from titles that announce that the main character is a woman, but it seems that “The Princess and the Frog” changed all that. The next movie due to come out is about Rapunzel, but instead of using the main character’s name, Disney has decided to call it “Tangled.” (Read more about this here.)

It seems that “The Princess and the Frog” didn’t do nearly as well as expected and the powers-that-be pounced on the use of the word “princess” in the title as the reason for its poor showing. They’re convinced that the title kept little boys from seeing the movie. Funny, I don’t remember any problems with audience identification with “The Little Mermaid,” or, going further back, “Snow White,” “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty.” Granted, the word “princess” wasn’t used in those titles, but the main characters are clearly female and Disney has never seemed to worry about that before.

Has there been a shift in attitude toward all things female these days? Or is there another reason for the “failure” of “The Princess and the Frog”? After all, the main characters are black; you might just as well blame racism for the lack of interest in the movie. Or maybe there’s a prejudice against frogs? The last Disney movie that dealt with a transformation from animal to human was “The Beauty and the Beast,” but maybe a beast is more interesting to little boys than a frog. (Although we all know that little boys like frogs.)

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