Does Being A Woman Make A Difference?

Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron recently said that she is a director, not a woman director. “When you make a movie, there is not the remotest sense on a day to day basis that you are not exactly the same as anyone else who directs a movie.” But Abbie Cornish , who worked with Jane Campion in “Bright Star,” says, “I just notice, with a female director, there’s definitely more of a connection to the emotion and the feeling of a scene, and the physicality. They’re much more intimate on set.”

One director who is shaking up the world of gender differences is Kathryn Bigelow who directed “The Hurt Locker,” an action film with a lot of violence. She seems to prove what Ephron is saying. But Ephron herself has stuck primarily to “female” or “chick” movies like “Sleepless In Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.” So what is the real deal here?

There are obviously two schools of thought about this. One asserts that women bring something different to the table just because they’re women. The other school, typically attributed to Second Wave feminists, is that women and men are interchangeable. Ephron obviously holds the latter view.

But is she right? And does what she say hold true for all types of roles? Is a mother interchangeable with a father? A female firefighter with a male firefighter? A female politician with a male politician? A businesswoman with a businessman? An actress with an actor?

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Gender Roles and Religion

Just so I don’t seem to be picking on Islam, I’m going to write first about Christianity and then about religion in general when it comes to gender roles. Islam is generally seen as the most oppressive to women, followed by Judaism and then Christianity. But in reality, Christianity has mixed reviews when it comes to its attitude toward women. On the one hand, it has the whole Mary devotion thing going on (which ironically it shares with Islam) and women had key roles in Jesus’ ministry. On the other hand, it has Paul whom my mother used to call a misogynist, and whose writings heavily influenced the Church’s attitude toward women.

The thing about the Christian religion is that it is hung up about sex. And since women are the objects of men’s sexual desire, they are often seen as temptresses and whores. There’s also the little matter of Eve tempting Adam in the Garden of Eden and through her actions (some say) unleashing sinfulness among mankind. The Church Fathers never forgave her for that. (Nor did they assign Adam equal responsibility for his actions.

The Catholic Church has its Mariology and female saints to whom its adherents pray. And orders of nuns have done incalculable good in this world. (Tell that to a Catholic who went to a parochial school, particularly in “the old days.”) But it has also done more to give people (especially women) sexual hangups than any other Christian denomination–or other religion, for that matter.

But what about gender roles? When you compare Christianity to Islam for example, it’s important to compare like with like. That means that you have to take into consideration that it is the fundamentalists on both sides who are the most rigid about gender roles. You can’t compare a liberal Christian–which means almost everyone who belongs to a mainline Protestant denomination–with an Islamic fundamentalist. There are plenty of Muslims, even devout Muslims, who don’t see women as strictly bound into their roles as wives and mothers. And there are plenty of Christians, especially those who are conservatives, who insist on specific gender roles for men and women.So in essence it’s not the religions themselves that are the culprits. They may lay the foundation, but it is the adherents who build the building that most people see.

The more germane question is: are gender roles a bad thing? Most feminists would say yes. But developing an identity that is consistent with your sexual identity could be seen as an important part of your maturing process. I think the real question is, how rigid are these roles? If a woman feels forced into having children, for instance, that’s not a good thing. And it’s no accident that insisting on rigid gender roles is a key component in homophobia. People just don’t like those who don’t fit in boxes.

The problem with gender roles is, it’s hard to tell how much is biology and how much is socialization. Feminists are most interested in allowing people to develop according to their unique personalities. When socialization occurs, it obscures what might be a very broad spectrum of gender behavior. This is especially important when we consider trans-sexuals. What if a person doesn’t fit into gender roles and descriptions? What if a person feels like he or she was born into the wrong gender? Few, if any, religions do a very good job of ministering to people with gender “confusion,” let alone accepting them the way they are.

Gender roles can be comforting. They guide us through the tricky business of living. But when they get in the way of personal fulfillment, they’re not doing what God intended. I don’t mean to say that religion is all about feeling good about yourself. There are times when you shouldn’t, when your behavior doesn’t hit the mark, so to speak. But if you believe, as I do, that God has a plan for each of us, then it is a matter of following Him and discerning His will for you. That may mean that you stay home with the kids or provide for the family. But it could also mean that you do the opposite of what gender roles tell you to do, or at least that you don’t fit into them completely.

I believe that the most mature religious people recognize that their religions are strong agents for socialization. And that this is not necessarily a good thing, when it comes to each person’s standing before God. It should not be man who socializes, or shapes, us into who we are. It should be God who does the shaping.

Rabid Anti-Feminism

The more I thought about one of yesterday’s tidbits, the more I wanted to write my own response to it.  Satoshi Kanazawa, who writes “The Scientific Fundamentalist” for PsychologyToday.com wrote a post titled, “Why Modern Feminism is Illogical, Unnecessary and Evil.” I’d like to address a few of his comments.

Kanazawa’s biggest beef appears to be that feminists believe that men and women are identical. No feminist I know today thinks this. What feminists say is that men and women should have identical opportunities. But Kanazawa writes that “men and women are inherently, fundamentally, and irreconcilably different,” and that because of that, we shouldn’t expect or encourage them to do the same things.

He uses the fact that women don’t make as much money as men as proof that women don’t care about making money as much as men do. Tell that to any single mother struggling to raise her family. Or to the woman who is doing the same job as a man but not getting paid as much. I suppose they both say, “It’s okay that I’m not making as much money as the men do; it’s the way I like it.”

I don’t know any sensible person who professes to know exactly how much of a person’s makeup is the result of nature and how much the result of nurture. For example, not all women are maternal. Perhaps if women weren’t the ones who end up holding the baby, so to speak, even less women would be maternal. Also, it can’t be a coincidence that since the feminist movement has pushed for men to be more involved in raising their children, we are seeing more men who are taking on child-raising responsibilities.

Kanazawa also uses the fact that men are more fragile physiologically as proof that women are actually at least on an even playing field with them, if not superior. Just because one sex is better at something doesn’t mean that it is superior in every way. Which is exactly what feminists have been saying for the past forty years. Being bigger and stronger doesn’t mean that men are better doctors, for instance.

One of Kanazawa’s most egregious statements is that “any reasonably attractive young woman exercises as much power over men as the male ruler of the world does over women.” Does this guy read over what he’s written??

In my opinion,  Kanazawa’s use of the phrase  “reasonably attractive young woman” shows that he thinks a woman’s power is based on her sexuality. While I do think that some women wield sexual power over men and use it to enslave them, they do it as a poor substitute for having the kind of power than men have. And besides, don’t even try to tell me that men don’t wield sexual power over women, often with disastrous consequences.

I have a theory about men who are as anti-feminist as this guy is. I think that he feels that a woman screwed him over in some way during his life and he’s bitter about the power that she has/had over him to make him miserable. Maybe she rejected him in love, or got a hefty divorce settlement from him or a promotion he thought should have been his. Maybe he had a horrible relationship with his mother. Whatever it was/is, he takes it out on feminists, as a way to vent his anger about women in general.

This is not so different from a white man resenting blacks because he perceives them as taking something from him: power, respect, a job, a woman. When a black enters the “white world,” he used to be considered “uppity.” Feminists are seen as “uppity” women because they don’t know their place.

I’m not saying that all men who have had run-ins with women are going to become women-haters or rabid anti-feminists. What I am saying is that I think this particular man has issues. If he’s not bitter, he’s afraid, or both. He’s afraid that feminists might actually be right: that men have misused their power. They use it to hold others down, so that they can feel better about themselves. He is afraid of losing his, so he lashes out with his “superior” intellect. But his arguments, like all anti-feminists, are weak. Just read his articles if you doubt that what I say is true.