Stopping the Stereotypes

First, I stumbled into the observations of Lisa at Amid Privilege. Her commentary on the depiction of smart women on television – or rather, their relative flatness as compared to their male counterparts – offers an interesting opening to a broader topic of discussion.

When it comes to men, endearingly quirky characters are tolerated and even admired – as long as they are of the brainy sort, or with other special attributes we value. Yet intelligent women are less than fully fleshed out on the screen. For that matter, if you ask me, smart women are frequently considered non-sexual, trying-to-be-a-man, or the one I’ve heard most often in my life – difficult.

But now I’m stepping out of my perception of media, and slipping into my own Reality Rolodex. Smart women are confusing, complicated, problematic. Also known as Too Damn Much Work.

And what about those of us who embrace both feminism and femininity, as if the contradictions are too confusing to process?

Even more so.

Mitt’s Missus?

Next in my morning reading, I opened my Sunday New York Times and enjoyed Frank Bruni’s article on Working and Womenaddressing last week’s cheap shots taken at Ann Romney – not to mention our tendency not to be more thorough in our assessments of people, roles, or issues.

At least, that’s how I took it – all politics aside – except of course, for the sexual politics.

And yes, of course, with all that moolah, Ann Romney’s “mothering” doesn’t resemble the SAHM life for most women.

Mr. Bruni’s article touches on the (now wearisome) debate pitting Stay-At-Home Moms versus “Working” Moms. It offers a few specifics dealing with the barbs cast in the direction of Mitt’s Missus, not to mention the stereotypes around Hilary Rosen, who was the source of this ridiculous non-issue.

But there are assumptions a-plenty that remain disturbing. For example, the premise that staying at home and raising children isn’t work (trust me, it’s harder than going to the office); for example, the notion that a woman who does stay home and focus on running a household and parenting – exclusively – is less valuable than a woman in the workforce.

Are we really still dwelling in this particular land of stereotypes? Are we still making judgment calls about what a “smart” woman does or doesn’t choose? Will women wage war on other women, rather than standing up and recognizing each others’ contributions?

My Life (As a Woman); My Life (As a Person)

I am emotionally strong, selectively outspoken, tender to strangers and loved ones alike; I am curious, insistent, persistent, and single-minded when pursuing professional goals.

I am adaptable, vulnerable, sensual, and sexual. I am smart, and I like that I’m smart, and have never pretended otherwise.

I am happier when I am in a relationship, yet I am whole unto myself. This hasn’t always been the case – and occasionally I fight my demons to maintain that healthy status. 

I love my sons, raised with the shadows and friction that plague many single parent households. And I’m proud of them, and the men I believe they will become.

I have worked all my life – for pay – and suffer terribly during periods when I don’t receive compensation for my exercise of knowledge, skills, and experience. Like many men, I am more greatly undermined by periods of an inability to provide than by more routine sources of so-called upheaval.

Feminism Should be About Choice

Ann Romney’s choices may not have been mine – or yours – for financial reasons, or by virtue of your passions, your nature, your desire for autonomy. But I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Bruni that the principles of feminism were intended to be inclusive and expansive, not one-dimensional.

Sexual stereotypes? Gender-based barriers?

Our intention was to eradicate them, not shift the bashing. As Mr. Bruni explains:

What’s most bothersome about Rosen’s comment, though, was its betrayal of what the Democratic Party and feminism at their best are supposed to be about: recognizing the full diversity of human experience and empowering everyone along that spectrum to walk successfully down the path of his or her choosing, so long as it poses no clear harm to anyone else.

Isn’t it time we stopped the stereotypes and generalizations – and not just of women?

I am a woman who believes in choices for us all – the freedoms we profess to protect in this country, but have difficulty practicing in a tangible, consistent, or probing fashion.

Complexity in a Complicated Culture

Addressing the notion that managing a home and family equates to “never working a day in her life,” Frank Bruni writes about his own Stay-At-Home Mom. He points out that his Dad sweated the income while his mother was responsible for everything else. And that everything else did not include time off for good behavior.

Sound familiar?

He goes on to say:

… my mother also never worked a day in her life, at least not after she delivered the first of four epically needy, fiercely loved and ferociously grateful children…

I find myself reflecting on my college-aged kids.

Epically needy? Not in the least.

But would that a few years from now they will be able to see themselves as “fiercely loved and ferociously grateful.”

Yet perhaps the greater point is this: In assessing our politicians, their spouses, our bosses, each other – we ought to examine actions over rhetoric, consistency of positions, value systems exemplified, and our inherent complexity that involves more than the easy label, the stereotype, the assumption, or the sound byte.

© D. A. Wolf