ginny: on gender stereotypes

This topic came about because of last Sunday’s sermon.

Little boys, the pastor said, play with trucks and Army men, and as they play they make noises.  Little girls, on the other hand, play with Barbies and tea sets, and they have whole conversations with themselves.   With a wink and a nod to the men in the audience, he continued on about how men should listen to their wives because they are the talkers, and you can’t stop them from talking, right?  And women, don’t try to get your husbands to open up because they are used to grunting and giving no more than one syllable responses to questions.  This wasn’t the point of the sermon, but merely a “and that’s just the way God makes us” bit of information.

And then he went on with the rest of the sermon.  As if this nonsense were a fact.

It got me thinking, and wondering about the boys in the audience who love to talk.  I thought about the girls who are more physical and less verbal.  What were they thinking about themselves?

“Am I less of a boy because I like to have conversations?”

“Am I less of a girl because I don’t like Barbies or sharing my feelings?”

It made me angry.  I wanted to write to the pastor to tell him what I thought, but it was his first time preaching so I gave him a pass and decided to vent here.   I want to say that in this day and age I have a hard time believing that people still think this way, but unfortunately evidence to the contrary is abundant.

I don’t honestly think that the pastor meant any harm at all in what he said.  Truth be told, if I were to ask him about it he would probably admit that he was using it as a generality and didn’t mean it literally.  It was just stretching the truth to make a point or to get the congregation to relax a little bit and laugh with him.  Somewhere in the joke is the insinuation that talking is a cute, laughable thing that women do.  Ha, ha, women talk and men don’t.  We all know that to be true, right?

The point is, even if it is true in many many cases, it doesn’t make it right to say it as if it were fact.  Men are this and women are that.  No.  Just no.

You know, when someone makes a public statement like this I tend to think about who might take it in a different way than what it (supposedly) was intended.  At another church  years ago the pastor put up a photo of someone “walking” their dog by holding the leash out of the driver’s side window as the dog plodded along beside the car.  There was immediate laughter and he talked about this being the high point of laziness.  I thought “What if the person has a broken leg and can’t walk but wants their dog to get exercise?”  “What if they have cancer and have no energy to walk but don’t want to disappoint their companion?”  “What if …?”  I mean, seriously, why not give the benefit of the doubt to what is going on in someone’s life instead of judging them immediately?  I did write to that pastor who told me it was a joke and, basically, I should just lighten up.  I never went back to that church.  Assume the worst?  I don’t think so.

In the current case, I can’t get over that he said it as if it were fact.  There was no discussion, no “your experience may be different”, just a statement of this is how God made men and women.  It absolves you, as a man, from all responsibility for trying to “talk”.  It says you can’t help it if you don’t listen, it isn’t your fault if you can’t open up, it’s not in your nature to be a partner in a discussion.  It’s the biggest cop out there is.  So the harm was two-fold.  Little boys in the audience wondered what this meant about them and husbands in the audience were given a pass.  “Hey honey, you heard what Pastor Dan said.  This is how God made me so quit complaining.”

Ugh.

I am well aware that part of this undoubtedly comes from the fact that I am not a stereotypical woman.  I was called a tom-boy all through my growing up years and I chose a profession that, at the time, was male dominated.  It is also possible that my personality was shaped by a childhood where, it seemed, boys were more important than girls. I am sensitive to comments about women being less than men, no doubt about that.

Case in point.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a young woman who knows that I am an air traffic controller.  She asked me if I would get off an airplane if I saw that the pilot was a woman.  What?  I told her “of course not” and she replied that she thought she would.  She said she doesn’t trust female pilots.  She said she had known some in the Air Force, and the female jet pilots just seemed ditsy, they didn’t appear as competent as the male pilots.  I must have sputtered I was so taken aback.  I tried to make some sense of it, but absolutely couldn’t.  Then I wondered, and I asked, if someone had put her up to it!  That seemed more likely than her actually thinking this, but no.  I still shake my head over that whole conversation.

And that’s part of what bothered me about the sermon.  It reinforced absurd gender stereotypes.  People who were only half listening still heard it, it was still encoded in their brains, and they probably didn’t even give it a second thought.  Now it is just something that they “know” to be true.  Little children, teenagers trying to figure out who they are and where their place in the world is, married couples trying to work on their relationships – everybody heard that day that men don’t talk and women do. 

Amen?

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5 thoughts on “ginny: on gender stereotypes

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Considering the fact that I have a son that doesn’t fall into the stereotypical “boy” category who rough houses and wants to play football but instead enjoys watching Hallmark Channel and irons his clothes better than I do – and who isn’t in the least bit gay. I am a woman who can equally engage in conversation with men and women but often prefers to hang with the guys and has tried to balance the tom boy with the girly girl inside. Its unfortunate that we have labels that we will forever struggle with shaking because society is so incredibly comfortable with continuing to use them. So here is to being proud of who we ARE not who we are told we “should” be. Well spoken once again Miss Ginny!

  2. Someone would get off a plane because the pilot was a woman? Whaaaaa? I am literally shaking my head in disbelief. I feel sorry for that woman that she has such a low opinion of her sex. And, well, people in general!

  3. Great post! And I can’t help wondering if it even crossed his mind that he had himself chosen a career which allows him to talk a great deal (to a large and somewhat captive audience)….

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