Men vs. Women: Emily Hartridge on 10 Things [video]

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  1. ‘[S]ociety has created a divide between what is stereotypically male vs female.’ What is the word ‘society’ being made to do in this statement? What is the conception of society that such a statement encourages? Society per se doesn’t do or create anything. Rather, society is the product of our many doings and creations. We are also the product of society as we have to find our place within the worlds, relationships, scripts, and identities that have arisen out of the countless interactions that have occurred before we came on the scene.

    The problem with such a statement is that it can give the impression of some master plan or calculating agency behind everything. It personifies ‘society’ as a creator of stereotypes. It suggests some dark conspiracy theory. However, stereotypes are things that arise quite naturally as both means and by-products of our many actions and relationships. Society didn’t sit down one day and decide that men should be this and women that. Rather, these things generally arose as we interacted with each other and as we were shaped by and responded to the form of past interactions and identifications.

    Stereotypes can be ways in which we find belonging in a group. A stereotype often names the principal family resemblances of a group, resemblances of which no single member will possess all. To be a member of the group, we need to be able to understand ourselves in terms of these family resemblances. As groups are typically defined by shared features and interests shared in common, group membership and interaction naturally tends to produce and to strengthen stereotypes. Given the accent upon distinctive features and behaviours shared in common, group membership tends to lead to stereotypes that accentuate traits that lend themselves to oppositional definitions in relationship to other groups.

    Through such oppositional definitions those features of our group that are most distinctive to it are emphasized and those features of other groups that are most peculiar to them are also emphasized. If we thought more about how stereotypes typically arise, we might be better equipped to relate to them and to change them where necessary.

    Often these stereotypes can be fairly arbitrary. For instance, there is no reason why boys must wear blue and girls must wear pink. However, the point of such arbitrary stereotypes is not some deep essentialism, but a matter of signalling identity and our belonging to each other. A sense of belonging to one’s gender, rather than to the other, is rather important to a majority of the population and this completely arbitrary colour code is a way of expressing this belonging. The idea that this is a harsh imposition or a sort of essentialism misses the point. Such simple things are the ways in which we give a sense of settled belonging to our children and to others, telling them that they have an identity and a group of which to be a part.

    The idea that we should all define our own preferred identity rather misses the point that life and participation in society involves accommodating ourselves to lots of little expectations of others. If we want fully to participate in society, we should recognize that society was not and should not be built around our private identities, but is built around family resemblances and shared identities. Society existed before us, exists far beyond the bounds of our lives, and will outlast us. If we want the benefits of participation and membership we need to submit ourselves to an identity beyond our individual choice, to something that we receive as a gift from others, a gift which we ought to try to honour. We are given a set of pre-established templates that we share with countless others with to craft an identity that isn’t entirely a matter of private choice, a set of templates that we can humbly accept and creatively inhabit and develop.

    If we didn’t have some loose idea of family resemblances, group identification and affiliation would be difficult. We would struggle to know how to address a particular group when speaking to them. We wouldn’t know what activity to suggest for a social evening. We would know much less about what to be prepared for when visiting a foreign country. We wouldn’t know what sort of jokes to tell at a social gathering. Attuning ourselves to the other sex would be pointless, because ‘the other sex’ would start to lose all definition as a category. In other words, we need a sense of group identities, stereotypes, or family resemblances in order to live as functioning members of society. They mediate our relationships to each other and our formation as individual persons.

    Some stereotypes can be dangerous and restrictive, particularly when a particular realm or aspect of human activity is dominated by types of people who share key features or identities in common that various minorities in that area may lack. In such cases stereotypes can lead to marginalization, exclusion, or alienation and need to be tackled. However, the common notion that one encounters that stereotypes per se are bad is very problematic.

    The root issue is often how firmly and prescriptively we hold our stereotypes, how open we are to seeing them challenged, and how receptive to changing and refining them in light of more complex social realities. I rather like many stereotypes of traditional masculinity and am not in a hurry to throw them all out (or even most of them, for that matter). I think that as bases for group identification and interaction they can frequently be rather good ones, often much better than those that replace them. I don’t identify with many dimensions of traditional male stereotypes, but provided that these are not forcefully imposed on everyone, or taken in so prescriptive or oppositional a fashion, I don’t think that they are as problematic as many suggest. They can actually do a lot of good. They provide a way to mediate a common identity.

    No man need identify with every dimension of the masculine stereotype, just see himself in some of the family resemblances. We should also be able to recognize that, relative to our groups, in certain areas we are outliers, struggling to identify with dimensions of the family resemblances. This doesn’t mean that the family resemblances aren’t real, or that we aren’t members of the ‘family’, just that on these issues we tend to be the odd ones out. And that’s OK, provided that we recognize that exceptions don’t negate rules and that others recognize a place for exceptions. Sometimes we just need to get over ourselves enough to recognize that there are occasions when we will find ourselves on the periphery of the identities to which we belong.

    When we recognize that stereotypes are things that naturally and more or less inexorably arise from our relationships, interactions, and identifications we will realize that we will always have stereotypes. Getting rid of old stereotypes merely clears the ground for new stereotypes to take their place, or breaks down identities and identifications that once existed and may have been very important to many.

    Attacking the old masculine stereotypes can leave men alienated from each other, as they are robbed of a basis for identification with each other. Alternatively, new and far less healthy forms of group identification can take their place. If every stereotype had to fit every individual group member, not leave anyone out, and not include anyone from a different group, no stereotype would be possible, as we are all distinct individuals. It is often the sense of entitlement that people have to be fully represented in the stereotypes of their groups even when they are outliers (I speak as something of an outlier in most of my group identities myself here) that can be the chief problem here. Sometimes we just need to learn that not everything is about us.

    A number of the stereotypes mentioned in the video are quite recognizable as family resemblances. Certain of them aren’t that arbitrary, but arise out of tendencies of behaviour that will naturally be more pronounced in one sex rather than the other, amplified as participation in groups of our sex conforms us increasingly to those distinctive forms of behaviour. Others are completely arbitrary but no less real, arising through our desire to belong and to confer a sense of belonging to each other.

    Of course, not every man or woman acts as stereotypes describe, nor need we be interpreted as saying that they should. In fact, in certain cases most don’t. However, the stereotypes can remain true to the extent that they identify distinctive or typical features.

  2. “The idea that we should all define our own preferred identity rather misses the point that life and participation in society involves accommodating ourselves to lots of little expectations of others.”

    That might be true on a macro-scale, but not on an individual scale.

    “We wouldn’t know what activity to suggest for a social evening.”

    Then don’t impose one. If you go to a club dance, you can try to talk, drink or dance. There doesn’t need to be a consensus for stuff to happen.

    “Of course, not every man or woman acts as stereotypes describe, nor need we be interpreted as saying that they should. In fact, in certain cases most don’t. However, the stereotypes can remain true to the extent that they identify distinctive or typical features.”

    Then those stereotypes mean nothing if they are not genuinely chosen. If it’s just a front signifying group membership, then it means you’re not fully developed as a unique human being and still need to rely on gross simplifications (generalizations, stereotypes) about people to get by in life.

    Stereotypes are supposed to be a temporary measure meant to help you do stuff until such time you don’t need it. Not a permanent feature.

    Imposing stereotypes on children only reflects the parent’s own insecurity about their own identity (and it works with other-sex children, because as you said, identity is often defined oppositionally – so it would be an insecure drive to define the kid as “other” then). Let the kids tell you who they are, what they like, and why. Don’t tell them that their genital organs mean they like this, or ought to like this.

  3. the ‘facial hair’ gives her face more beauty (to me anyway)

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