Drilling Holes in Palletgate - that'll teach it!

A manly activity?

As you probably know, I’m a woman… I have a gender-neutral title (Dr) and first name (Jan) and this does quite often lead to people being surprised about my gender, but I really am female. I like the fact that I’m ambiguous in this way – although it can be annoying when people assume that the ‘Dr’ in our house is Mr Snail and so I must be Mrs Snail. I know that more than half of my readers here are female and that is probably because of some of the subjects I write about (more women than men knit and crochet) but not all… I suspect that gardening is practiced by the two genders equally and all my posts about reducing consumption and leading a ‘greener’ life are intended to be applicable to anyone.

When it comes to gender, we are often exposed to stereotypes, especially in the media, who would have you believe that only men like engines and all women are avid followers of fashion… despite all evidence to the contrary. A shining example of the perpetuation of such nonsense was the ‘make-up free selfie’ craze on social media last year – where women were encouraged (by whom? I ask myself) to post a picture of themselves without make-up, when the real fact is that many women, like me, simply never wear make-up or only wear it very occasionally. So every picture you can find of me (and many of my friends) on social media shows a person without make-up… what you see is what you get. But we are led to believe that this is not true. By whom and to what end I cannot say for sure, but you have to guess that marketing is implicated somewhere.

I was inspired to write this post because of an article I read yesterday about images of women in social media. The author’s contention was that “The broader message to women couldn’t be clearer: SeXXXy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not”. Up to a point, this is true, but it was the following statement that really got me thinking:

It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts. (Jessica Valenti, The Guardian 30 March 2015)

And what I thought was… men are not all that stupid. At least the men I hang out with aren’t. OK, hormone-fueled adolescents may fit into this model and heterosexual men may well enjoy this imagery, but that is not the way that women should perceive men. In fact, this sort of imagery plays to commercial interests much more than to “men”… encouraging all of us to fit into specific stereotypes that can only be achieved by spending money on clothes, gadgets, make-up or whatever.

But men are a diverse bunch, you know*? There are men who are power-hungry and domineering, but there are also men who are kind and gentle. There are men who use their greater physical strength to intimidate and subjugate, but there are also men who use this to dig the garden, carry the heavy sacks of bird seed and lift the washing machine when the anti-vibration feet need repositioning. Men account for about half the world’s population, so there is bound to be a bit of diversity and it seems unfair to place them all in the same category. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that there are traits that are more likely to be exhibited by men than by women, but that does not mean that all men are the same.

It certainly concerns me that the political system in the UK is so adversarial and this is the result of it having been designed by power-hungry men at a time when women had no input, but you can’t blame a whole gender for that. The individuals who were aggressive and sought power through might were the ones who came to dominate in the past and so the political and social structures that suit them that have become embedded in our country. We shouldn’t stand for it – democracy means it shouldn’t be the case any more, but the system is designed to be self-perpetuating. Women and men who are not comfortable with the adversarial nature of politics tend not to engage actively, because they are forced to operate in a system that is alien to them. And thus, the bullies and domineering individuals come to the fore and succeed in gaining power. It’s not about gender per se, it’s about whether you can work within the system.

So, let us not be duped by the media into regarding all men as potential rapists and all women as potential victims. Let us celebrate the diversity and strengths of all individuals, irrespective of gender. And let us find a way forward, collectively, in which all of us can contribute and have an equal voice and representation (in the media and in politics) without having those who want to make money out of us or gain power defining the right way to look and act.


* You may even be one yourself!

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  1. Hear! Hear! More grist to your mill Dr Snail !

  2. A lot of use is made of ‘the media’ perpetuates. The supermodel build isn’t perpetuated in the media men tend to read, but mainly in media women read – fashion magazines. We put blame on advertising – but what do we choose to buy? It is up to everyone that buys stuff (and perhaps those of us that prefer to make things are bound to be less represented..) to shape what works for advertisers.

    Mitchell & Webb caught the gender difference to advertising well:
    By being WYSIWYG, we can all be part of unpicking this kind playing on fears and anxieties.

    • I love the Mitchell and Webb clip!
      One of the joys of the internet and social media in particular is the diversity of individuals that are represented – in their own words and images, rather than through a commercial filter.

  3. You go, Dr. Jan! 🙂 It’s almost like men are just as diverse and unique as women are…not just a bunch of sex – crazed dolts who can’t find things in the cabinet or figure out to work a broom. It drives me crazy to see men represented that way in media…just as crazy as the women are pretty and helpless and petty representation of women. :/

  4. Well said Jan.It’s true some men will fit the model as certainly some women will fit the model of being continually made up.A lot will have had to do with their upbringing. But both are diverse enough not to fit any mold.
    As for political representation, I’d be happy to see the system change as I’d be happy to see many more women in Parliament. I believe there would be less wars if women were there saying they weren’t sending their children to die for nothing.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  5. Well said. And David’s comment is very interesting – as I was reading your post, I was obviously thinking about it in relation to South Africa, where – I had imagined – things may be even more “backward” when it comes to gender issues. But perhaps not! We would also like to see more women in parliament not to mention corporations. Many of us, in fact, would like to see a certain woman running our country and another certain woman running our province 🙂

    • Interesting… of course we all focus on our own countries and, perhaps, think that things may be better elsewhere. I know little about the current politics of South Africa, so you comments have piqued my interest.

      • It’s a real culture casserole. Our president, for example, has four wives and is about to take a fifth. (This doesn’t automatically mean all Zulus practice this, or that all Zulus even condone it, but it does rather point to more of a gender imbalance than in the UK, I would suggest). But, like many countries where there is a mix of many cultures and religions and groupings, people do tend to apply stereotypes and try and lump people into their own “categories”. You’d think our history would have taught us the dangers of doing that.

  6. i meant “running corporations”, btw.

  7. I bypass the sub divisions and try to see everyone as “people”. Once you start partitioning people off into sexes, ages, heights, etc. you are labelling them and lumbering them with all of the sterotypical traits that go with that sub division. We are all just “people” at the end of the day. I have been taking things back to core basics so “people” it is. Some might have a few more bits, some less. Sexsationalisation is a media thing and was born to sell magazines, books, papers etc. If only thin, hairless supermodels were attractive to men there would be a whole LOT of us sitting on the sidelines and some very long lines of men walking around behind the odd few “suitable” women ;).

  8. Great discussion. Marketing! Yuck! I have 8 grandchildren under 8 and it is hideous to see the marketing directed at them – ALL aspects of their short lives have been bombarded by stereotypical advertising. It makes me feel quite ill!!!

  9. I find the British political system polite and cuddly compared with the big game feeding-frenzy and puerile name calling that is Australian parliament. I was aghast, mouth hanging open, the first time I saw live feed from the House of Representatives, with MPs hurling personal abuse at each other. And it’s not just the men, although they do contribute more than their fair share of the abuse… I also find that gender stereotyping here is still worse than in Northern Europe, but Australian women are pretty bolshy about fighting back, so that’ll hopefully change some day soon…

    • We have heard a little recently about Australian politics and it does seem to be much more personal than we experience here. Trouble with UK politics these days is that much of it is an old boys club and lots goes on behind closed doors. That said, PMQ still seems like a bear pit (even if not quite as bad as your lot).

  10. You have quite a discussion started here. Good for you for getting it going. Yes, media marketing carries some of the burden. But have you ever heard women shaming each other for trying to be uniquely themselves. Men do it too with that phrase “Be a Man!” I at one time never went without makeup. Now I wear none. I care not what anyone thinks since they for the most part don’t see me anyway. When you are older, you become invisible. We are all guilty of having preconceived ideas about men or women and how they should look or behave. I’m hoping it continues to change.

  11. I so agree. Stereotypes are defined in comparison to an Other, so the Other suffers too. Part of the stereotype of women is that we are emotional, a reason why women were refused the vote. Therefore men are not encouraged to express their feelings, which cuts them off from an important part of themselves. Even with something like pay rates. It seems like men would benefit from getting more pay than women,but it is actually a way of keeping both pay rates lower.
    I love your thoughts about all humans being unique and valued.

  12. Ai yi. Such a complicated can of worms you’ve opened! I heard from a friend today (here in the US) about a company raising body image concerns in programming targeted to 3 year olds–really?! Reprehensible–and, honestly, I don’t worry so much about 3 year boys being much affected by that assault that starts at such a young age (yes, I know that more young men are developing eating disorders but, still). As another ambiguously-named academic (Dr. Kerran), I taught for years a course in gender representations in the media. While I do my best to surround myself with men who are fully evolved and excellent critical thinkers, I worry about a world that seems increasingly in the hands of men who are less so. Sorry–I got carried away . . .

  13. Great post with lots to think about. Thanks for taking this on.

  14. Thank you for this generous take on a thorny issue! I would also add that much of is about the commodification of the female form and that aspect is also disturbing.


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