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Gender Equality in Error
When women "catch up" to a malign culture
Other Feminisms is back from maternity leave! Today, I’m writing about equal access to bad culture, and on Thursday, I’ll have the comment roundup from our pre-maternity-leave discussion of how to offer comfort to someone whose problems you can’t solve.
I have not seen (and will not see) any of the films in the Jackass franchise, which subjects its starts to a variety of painful and dangerous stunts. (If you want an introduction to the films, I’d recommend this piece by Alissa Wilkinson).
The most recent installment supplements the middle-aged core cast with younger, more diverse additions. And, in a profile in The New York Times Magazine, Jason Acuña (“Wee Man”) expressed a certain semi-chivalrous discomfort with the expansion:
Testing out new members “was weird,” Acuña said from behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, a vast white luxury camper van, the tall clearance of which prevents Acuña from taking it through some drive-throughs. “At first,” he said, “the original of us were like, ‘We don’t need anybody else.’” He still feels this way to some degree but acknowledges that the world has changed. “Gender stuff and, you know, things like that.” He doubts the show as it existed in 2000 could debut now on television. “When we first started, there was never going to be a girl in it,” he said. “We didn’t think it was funny for girls to get hurt. For us, it was like, ‘That’s not funny’ — hurting a girl.” Now, paradoxically, it would be in poor taste to not hurt a girl on “Jackass” — and so they do.
It’s an odd (and erroneous) kind of progress in gender relations for women to have the opportunity to be degraded in ways previously open only to men.
Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs is a good exploration of the rise of raunch culture, where a woman can be as bawdy and lewd as any man (and never mind how bad it is for both men and women).
A tawdry, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular. What we once regarded as a kind of sexual expression we now regard as sexuality.
The physical abuse of Jackass is a particularly egregious example, but I think there are subtler versions of this false progress.
Helping women access the culture of total work is a poor form of progress—it’s access to equality with men in a domain where men are well-compensated but ill-served. Men and women both deserve a fair amount of leisure outside work, whether it’s spent at home with children; serving your community as a volunteer; or simply sitting on a front stoop, enlivening your neighborhood as Jane Jacobs would have wanted.
That doesn’t excuse hostility or discrimination against women, but it’s important to remember we shouldn’t want equal access to bad things. We want better options for both men and women. Progress can look less like 50-50 representation and more like neither men nor women participating in a warped culture.
Where have you seen progress framed as equal representation in a toxic culture, rather than dismantling that culture?
Where have you seen successful attempts to give men an exit from a toxic culture, rather than to help women get a foothold in that culture?