Sunday, February 14, 2010

Battle of the Sexists?

First, my apologies to regular readers of this blog for my extended absence of late. As some of you know, my department is hiring for a new tenure-track line this semester, a process which has the tendency to eat up every last moment of "spare" time for everyone involved.

Second, I hope that you don't take the coincidence of this post and Valentine's Day to be an indication of some cynical, brooding ressentiment on my part. Not all single people hate Valentine's Day... least of all me. So, let me take a moment here to wave my Romantic flag in celebration, and to wish all of you in love the happiest of holidays.

Now, with that out of the way, back to business. As you all know, the Super Bowl last weekend was a quite a shocker, bringing us the long-overdue and much-ballyhooed victory of the underdog New Orleans Saints over their highly favored opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. I'm a Colts fan-- well, really, I'm a Peyton Manning fan-- but even I will admit that it was hard for anyone with a human heartbeat not to take some joy in the Saints' come-from-behind victory. (As a historic and ironic sidenote: the last time that I remember experts being so positive-- and so positively wrong-- about the outcome of a Super Bowl was two years ago when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots, ending the Patriots' perfect season. And who was the Leader of the Underdog Pack then? None other than Peyton's brother, Eli Manning.) My friend, fellow-blogger and bona fide football fan, JLotz, has an excellent post up on her blog recounting her Reflections in the Wake of Victory, which I highly recommend. I won't say much more on the game itself here other than to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations.

For non-football fans-- such strange creatures they, so mysterious, a species that endlessly stymies my understanding-- the Super Bowl is less about the game than the party, the food, the friends and, of course, the commercials. In advance of game day, all the talk was about Tim Tebow and his mother's "anti-abortion" commercial. Turns out, the actual Focus on the Family 30-second spot was pretty tame... and not very funny. But lest all of that feminist outrage go un-discharged, Dodge stepped up to the plate with this commercial, called "Man's Last Stand."

There are lots of things to criticize about the privileged-cum-victimized false consciousness of this ad, and one wouldn't have to dig very deep into feminist literature to find resources for such a critique. Yet, it seems fair to ask: how likely is it that a guy-- who, after all, just wants to drive a freakin' Dodge Charger and not get an earfull about it, for goodness sake-- is going to be receptive to all of the nuances of gender construction, heteronormativity, privilege-and-power confluence, and the manner in which each works to buttress and conceal the others? If only there were a way to meet this poor, beleaguered man-victim where he is...

There are times when I worry that our Jon-Stewart-generation has forgotten what real political engagement looks like, preferring instead to be witty and ironic, to point our fingers at the naked Emporers and mock them for being ever-so-unhip(ster). There are times when I wonder whether or not that's engagement at all, or whether it's really something more like an exasperated, Bartleby-esque "I would rather not." Nevertheless, when I saw this response-ad, I was encouraged:

What I like about this ad is that it demonstrates, with deadpan precision, just how absolutely elementary the asymmetry of sexual power and privilege is. I'm teaching my Feminist Philosophy course again this semester, and as a result I spend a lot of time trying to equip students with the conceptual infrastructure for understanding that asymmetry. Yet, even in class I sometimes wonder whether or not all that philosophical sophistication is wasted if they do not already admit that the asymmetry is real. Young men and women still need to be reminded, I fear, that for all of our progress, women still aren't paid equally for equal work, they aren't proportionally represented in lawmaking or judicial bodies, they still do the lion's share of child-rearing and housekeeping, and they still suffer sexual violence at atrocious rates. Those are just the facts, ma'am. If those facts are more likely to be received as true when presented in poker-faced irony (or parody), so be it. That's political engagement I can believe in.

Of course, the danger here is that they won't be received as true, but rather as further evidence of the kind of suffering against which our Dodge Man is trying to make his "last stand." Dodge Man will protest, I am sure, that his feminist counterpart is engaging in the same manner of sexist stereotyping that she portends to protest. So, let me say again that "reverse sexism" is a myth that fundamentally misunderstands the systemic and structural nature of power. Dodge Man is no victim.

Don't believe that sexism and so-called "reverse sexism" are different? Think they're just two sides of the same coin? Well, here's another response-ad to the Dodge commercial that might help disabuse you of that opinion.

Now, if the complaints of our man and woman were really just two sides of the same coin, it ought to be fairly easy for each just to substitute him- or herself in the narrative of the other, right? But, just for kicks, go ahead and try to imagine Dodge Man voicing the woman's complaints.



Lorenzo said...

That was great, thank you.

steventhomas said...

Fabulous turn at the end of your post.

Meanwhile, one of the happy things that discovered is that the many sexist ads during the Super Bowl were not popular. See M---'s comment on my own blog.