Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not so Pretty in Pink

Sherri Shepard has said some pretty stupid things previously (e.g., not knowing if the earth was round or not or saying that nobody came before Christians), so it's pretty easy to disregard her comments. Although Shepard might be easy to dismiss, based on the audience reaction alone, clearly others share her insitence that makeup or nail polish are inappropriate for male children because those things are for "mommies."

Of course, concerned conservative psychiatrist, Fox news personality and Glen Beck friend Keith Ablow is concerned:
Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known.

Ablow continues to be concerned about how pink nail polish on little boys endangers the future of the human race!Ablow might benefit from Judith Butler's discussion of how at least one attempt to socialize gender didn't find much success.

Undoing Gender

It doesn't matter if being gay or transgendered is a choice or not (I'd say it's not, for the record, but but neither is it somehow an essentialized characteristic), but how in the world is nail polish or the color pink going to influence that? They are not somehow magically or naturally linked to female-ness or woman-ness. They aren't even socially constructed or linked to woman-ness any longer; it's pretty unremarkable nowadays for men to use nail polish of any color.

What is amazing, but not surprising, to me is how concerned anyone can be over such small things. Gender policing is, IMO, far more important to members of our society than regulating sexuality. Non-normative and queer sexuality is still pretty heavily policied, but I'd argue no longer as pressing of a societal concern as gender regulation still is. I personally see gender concerns underlying much homophobia and heterosexism. Heterosexual power needs gender binaries to mainstain itself. Therefore, stupid shit like pink nail polish becomes of monumental concern and weaponized.

Why does something so seemingly insignificant become such a potent weapon? I'd argue that it's because we can't really decide what constitutes gender (although we dare not admit this question lurking in the back of our minds), so some cling to very surface and seemingly inconsequential markers: the color pink (or blue), for example. We even assign colors to uncertainty of infant gender; yellow or certain shades of green are often used when preparing for either gender. We still mark gender in uncertainty.

Color coding and other more obvious and prominent markers help us feel more secure about who is a man and who is a woman even when those markers are ambiguous. For instance, Shephard and the audience (or parts of it) identify makeup as for women (actually, for "mommies," but I'll forgo a discussion of the necessity of reproduction in the construction of womanhood for now). Perhaps others would agree that makeup is something only women wear, except for the fact that men do wear certain kinds of makeup. I've known straight men to wear concealer to hide a blemish or clear nail polish for a variety of reasons. Men use hair products to style their hair, isn't this a kind of makeup also? As a brief aside, when does a worn scent become perfume and when is it cologne?

Our need for markers is needed because we really don't have a good sense of whether gender relates to genitals, gonads, chromosomes, feelings, bodily movements or some other criteria. Obviously most of these identifiers of gender are normally hidden from view, so society requires visible markers. Why? Probably in part because we want to make sure our desires line up with what society tells us are proper desires. If I'm a man who considers himself attracted to women and I then desire someone I discover is anatomically a man, then I stand to be implicated as a freak, immoral, degenerate, perverted, or otherwise outside the norm. Also, many theorists have pointed out how men regulate how women should perform in public spaces, so, clearly men need clear markers of who is a woman.

Although conservatives argue that gender and sexuality are fixed identities bestowed by a Creator, they typically fret a lot about threats to these supposedly stable aspects of our lives. Gender is, rather, as Butler says, "a form of social power" used to discpline, control, and constrain bodies. And in this fight, any weapon will do, even if it's just pink nail polish.

Jon Stewart offers not only a humorous spin on this gender policing, but does a little gender deconstruction of his own "weapon" (see at the end).

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