Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where women and gays gossip...

We do break people in categories, attach the label and the stereotype - and that's a fact of life. I was reminded of it again recently, when talking about gossiping practices. And the reaction from the audience was quick: it's a woman thing. Men don't gossip. They may share with each other things about last night's sex, but they do not generally engage in extensive gossiping practices. What about Perez Hilton then? Oh, well, he's gay!

It's interesting how we still use gender - and a very dichotomous idea of gender as men and women, with everything else as variations/ deviations of the two - to make sense of behaviors, gestures, appearances. I guess there's a certain easiness to attributing a particular practice to an idea of what a woman or a man is; it saves you the trouble of dealing with complexity, which is not necessary a bad thing (one cannot acknowledge the complexity of the social life each time one makes a statement or acts, it would just be too much).

But I also feel we need to question what we say, even when we say it; I am not sure gossiping is really connected to your biological sex. I can see how it could be connected to a socially constructed category named women, when, due to social organization patterns, they would form their own channels of communication and information sharing, which, in the context of the same social organization patterns, would appear to men as 'inferior', a 'woman-thing' and probably dismissed on the grounds that it's not 'sound' or 'rational' enough.

It is stranger however that we do not necessarily think of gossip in the same way we think about rumors. There is a whole tradition in communication/ media studies about rumors as processes of communication: how are they constructed, how they are transmitted, and to what possible effects on communication and knowledge. In some cases, rumors are discussed in connection to legends, as types of oral communication and everyday life knowledge formation. I do not seem to remember the discussion about the gendered source of rumors! Hey, just watch Wag the Dog, and you'll see the whole industry of rumors at play! And few would argue Robert De Niro is not a 'man'!

Coincidentally, as I was in a waiting room today, I read above one's shoulder that half of the women interviewed thought they were discriminated on the basis of their gender, the other 40% felt that they weren't but they could be, while some women (2%) were afraid to think this way because they would be labeled as 'troublemakers'. There seems to be a lot of gender-related posts here lately!

Photo credits: foxypar4

Friday, May 23, 2008

Oh, I just love your top!

There's one thing I don't know how to handle: when a student comes up to me and says "I just wanted to say I love your top/dress/ skirt/ shoes/ bag!"

Picture this: a line of students asking about the finals, the grades, the other assignments. One of them is bound to make a comment on my dressing style.
I'm not the only female instructor being complimented on the way I dress.

But I bet you male instructors do not get those compliments! You are not up there to be assessed for how you look, but to teach. Yet, at the same time, those paying the compliments have good intentions (the road to hell is paved with good intentions); it makes no sense to be harsh on them....

...or maybe, you should be harsh on them, contradict their expectations that paying a compliment is supposed to make the other person feel better and maybe nicer to you.

I remember a similar situation in a Nordic country, when some of my female colleagues would feel insulted if a man would sit up and offer them the chair, or open the door for them. Where to draw this line between being reminded that you are first and foremost a woman, and feeling OK to break down the communication lines, to vex the others by being 'rude' and not caring about it? Or is my dilemma precisely part of being a woman, of being raised to care about not offending the others? Simply say what's on your mind? Or simply choose to ignore it, and make this an act of resistance? If it was only that simple!

Epilogue: the other day, I came across an email from a faculty member publicly congratulating a student for her intellectual achievements. After inviting everyone to check out an online story on that student, the email concluded: "And she looks absolutely fabulous!". Hm, is it me, or would other people take this as yet another complicated discussion around gender?

Photo credits: spoon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Immigration laws: constructing the immigrant

An interesting discussion is taking place on the ASA Globalog, a blog created by the Association of Social Anthropologists in the UK and the Commonwealth, regarding immigration. The post is written by an immigration lawyer, who discusses the ways in which the immigrant is constructed through the legal framework.

One idea was particularly interesting: our great-grandparents' stories about immigration used to commemorate the journey and the hardships, but they were nevertheless celebratory in their intentions and discourse. Today, the only stories we hear about the immigration journey pertain to a field delineated by the discourse of the law: illegal immigration, its perils and its failures. Immigration becomes imagined through the legal discourse of what is permissible and what is not. An interesting point to reflect upon!

Monday, May 12, 2008

When men get a day off, they drink beer...

Follow-up to my previous post, "For Easter, women have to cook": annoyed that women get a day off to cook, some started advocating for a day off for men. And what are men supposed to do with it? According to the poster on the left, drink beer, of course - "It is your right to be free for your day off". But free from what - or, as we shall see, from whom?

The cleverly designed initiative is sponsored by one of the Romanian beer brands, Bergenbier. With posters, commercials and even a website, the campaign has created a rhetorical place and universe of rights for the 'Romanian men': women (any other except wife and mother-in-law), booze and soccer. Unlike women, when men get a day off they waste it on beer, on socializing with other men in the pub, and generally having fun in a very masculine way, like pushing buttons, getting a lover, or leaving the 'tail' (the wife...) at home to get a beer (read more - in Romanian - here). Cannot bother them with taking the kid out for a walk, changing a diaper, or - god forbids! - cleaning the table, washing the dishes or cooking!

Enjoy the commercial below. For those who don't speak Romanian, the ladies are looking for the spare tire (of course, women cannot change their own tire in Romania!) and when they finally find it, they realize they also need a jack (you know women, never think big...). The conclusion: get it done by yourself, men have a day off... (stupid me, i thought a day off means a day off from work, but they actually meant a day off from women...).

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