Monday, November 2, 2009

Will you work for a chick?

I know someone who didn't get along with their boss. A female boss, I should add. So, when he was fired, he said "I will never work for a chick again". I have to confess this comment stayed with me; its derogatory labeling of women as 'chicks' kept bothering me. Women in power, that's even worse! Chicks in power sounds so much less threatening! Chicks are cute, chicks are innocent, chicks are brainless...

A recent TIME issue was devoted to the the state of women in America today. I didn't know there was no female FBI agent in the early 1970s, when TIME first covered this topic. From the 1970s up to now, there has been quite a change: a quantitative change, with more women taking on jobs as well as claiming decision-making positions, but also a qualitative change, with both men and women complexifying their definition of gender roles and expectations.

There is a gender-related change, no doubt about it. But there must also be a healthy dose of skepticism about the scope and depth of this change. There's little doubt in my mind that there's plenty of men out there, who consciously or not, truly believe there's no way they would 'work for a chick'. Yes, they do need a serious system upgrade; patches won't do. But they are also the fathers raising up the next generation of sons who 'won't work for chicks'. Of sons who won't read 'chick lit' or watch 'chick flicks'.

What on earth is a chick flick anyway? It turns out, the fathers and sons who won't work for 'chicks' also won't study the same 'chick' curriculum. I remember reading about this boys-only school where boys won't be made to read literature targeting girls (translation: anything that deals with nurturing, bonding, raising, problematizing, discussing). 'Cause boys cannot identify with that, they need to identify with trains and cars, with explosions and guns, with the real issues boys face in the real world (yeah, like trains and guns...). As the guy in charge of this school explained, most boys fails school because the curricula is 'girl-oriented'....

Chick flicks, chick lit, chick curricula, and, let's not forget, chicks-in-power. Some things do change, but exactly how deep is this change - and how the change itself is reinterpreted by some groups - remains open for debate. There should be enough reason to stay optimistic, but at the same time, there's plenty of reason to be very cautious.

One of the most important Marxist thinkers, Antonio Gramsci once argued that dominant ideologies - like patriarchy in our case - work through hegemonic processes: they seduce us into consenting to their worldviews as much as they force us. And, when change threatens the worldview that patriarchy proposes, there will always be an attempt to reincorporate that change back into the dominant ideology, by redefining its terms so that they are less threatening. Like calling women chicks. Like re-drawing strong gender lines, where real boys don't cry and definitely don't watch chick flicks. And where chicks themselves reclaim the label for themselves, rejoicing the (questionable and tricky) sexual power a chick has over a man, and calling only on their moms and girlfriends to go out and watch a chick movie (cause you know, my husband doesn't really like chick flicks...).

Photo credits: Dominic

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites