I Hate "Positive" Female Stereotypes
I love Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, I really do. As the first female president of Liberia, she has done amazing and wonderful things to heal her country from the violent civil war that destroyed so many lives in the most brutal, animalistic ways possible. I couldn't help but cringe, though, when I read a New York Times article about female peacekeepers in Liberia. President Sirleaf Johnson explained that female peacekeepers bring important qualities to their work:
What a woman brings to the task is extra sensitivity, more caring... I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of a family, being concerned about children, managing the home.
And here's where my little brain shuts down. Forget the fact that not all women are mothers, and therefore the attributes ascribed to women through motherhood then render some women not women. Even more troubling to me is the idea that the caring people concerned about children are only women. To me, caring is the characteristic of a decent person -- a quality not inherent to any gender, but learned through social interactions, social influence, and environment. If that is not the case, then there is essentially no hope for men. They are brutes and animals, and there's nothing we can do about it.
The day before I came across the article about female peacekeepers in the Times, I nearly threw my copy of New York Magazine across the room when I opened it to a story titled, "What If Women Ran Wall Street?" "NOTHING WOULD BE DIFFERENT," I yelled to my empty bedroom and stomped around in a huff. "Are women not people? Are we somehow immune from the human desires to be powerful and successful and sometimes greedy? ARGH!" Then I swore a lot and weighed my options to flee from the stupidity of the world and live by myself in a cave.
What is hilarious, though, is that the article starts out with two male traders who explain that women they worked with:
... never got ruffled, never got upset... Losing their temper? Never.... Women respond to stress differently... Rather than throwing a phone across the room, they cry.
(Which reminds me why I stopped using Degree deodorant -- the label says, "Extra responsive in emotional moments" on women's sticks, but "Guaranteed odor protection" on men's.) Yes, people, women and men are so different. All due to our brains! Nothing at all having to do with how men are punished for crying and women are punished for being aggressive and taking risks.
But back to the New York Magazine article. See, apparently women only invest in things they understand. But men are reckless fools who like to brag about things, so they pretend to understand things, and that's why there was a financial collapse. I love that none of these people have ever worked with the people I have -- because some of the organizations I've worked for were run by egomanical women with seriously bad tempers. Some even also had children, and were not extra sensitive or overly caring. Sometimes, they even took some crazy risks that didn't pay off. But I guess that just means that they weren't women.
My favorite part of the article, though, is the fifth-to-last paragraph, which notes that not all men are impulsive douchebags involved in territorial pissing contests, and not all women are conservative and rational decision makers. In fact, "being reductionist about hormones and gender is a sure way to misjudge a complicated individual." What? You don't say! It's too bad that the thousands of other words in this article point to why we should be reductionist.
Dudes, I am so over this ludicrous assertion that women are somehow more moral, or nurturing, or logical -- or whatever is considered a good quality due to hormones, or the ability to give birth, or whatever. We are all people. We are profoundly influenced by the social restrictions and permissions under which we live. If women had the same power that men have historically wielded, I don't believe that we'd be any different from them. We are not incorruptible. We don't randomly love fellow people any more. Only when both genders (or all genders; I'm not endorsing only two) can express themselves freely will we be able to see how this really plays out. I look forward to that day.
Other women's thoughts on these topics:
- "The Positive Role of Female Peacekeepers" by Ann of Carversville (see also her post, If Women Ran Wall Street..."
- "Follow up: Liberia's Female Peacekeepers" by Lis Myers at Life Peripatetically
- "If Women Ran Wall Street, 'Lehman Sisters' Would Still Be in Business" by Courtney Comstock at Business Insider