Friday, January 16, 2009

An interview with the infamous "Guy 1"

by Kelly Roache

A few days ago, fellow Equal Writer and beloved editor Chloe Angyal posted piece called “Overheard at the gym,” about what she deemed to be sexist comments made by two male students at a nearby machine in the fitness center. The interaction went like this:

Guy 1: (gets on the groin stretching machine, the one that winches your legs apart like some kind of medieval torture instrument)
Guy 2: That is not a man's machine right there. Not a man's machine.
Chloe: (prays that Guy 1 will show some spine and keep stretching, because Guy 2 is being ridiculous, and besides, stretching is important)
Guy 1: (gets off the machine)
Chloe: (dies a little inside)

It turns out that Guy 1 in this anecdote turned out to be a friend of a friend (let’s celebrate the fact that they know about the blog!) and felt like the situation was misinterpreted. While his interview was intended to give Guy 1 an opportunity to explain his side of things, it ultimately became an eye-opening experience for me as a feminist.

First, Guy 1 took issue with the perception that he succumbed to peer pressure based on a sexist stereotype:

“I had no intention to use [the machine] anyways. [The blog] made it out like I was bullied out of using it and should have ‘manned up’ and used it.”

First off, Guy 1’s use of phrase “man up” caught my attention. On the one hand, it shows how pervasive traditional gender roles are. Timidity in the place of bravado is “unmanly.” But by the same token, what Guy 1 has really said here is that it would have been masculine not to have shrunk from the perception of femininity caused by using this machine, but rather to have combated the stereotype and have used it regardless. That’s a pretty cool definition of masculinity, if you ask me. Similarly, he doesn’t think stretching is something reserved for women:

“We stretch…if we wanted to use the machine we would have used the machine but don’t think [I] would have been bothered” or dissuaded, by Guy 2’s comments."

The second issue at hand is the purportedly sexist expression itself of “That is not a man’s machine right there. Not a man’s machine.” While Guy 2 couldn’t be reached for comment, his counterpart attempted to elucidate the situation. “What [Guy 2] said wasn’t really appropriate.” I smiled. But in the next breath –

“I personally don’t think it’s offensive just because he was kind of just making a joke. What he meant is that it wasn’t anybody’s machine. I don’t think he intended it to be a gender-based thing. I see how [someone] could have been offended by it but I think he should be able to crack a joke like that."

Admittedly, this is a bit of a qualifier on his first statement, but here Guy 1 made a point that’s kept me thinking the past couple days. Three posts above “Overheard at the gym” is one entitled “A reminder that Dean’s Date isn’t all that bad.” The latter post asked readers to put things into perspective: a 15-page paper or an all-nighter don’t seem so bad compared to “honor killings” in the Middle East. Surely this isn’t as drastic a contrast, but it reminds us that in fighting the battle for gender equality, priorities are a central tool.

Are sexist jokes good? No. Should we continue to combat them through intellectual exchange? Absolutely. But with issues from abortion to pay disparity on the table – and an imminent regime change in Washington – it’s important to remember what our mothers told us when we bickered with our little brothers and sisters: pick your battles. Starting small is important, but let’s not get distracted from the big picture issues of our day.


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