Monday, April 23, 2012

Steeped in Tradition

When my father came to Notre Dame as a freshman, the university was graduating its first co-ed class. Women had only been around for four years at the time.
Some things were really different. For instance, my father informed me that while the male dorms had female housekeepers clean the rooms on a regular basis, female students were expected to clean their own rooms. Similarly, all male students were offered laundry service without extra charge. Female students, however, were expected to do their own laundry.
Despite these glaring differences from how things operate at Notre Dame today, one thing seems to be constant - the discussion of awkward gender relations. My dad told me about how often the school newspaper would publish articles remarking on the disconnect between the genders at the school, the difficulties of relating to the other gender in such a separated community. Sound familiar? I feel we can hardly go a week without seeing these sorts of articles popping up in the Observer. Same as it was thirty-five years ago.
Gender seems to have always been a hot button issue among the Notre Dame student community (at least, as long as women have been at the university), and I don't see much evidence that this is going to change any time soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


My friend is currently writing a paper on male fashion in the 1830s, and came across this gem of a picture.

Notice that the two men in the picture are holding hands! This drawing sparked a very animated discussion among my friends and I.
Were these men being portrayed as homosexual, or was this simply a gesture of friendship?
We discussed the phenomenon of "dandies" at this time - men who were very concerned with their appearance and things of material value. They took great pride in looking spiffy and were often thought to be a little over-the-top by their less-dandy male counterparts. 
One of my friends claims that the dandy population was also widely considered to lean towards homosexuality. This is something that I have not heard, but I also couldn't find a lot of information on the subject, so I can neither prove nor disprove this claim. If it IS true, though, this may very well be a picture of two gay men!
If not however - if dandies were assumed to be straight just as most other men were - then I'm still confused by this picture. Did men just hold hands in the 1830s? Was that a thing?

If you have any answers for me, please, let me know! I'd love to learn more about this!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs' Tails... and Nail Polish?

The summer before I came to college, I worked on a little ranch that ran a summer camp for young kids. My favorite group were the 3 and 4 year olds. The kids were really energetic and sweet. Not to mention that my favorite camper (I admit it, I had a favorite) was part of this group. His name was Truman and he was the spunkiest little boy I'd ever met. Truman was always playing the dirt, chasing chickens, or climbing trees. He fit every stereotype of a 4 year old boy.

But he wore blue nail polish to the ranch every day. The other kids asked him about it. They weren't making fun of him, they just wanted to know why he was wearing nail polish. One kid made the mistake of asking Truman "Why are you wearing paint on your fingers?" to which Truman promptly answer "It's not paint, it's NAIL POLISH!" Then he smiled and bounced off to dig for worms.

Truman's dad was a really good sport about all of this (also, notice that it was his DAD who came to pick him up from camp everyday instead of his mom, like most of the other kids - interesting!). Truman's dad was there to witness this interaction. He just smiled and said "Yep. Truman loves his blue nail polish!" And that was the end of it. His father never felt he had to apologize for his young son wearing nail polish. To him, it was just part of who his son was, and I really admired that. I know a lot of dads who would be livid if their son asked to wear nail polish. Either that, or they would just grumble and try to ignore it.

I think Truman is a great example of the gender flexibility we have been talking about in class. Yes, he was very young, so it's easier for him to get away with it, but all-in-all, he presents an interesting case. He generally  performed very "male" behavior, except for this one little thing. As a little kid, he felt comfortable within a gender continuum, because he wasn't yet old enough to understand the binaries. By now, Truman is probably about 6 or 7, and if I know anything about society, they've probably beaten the blue nail polish out of his system. But for the record, it was there!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Four Letter Words

I've been thinking a lot about words lately, after our class discussion about the words "faggot" and the word-that-must-not-be-named: the n-word. It struck me that there are two 4-letter words used to refer to the female population that have no male equivalent.

These are "slut" and the c-word (I prefer not to use it in any context).

Slut is something we hear, unfortunately, on a fairly regular basis. Just last week I was walking down the quad and heard a pair of guys talking about past hookups and casually referring to the girls they interacted with as sluts. Then there's the saga of Limbaugh's reference to the girl from Georgetown as a slut. Why is this word so acceptable to us? (Well, maybe not acceptable so much as tolerated.)

The word is offensive to me, quite frankly. And the fact that it has no male equivalent makes it just unfair as well as offensive. Slut has a negative connotation. There's no doubt about it. No one wants to be called a slut. But if "slut" refers to a woman who sleeps around and is a negative word, why are words that refer to men as sexually potent regarded as more positive? He's not a "slut," he's a "player," which is something that a lot of men aspire to be. Bottom line is that men can have a reputation for sexual promiscuity that's positive, while women cannot.

Next, we have the c-word. This one is less controversial, I think. It's pretty universally unacceptable. If I heard someone using this in casual conversation, I might assume that they had some anger issues or mental problems. For instance, a friend of mine worked for OIT last semester and while attempting to explain the printing system on campus to an older man, he got very worked up and yelled "Just tell me how to print the f***ing thing, you c***!" I've heard it a few times out of guys my own age, but only in a drunken angry stupor.

Once again, no male equivalent. The closest thing is the word "dick," which is a pretty weak word at this point. It's kind of negative, but it doesn't pack nearly the same punch as the c-word does. Why is it that even our language is oppressive? Even the words we use have been twisted against women and in favor of men. I'm not advocating that we create a new set of words in reference to men that are just as offensive as the aforementioned. I don't think that would solve any sort of problem. But I do think it's important to be aware of the meaning and the impact that something as seemingly harmless as words can have.