Laws of Attraction

 

I am going to muse a little bit here on something I’ve been thinking about for awhile as a possible book project, so please forgive me if my thoughts stray a bit.

I have written about Lindy West and her book Shrill on this blog before, and how she helped me to accept my being fat without feeling shame about it. But I want to begin this blog by discussing the This American Life episode (listen below) that inspired me to read her book. The show mostly focused on Lindy, and Roxanne Gay (who I also adore) but I had the most visceral reaction to Act II “It’s a Small World After All,” where Elna Baker, one of the show’s producers had a really intense moment of her own with her husband. You see, she had been fat for most of her life, too. She had lost a lot of weight and is now thin and happily married. But as part of this segment, she talks with her husband about their relationship and whether or not he would have been interested in her if he’d met her when she was fat. He admitted that he would not have been. This upset her profoundly (of course) and he didn’t seem to understand why. She tried to explain that she is still that same fat girl, despite being thin, and that she was feeling rejection from him, but as someone who’s never been there, he just couldn’t see it. Believe you me – I got it completely.

http://audio.thisamericanlife.org/widget/widget.min.js

You see, I have been fat all of my life, and morbidly obese for most of it. I am not attractive to most men. Yes, there are men who are attracted to fat women. I always said I didn’t want to date men like that for various reasons: I don’t want to be some guy’s fetish (I realize now how judgmental that was); I don’t want to date someone who likes fat girls because I’m going to lose the weight and then he won’t want me anymore; I don’t want to date anyone who only wants me for my looks (still true); and I want to be with someone who loves me in spite of my weight. Ugh! Feel the self-hatred in that one! This is the desire – to be loved for who I am, entirely, that made Elna Baker so upset at her husband’s admission. Lindy West was lucky. She met a man who only looked at who she is and didn’t care about her looks at all. But this is, to say the least, rare.

I’ve never believed in losing weight so that I could get a guy, but there’s also always been a part of me that assumed that losing weight would make me happier, in part, because it would open up all of these great options. And yet – I still don’t want to be with someone who sees me in a bar or across a crowded room and thinks I’m hot. If I ever get hot – I think I’ll be even pickier than I already am – completely suspect of every man who looks my way – especially any man who knew me when I was fat but didn’t want to date me until I lost the weight. Let me make it clear, however, I have no intention of being hot!

I was in love with a man a long time ago. It would be perhaps ungenerous to say that he loved me in secret. But it was something akin to this. He was my best friend. He knew me better than anyone had ever or has ever known me. I thought he was the love of my life. But my weight was always a problem and, in the end, he decided he just couldn’t be with me (though he did thank me for teaching him that it was possible to love someone who wasn’t hot when he told me he’d met the love of his life. You really can’t make this shit up.) So I have, for a long time now, felt unloveable. After all, if he didn’t want me, of all people, how could I be? This was really hard for a long time, but eventually, I just settled into being happy being alone. And then Lindy entered my life. And there were other major upheavals. And I decided to put myself our there again.

So a few things have happened lately that I really want to flush out more and I can’t promise I’ll be able to make all the connections yet, but bear with me. A male friend of mine and I were at a bar with wallpaper of Playboy covers plastering the walls. We were both appalled, and he kept telling me to please forgive him if he seemed distracted, while looking at the images. I laughed. It was funny. And perfectly natural. I do not judge him in the least and he is one of the most feminist men I have ever known. It’s that last part that makes it so interesting, though. He was/is fully aware of the issues with objectifying women, but he has been socialized not to look away from it anyway. This led to a deep discussion later about the nature of lust and objectification. He thought, naturally, that such urges are, well, natural. I don’t want to misrepresent him here, so I’ll stick to the main point I was trying to make – that these things are not natural, that they are a product of our social construction. I know this because I do not have this same problem and don’t know many women that do.

Let me make it clear that I am in no way saying that women don’t lust or have physical attraction, and I am totally willing to concede that, in fact, this has become a problem for women today, but just bear with me.

My friend’s point was just that – men are objectified all the time in the media. He’s not wrong. But how many of you remember the “Diet Coke Break” campaign from the early 1990s?

This was a big deal. Women gathered at the windows of their offices at the moment they knew that the hot construction worker outside was going to take off his shirt and ogled him. It was a fun commercial! I loved it! In retrospect, though, it’s easy to see that this wasn’t so much “feminist” as it was “if we’re going to be objectified, we should be allowed to objectify men too.” Not a healthy attitude. And, though I’ve yet to fully research this, my contention is that, in fact, those commercials are largely responsible for the turn to objectifying men’s bodies that our culture has taken. Now, as Susan Bordo and others have written, we have major epidemics of eating disorders among teenage boys, more men are getting plastic surgery such as calf implants to “fix” their physical insecurities. In short, everyone gets objectified now! Yay equality!

On another aside, one of the things that has also made me focus on this topic lately was a conversation with a girlfriend who told me that she’s noticed that, as we get older, more of her female friends are ending up with dorks, than hot guys. Her conclusion: the older you are, the more you care about things like jobs and stability. She specifically mentioned the “mismatched” nature of these relationships. How do two people of completely different levels of attraction end up with each other?

She also pointed out, incidentally, that though my generation may have grown up without a major compulsion to objectify men, women of my generation were (and all women are) still subject to the intense bombarding of images of the female body to the point that we, too, often lust for women in unhealthy ways. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the increase in bisexual women, especially when compared to bisexual men (thought the inherent fear of homophobia is probably a greater contributor to this issue).

So all of this brings me to the question of attractiveness. I don’t believe in social Darwinism, but even if I did, the idea that we are naturally programmed to be attracted to women with big breasts and hips (the better to birth your babies with) and men with large chests and muscles (the better to protect the family with) is completely irrelevant today. In evolutionary standards, these “instincts” should be long gone. I think of this along the same lines as Esther Perel discusses in her TED Talk where she explains that our ideas of what a marital partner should be still come from a time when we only lived to be 35 years old. So much has changed that make it completely unrealistic to expect so very much from one single person for the rest of our lives. I don’t think she’s actually saying anything bad about marriage, per se, but simply the way we, as a society, treat it. And I couldn’t agree more.

There are also several articles going around these days about how and why people marry the wrong person because they take the wrong things into consideration when choosing a spouse. So that will fuel my argument a bit, here too.

So, especially after everything I’ve just written, you would think I wouldn’t need to make my argument, which is simply that we shouldn’t choose our lovers/dates/spouses by their looks. And yet, it absolutely does need to be said. While I suppose there’s definitely something to be said about the fact that people aren’t always attracted to the same physical types and therefore, I suppose, there is a lid for every pot, I don’t understand why we choose based on physical appearance at all!!! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying there shouldn’t be attraction that manifests in physical desire – and I’m not really saying we “shouldn’t” anything. I am just trying to understand why we do.

And I say “we,” but the truth is, I am not attracted to physically handsome men, for the most part, at all. It’s like the episode of 30 RockThe Bubble” where Liz’s boyfriend (played by Jon Hamm) finds out that he’s treated special because of his looks and therefore gets away with more – in my experience, really handsome men are often vain and entitled – two very big turnoffs.

Even when it comes to celebrities, my celebrity crushes are usually either based on the characters the actors play, or are simply more cerebral. Some of my biggest celebrity crushes include: Bill Maher, Fareed Zakaria, and Jon Oliver (real lookers, those!) But we’ve all experienced that moment when someone who we aren’t typically attracted to, or even find ugly, suddenly becomes the most beautiful person in the world because you see them through new and loving eyes. And of course, the reverse, when that sexy sexy guy turns out to be a douche and he’s suddenly hideous (looking at you, again, Brad Pitt).

And it goes without saying that love should come from more than just physical attraction. Obviously you need to share values, goals, a sense of humor, love and hate many of the same things, and want the same things out of a relationship. But most people, even Dan Savage, who I respect very much when it comes to discussing relationships and sexual desire, will say something akin to “you have to be physically attracted to someone for it to work out.” Yes, maybe. But only in the sense I mentioned above – knowing the man makes him sexy.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I have a lot of guy friends. Truly great guys. Not a chauvinist in the bunch. And yet only one comes to mind who has never once expressed a judgmental sexual statement about a woman, and that includes my gay friends.

rebecca_traister_single_ladies

The last bit of this puzzle is that I’m finally reading Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies and it’s really affecting me. She is writing about the evolution of women and relationships through the centuries and how we have come to accept, even expect, women to stay single much longer, possibly forever. As I read I feel like she’s describing my life: she is intensely evaluating important moments I experienced fully that have made me the woman I am today (Anita Hill, Hillary Rodham, Murphy Brown, etc.) and showing me how those things have made me the woman I am today: a happily single over-the-hill feminist, if we have to put a label on it.

Note: Happily single, you ask? Didn’t I begin by talking about putting myself out there? I was quite happily single for quite a few years there, with no real interest in anyone or of partnering up. Lately, I’ve been interested in dating, went on several “dating apps” and am on the verge of giving up again out of sheer disgust. But mostly, this book is making me happier to be single – of wanting to own it.

But one of the main points she’s made so far that I think really contributes to the ideas I’m espousing is how women’s decisions not to enter into marriage and the increase of gay marriages work together to dismantle and redefine the way we see marriage and relationships. There is a new way of looking at partnerships that goes beyond just leaving Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique behind. There is more equality in relationships, now. There are less gendered roles.

In the same way, I would argue, a society that doesn’t need partnerships based on the ability to provide, protect and procreate and that has all but gotten rid of heteronormative expectations can and should get beyond this obsession with the physical.

And just in the interests of full disclosure – I realize that many people will assume that because I’m fat (and I tell myself, ugly) of course I look at the world this way. And maybe that’s true. Maybe I wouldn’t even think about this if men were hitting on me, left and right. But that doesn’t make me any less right. In fact, those of us who experience the social isolation of obesity and physical ostracization may be the best people to point this stuff out.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

Rape Culture is a Man’s Issue, Too

I recently read the incredible book of essays, Shrill, by Lindy West.  West has been a staple of my gender, sexuality and new media course since she appeared on This American Life to discuss her experience being trolled online, and her book has really made me think a lot about some of the ways in which our culture, and especially our media, tries to simplify the rather complex ideas of feminism.  I will, no doubt, write more posts about this book.

The biggest issue on my mind today, however, is the discussion of rape culture.  West famously took on the issue of rape jokes in stand-up comedy and forced a lot of people, especially the men who dominate the comedy world, to think differently on the subject.

A little bit about where I was in this conversation, first.  I research and write about dark humor.  It is a passion of mine.  It is one of my favorite things to watch/read.  The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Flannery O’Connor and Fannie Flagg are some of my favorite writers.  I always wince a little at most dark jokes, internally, but part of the fun, for me, is overcoming that wince.  I truly do believe that comedy can actually lead to real change in the world, and none so well as the darkly comic.  Rape jokes, clearly, fall under dark humor, and I always do wince.  I take them as part and parcel of the thing I love, much like West took them, and other aspects of gender violence as acceptable in the comedy world.

fried-green-tomatoes-graphic

She is a comedy expert, whether her detractors accept this or not, and she writes so eloquently about how much at home she has felt in comedy clubs among comedians, and how foreign she feels, as well.  I’ve only ever been to a comedy club once, and that experience was akin to the latter aspect of her association with comedy.  Comedy culture is a boy’s club.  That was nothing new to me.  But the comedy club setting was a real wake-up call.

A friend got four free tickets to a comedy club and we went, all girls, all excitement, all dolled up, on a night when a comedian that I had always heard and loved on my morning radio show was performing.  I mistakenly assumed that his humor would be just as funny, if not more funny, live.  It was not.  What it was, was misogynistic, hateful and crude.  Remember, I like dark comedy, so “hateful” and “crude” are not always bad words to me.  But the misogyny was palpable.  He degraded women, not just as a theory, but actual women in the audience.  I will never forget watching one woman in the front row, clearly on a date, pretend to laugh at his ridicule and overly sexual references to her as her date laughed heartily and with abandon.

Most women, in fact, were laughing, but I doubt that any of them were sincere.  In fact, the only women in the club who weren’t laughing were at my table.  We were too close to the stage to get up and walk out, terrified of drawing attention to ourselves and being the butt of his nasty sense of humor, so we stayed.  The comedian was smart enough to recognize to leave us alone until the very end, when he loudly called one of my friends a bitch for getting caught up in the only fun aspect of the night (finishing the lyrics to Barry Manilow songs), but that’s a story for another time.

So, yes, I recognized West’s authority about the sensibility of the night club as very real.  I had experienced it.  So her description and defense of what it must have been like for the woman who dared to stand up to Daniel Tosh for his rape joke took on a whole new life for me.  I had been one of those people who, if not supportive of the rights of comics to make rape jokes, unwilling to condemn.  In this book, West changed my mind.  She pointed out the punching up theory of comedy, where it’s only acceptable to make fun of people whose status is above your own.  By making fun of people who are “below” them (less privilege, less autonomy, less social standing) comedians are just being mean spirited.  She compares it to the CEO of a company making fun of the janitor for not being able to feed his family.

She sure convinced me.  And she actually convinced a lot of others too.  She writes about a discussion between radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony (the latter of whom was later arrested for assaulting his girlfriend) and their guest, Jim Norton, who disagree with her.  They actually admit, grudgingly, that “rape culture” might exist:

I have blogged before about rape in the media, specifically the way that rape is used as a crutch to make women more interesting, and one of the most egregious offenders was Game of Thrones where Sansa is raped and the audience experiences the scene through the eyes of her step-brother, denoting that rape is even more offensive if seen through the eyes of a man (a criticism they’ve refused to accept).

This is not a new phenomenon.  Throughout the years, many people have implored men to consider several “what if’s” such as what if it were your daughter/wife/mother?  I even remember being very impressed on a television show when a man apologized for approaching a woman in a dark parking garage late at night because he has daughters and understands the fear he must have inflicted.  But there are lots of others who have called bullshit on this type of appeal to men.  You don’t have to have a mother/sister/daughter to understand that rape is wrong.  You don’t have to try to empathize with the fear a woman lives with every time she leaves her house to find rape repulsive anymore than you have to empathize with a parent whose child has died to be angry about the injustice of someone dying so young.  Hell, most parents cannot fathom what that must feel like.  But there is a way that a man can.

cover-web_feb_web_t580-1_t580

The fact of the matter is, cisgendered men don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a woman in American society.  Some startlingly true revelations from my own life:

When I was in college I had so many friends confide in me that they had been raped that I actually sat down and counted it out.  Over 50% of my female friends/acquaintances had done so.  And that was of the ones who actually told me.  Most of them hadn’t told many other people, if any, least of all the police.  Why?  Because most of these rapes were acquaintance/date rapes.  They had “allowed” themselves to be alone with the guy.  They had “chosen” to wear revealing clothes.  They had lead him on.  Even these beautiful and strong (yes, many were strong and confident women) couldn’t help but second guess their own choices, the same way we all do when we face tragedy (If I had only left one hour earlier I wouldn’t have been at that specific spot when that deer on the side of the road jumped out in front of my car!).  If they could find reason to victim-blame themselves, what chance did they have with the police?  Especially campus police!

As a college professor, and a feminist, I often have reason during the semester to ask my co-ed classes this question: “Ladies, what do you do if you have to walk to your car late at night?”  The answers are always the same:

“Hold pepper spray in one hand and keys in the other.”

“Hold my keys in my fist with the sharp points out like a weapon!”

“Check under the car before approaching it.”

“Never approach your car if a van’s parked next to the driver’s door – or climb through the passenger side!”

“Check the back seat before getting in!”

“Always park by a light.”

“Try to be on your cellphone or have 911 ready to dial.”

The men in the class look on shocked and dismayed.  Most had never been told any of these things. Ever.  We’ve been told these things since we were able to understand “stranger danger.”  Of course, just like “stranger danger,” these “lessons” are actually counterproductive.  Like “stranger danger” they teach us that the danger is from strangers who lurk in the shadows, even though significantly more women get raped by people they know and trust (just like kids get molested and kidnapped by trusted adults in their lives more than strangers).  But most of the men in my class are just stunned.  And for many of them, this is a real eye-opening experience for them.  Suddenly, they seem aware of their own privilege and our real vulnerability.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 6.36.39 PM

West writes about this deeply ingrained fear in her book as well, specifically when she discusses how a woman might actually be legitimately afraid in a claustrophobic night club full of drinking men who find the idea of rape funny and the comedian on stage is encouraging them to gang rape her.  Yes, I know.  Tosh didn’t really mean that.  But does it matter what he meant when women are brought up with the idea of the “gift of fear.”  We’re never supposed to let our guard down.  Ever.  And a crowded club with a famous person on stage is not an exception.  I remember watching The Accused in theaters when I was 14 years old and watching Jodie Foster being raped on a pool table (a true story).

large_je2mxx5kjohecxdv1yogtopmc0p

I remember watching Dreamworlds, where the rape scene in The Accused juxtaposed with clips of MTV music videos depicting violence against women to show how we’ve become desensitized to the idea, in my Mass Communications class in college.  There is no safety in crowds.  Not for women.

So, you may ask, what’s your point?  What do you mean by “Rape Culture is Important to Men, Too?”  Where are we going with this?

There is one place that almost every man can “imagine” what it’s like to be a woman in this world: prison.  Unfortunately, the very cruel and unusual punishment of rape has become so commonplace in prisons that it’s the butt of jokes itself (I wonder if prisoners find those jokes funny).  So, I implore men not to think of their mother/daughter/sister when they think about rape and rape culture.  I implore them to think about prison.  Think about what it must be like to walk down those halls on your first day when you have no friends yet.  No one to watch your back.  Revisit films and television shows with rape shower scenes that make you want to shit your pants.  Try this one from Oz that appropriately takes place on a pool table, too:

Was that guy cocky?  Sure.  Did he deserve to be raped?  Were his clothes too revealing?  Was he “asking for it?”  What would you do in that situation?

You see, what this scene, and so many others like it, demonstrates is that rape is not about sex.  It is about power.  One character wants to show the other character that he’s the powerful one so he rapes the other man.  This is exactly what rape is like for women.  It is a forced intrusion into our bodies by an angry man who fears and loathes her.  It is not sex.  It is not pleasurable.  It is a violation, pure and simple, of a human being’s body and soul.

If you don’t believe that rape culture exists, chances are really good that you’re a white man whose been living with his head in the ground and whose most recent pop culture references are Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds.  There’s not much I can say to you that will make you agree.  But if you are a man who is living in this world in 2016 who is aware of the culture around you, and you tell yourself that rape is awful because it hurts someone you know and/or love, please reconsider.  Rape is awful because it exists.  It’s a real thing and it can happen to you, really anywhere, but especially in prison.  But it happens so rarely outside of prison that it probably doesn’t enter your mind that much.  If you were in prison, though, you would know a little something about what it is to live as a woman in America in 2016.  It’s terrifying.  It’s pervasive.  It’s a dehumanizing way to live.

Here Be Dragons…

1408-1409-ewcover-apr01-emilia-108

When I received my shiny new edition of Entertainment Weekly last Friday I was struck with two very different thoughts.  “WOMEN ON TOP” the cover loudly declared over an image of the dragon queen, herself, Daenerys from one of my former favorite shows Game of Thrones.  Aside from wishing I’d gotten the cover with Arya featured on it, I felt both excitement and dread.  I blogged about this issue on a different site last year, but to reiterate – I am one of those “picky” feminists who took great offense at the way in which several television shows, especially GoT, had decided to make its female characters more interesting by having them raped and/or sexually threatened, and therefore had decided to stop watching the show.

The first of my aforementioned reactions, excitement, can then be understood.  “They heard us!” I thought.  The writer’s have taken to heart what the feminists have been saying and are going to make changes going forward.  The simultaneous dread I felt spoke to my exhausted familiarity with the type of window dressing people in the entertainment industry like to apply to an issue that seldom results in actual change.  I fear, as I read the articles, the dread became the dominant emotion.  Nowhere do the writers acknowledge any wrongdoing, which is to be expected.  But even worse, in the spirit of pink washing and green washing, the EW writers have taken to turning what is clearly anti-feminist and making it sound feminist.

First, though, let me address some of the issues that EW and others have said in response to the criticism.

  1. It’s realistic for the time period.  Women got raped.  To which I usually ask, what time period is this, again?  Where is Westeros?  Where are those waring families and castrated slaves, again?  Of course, the rote response is usually something like, it’s based on a real time period.  Far be it for me to state the obvious, but it has always baffled me how authors of such fantastic worlds of wizards, dragons and zombies fail to have enough imagination to create a world where there are no gender inequalities, but I digress…
  2. There’s a lot of rape and violence in the books, so why are you picking on the TV show?  True.  ASOIF does have quite a lot of violence, and even rape, in its pages.  But it’s the reason these women are being raped – to make them more interesting or sympathetic – that is at issue in the show.  No one liked Cersei, nor could they feel any sympathy for her until she was raped by her twin brother at their son’s funeral.  Everyone thought Sansa was boring until she was given over as the abused bride of Ramsay Bolton and had to be raped in front of her step-brother Theon, no less, in order to earn her any sympathy.  Never mind that the novels make it fairly clear that Theon (rechristened Reek) was almost certainly brutally raped over several months by Ramsay, which the television series makes no allusions to at all.
  3. But, Game of Thrones has some of the strongest, best female characters on television.  Yes, this is also true.  Which is why these tactics are so appalling, not an excuse to let them off the hook.  This is a straw person fallacy – misrepresenting the criticism of this one aspect as criticism of every circumstance of women in the show.  The criticism of the way GoT has portrayed women with regard to rape is particularly important because it is praised so often for strong female characters.  If you’re going to take the praise for your strong female characters, you’re accepting being held to a higher standard, so own it when you make sexist mistakes.

“One by one, these strong and commanding men have suffered tragic turns of fate that have cleared the way for a fleet of heroines who have learned new strategies to survive and conquer in a brutal world.”

This last point is one that EW staff writer James Hibberd makes in his cover story when he writes “The ascension of Thrones’ female characters isn’t a new strategy” because “One by one, these strong and commanding men have suffered tragic turns of fate that have cleared the way for a fleet of heroines who have learned new strategies to survive and conquer in a brutal world.”  And in the print edition he follows this with the statement “You could say that behind every great woman on Thrones there’s at least one dead or maimed man whose downfall factored into her rise.” This line, again, gives the male characters credit for the strength and rise of the female characters.  That seems pretty sexist to me.

And as to the question of these rapes making characters more interesting, they can dispute that claim all they want, but, according to Sophie Turner, the actress who plays Sansa Stark, the tactic clearly worked.  She claims “I’ve had more people saying, ‘You’re my favorite character’ than ever before, which is amazing, because I used to get ‘You’re my least favorite character.’”  Good for her, but I liked her pretty well beforehand, especially the way Martin writers her in the novels. If she wasn’t accepted by audiences of the show, that’s a result of poor writing, not a need to rape her.

“I can literally say that not one word of the scripts this season have been changed in any way, shape or form by what people said on the Internet, or elsewhere.”

Most infuriatingly, just today EW ran a story that expresses that not only are the producers not taking responsibility for their treatment of women in season 5, but they are vocally rejecting the idea that these “stronger female characters” in season 6 are a response to the criticism.  EP Dan Weiss is quoted as saying “I can literally say that not one word of the scripts this season have been changed in any way, shape or form by what people said on the Internet, or elsewhere.” Right.  Because that would be the worst thing ever – to take criticism to heart and change accordingly.  That would require actually acknowledging an error in judgment, something unlikely to happen anytime soon.

arya-arya-stark-edit-game-of-thrones-favim-com-2611693

 

“You are either a normal person or a sexist.  People get a label when they’re bad.”

There was one bright spot to the magazine’s female-centric edition.  Maisie Williams, who plays my favorite character, Arya Stark was also asked about the controversy in the print edition and had the best answer that shows exactly why she’s the perfect person to play such an iconic and wise character.  She says, “I feel like we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and just start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist,’ and then everyone else is just a human.  You are either a normal person or a sexist.  People get a label when they’re bad.”  Amen!

Doctor Agent Scully

I have spent the last 2 month rewatching 200+ episodes of The X-Files in preparation for last night’s Season 10 premiere.  It has been a lot of fun, to be sure, though I’ve watched the full series at least 4 times before.  This time, I am accompanying my viewing with episodes of The X-Files Files which helped me to think more critically about the show this time around, though my degree in English Literature predisposes me to critical analysis of everything (Literally EVERYTHING).  However, I think it was a more personal change in my situation since my last binge that really affected my following analysis:

Why is it that everyone who encounters Mulder and Scully refers to Mulder as Agent Mulder, but quite a lot of these people call Scully “Miss Scully?”

dana_scully_x-files

Not once does anyone refer to Mulder as Mr. Mulder.  But even if they did, Scully’s other title, after Agent (only because this is her current job) is Doctor.  That’s right.  She’s an MD.  So calling her Ms. or Miss or Mrs. Scully really pisses me off.  I noticed this issue, no doubt, because I have since earned my PhD and am a doctor.  This change in status has been quite complicate for me.  For one thing, I was really looking forward to being a doctor so that I could get rid of the Ms. Miss Mrs issue.  It irks me no end that there are three different titles for women that label us as either married, unmarried, or feminist shrew.  However, a lot of professors tell their students to just call them by their first name, which leads to many students presuming this is the norm.

I am uncomfortable being called by my first name by my first name, and I feel that I have earned the title Dr., but I also feel like pointing this out to students makes me out to be a bit of a bitch – thinking I’m better than, rather than expressing that I have achieved something important and worthy of respect.  I don’t think men have this issue.  In fact, I know that most of them do not.  It is easier, for one, for a male professor to say “Oh, just call me Kenn” because he appears benevolent and his authority is not threatened.

resized_the-most-interesting-man-in-the-world-meme-generator-students-don-t-always-call-me-doctor-but-when-they-don-t-they-call-me-professor-881831

For a woman, though, students are more likely to presume that a first name basis is appropriate, and the respect that comes with the title is easily eliminated.  And as a woman, I have been socialized to try and avoid conflict or looking like I want respect.  So I never correct students.  I never tell them that they need to wait for a professor to tell them what to call him/her and the default should be the way they label their syllabus or emails.  Thus, I always sign my emails Dr. Hawley and my name on the syllabus is usually R.S. not Rachel.  Still… I get called by my first name all the time.

Some may argue that The X-Files came out in the late 90s which was “a different time,” but that’s hogwash.  The 90s was a pretty damn progressive time.  It was not that long ago.  And it is incumbent upon the disseminators of our most prevalent popular culture to reflect the importance of such nomenclature for women.  I am curious to see how this will play out in the next month of new episodes.  Will Agent Scully garner her hard-earned respect?  In last night’s episode, when she was not an agent anymore, the professionals around her definitely called her Dr. Scully.  Let’s see what happens when she’s an agent again.

27775