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The slow but (hopefully) steady erosion of our gender stereotypes

For our book club, we’re reading the 2003 novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver.* I, Lo, knowing nothing about the book or its author, began reading and was amazed that a male author could create a female narrator that sounded so authentic and convincing, especially regarding childbirth and motherhood. That is, until halfway through the book when I happened to catch a glimpse of the author photo on the inside back flap: turns out Lionel is a woman.

I must say, after my initial surprise, I really wasn’t surprised — after all, how could a man have captured the mental cog work of such a complicated female character? But then there was a part of me that was a little disappointed — both in the fact that Lionel wasn’t a man, and in the fact that I was so quick to dismiss a dude’s ability to get in touch with his feminine side. It would have been kind of cool to have my expectations challenged, especially as someone who’s always raging against gender stereotyping.

I didn’t have to wait long: flipping through last week’s Time I came across this article: “A Few Good Men: Work It is a drag, but TV does right by guys elsewhere” (you have to have a subscription to read the whole article). It comes straight out and calls the new men-in-drag show sexist: “The concept — men do man work, and ladies do lady work! — feels bogus at a time when some of TV’s best male characters are taking on different roles at home and work, without (literally) shedding their pants.” The review goes on to praise show’s like New Girl, Louie, Raising Hope, and Modern Family for their realistic, fully human portrayals of guys. For instance, take Up All Night and its stay-at-home dad played by Will Arnett: “There was a time when the show would have been all inept Mr. Mom jokes….Instead, his anxieties and insecurities are much the same as a new mom’s.” Amen to that, sister! Oh wait, the review was written by a guy! This is the kind of thing we’d expect to read on Feministing or Jezebel, but not necessarily in Time, especially in one that wasn’t branded a special “Gender Wars” issue. Again with the upended expectations — nice!

Then I turned on the TV and saw this commercial from Tide with a stay-at-home dad folding laundry and it was like a second Christmas in January. No self-deprecating jokes, no over-the-top macho-fication of the task, no wincing when his daughter asks him to braid her hair — just a dad being a dad. I don’t care if they’re marketing to me — it’s only freaking 2012, about time we see more cleaning commercials featuring men!

Of course, there are the bad surprises. That article we linked to last week about a new sci-fi brothel opening up in Nevada — from the Time blog, in fact — it’s full of lazy sexism: “The brothel will feature girls….dreaming up sexy alien girls…bordello filled with girls….” Um, doubtful that the brothel will employ underage prostitutes — they will be women. The article goes on to enthusiastically encourage men to “Start planning their intergalactic travel….” without any nod to the darker sides of prostitution. This article was written by a woman.

* Cannot wait to see the movie starring Tilda Swinton!

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