Sunday, June 12, 2005

Kitsch: of Men and Women

Today's "kitsch display" stimulated a vigorous seminar discussion on the meaning of two contrasting bits of kitsch.
The first was a fridge magnet collection sold in the SFU BookStore:

The second was a metal plate found at a garage sale entitled "The Rules" and which read as follows:

1. The Female always makes THE RULES.
2. THE RULES are subject to change without notice.
3. No Male can possibly know all THE RULES.
4. If the Female suspects the Male knows all THE RULES, she must immediately change some of THE RULES.
5. The Female is never wrong.
6. If it appears the Female is wrong, it is because of a flagrant misunderstanding caused by something the Male did or said wrong.
7. If Rule #6 applies, the Male must apologize immediately for causing the misunderstanding.
8. The Female can change her mind at any time.
9. The Male must never change his mind without the express written consent of The Female.
10. The Female has every right to be angry or upset at any time.
11. The Male must remain calm at all times, unless the Female wants him to be angry or upset.
12. The Female must, under no circumstances, let the Male know whether she wants him to be angry or upset.
13. The Male is expected to read the mind of the Female at all times.
14. At all times, what is important is what the Female meant, not what she said.
15. If the Male doesn't abide by THE RULES, it is because he can't take the heat, lacks backbone, and is a wimp.
16. If the Male, at any time, believes he is right, he must refer to Rule #5.

From among the exchanges, two stick in my mind. One is the way that The Rules - highlight male insecurity. The other was the suggestion that if "the Female" in The Rules is changed to "God", then you have sixteen points of understanding Kafka's conception of God.

But one class-fellow felt hindered from speaking, and emailed me the following very commendable commentary.
My personal response to popular examples of "kitsch" such as 'TheRules' andthe "boys are stupid" magnets is very unsettling. More than the objectsthemselves, what I find especially disturbing is that these sorts of blatant exploitations of gender stereotypes are intended to be funny. 'The Rules'example in particular operates on exactly the same logic that allowed womento be oppressed for centuries, yet a simple gender reversal apparently makesit appropriate to laugh at today. I think any sort of humor that operates on the principle that a certain sex is contemptible because they necessarily possess some undesirable trait is unacceptable. It is offensive not only to the targeted gender but any person who doesn't feel like they fit theprescribed role
for their sex. For instance, I feel insulted by theinsinuation that the female is always the pushy, overbearing partner in arelationship, and while most children experience a certain amount of antagonism towards the opposite gender at some point, I certainly don't seehow it's appropriate to encourage them to deal with it by throwing rocks. Despite all the intellectualizing university students do about gender theory and social conditioning, the existence of humor like this makes me question whether sexism hasn't simply been institutionalized.


Vesper said...

Wow...very well said...that is, the comment from the fellow student. It is interesting to ask what makes us laugh at things like that. I personally experience a combination of humour and disgust, as well as a kind of wariness and shame at my own response. As a person that does not fit into the gender stereotypes (and has suffered because of it), I totally see how the kitch stuff is just plain wrongminded. Maybe that's why I laugh. I don't laugh in support of the kitch, or the sexism that definitely underlies it, and perhaps the same goes for many of the people in our class?? For me, it's one of those "I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-this" kind of laughs. Still, I agree with your comment that sexism has been institutionalized. We all carry it with us and continue to be oppressors of each other. I don't like the fact that SFU carries these products. I also saw a full-sized calendar in the book store, which boldly displays the same drawings and phrases as the magnets. But I think it's fascinating, like Stephen has suggested many times in class, to examine how and why things are the way the are. Instead of saying "it shouldn't be that way", we should ask "how did it get to be like that?"...and perhaps by uncovering the roots/causes/origins of the matter we can find some appropriate responses to dealing with it, each in our own way.

Vesper said...

Hey, there's a great conversation going on at Real Men Don't Blog under the June 9th post called PC has neutered men:

Regretful said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Regretful said...

Dear Kiki:

Too bad this was the one class you had to miss! Your unique contributions were wanting!

Dr. S.A. Ogden said...

Some bullet-point responses of mine to a class-fellow:

"Briefly, (1) your group blog is an excellent place for your interest in genre theory, (2) our two genres can be (and hopefully are being) studied on their own terms, (3) chick-lit and lad lit are not the same as romance lit and male literature, (4) the male equivalent of romance lit is, in my view, fantasy lit (lecture mention to follow), and (5) lad lit is inescapably dependent on chick-lit as a genre to some degree: the success of BJD spawned the need in the media for a complement ....

Vesper said...

Who is "regretful"??? I will try not to miss any classes....I deeply hate missing classes....but my health has been questionable this semester. I haven't had a break in three semesters...and I'm feeling it. No worries...I'll be back tomorrow!!!

Vesper said...

blog-jinx... you owe me a coke!