This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of getting into a verbal altercation with a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Junot Diaz, who was visiting my college for its annual Writers Conference, debated me on one of my favorite topics: gender roles. While this conversation went in a myriad of unexpected directions – including taking some personal shots at each other – there was one aspect of the conversation that left me thinking deeply about myself and about the relationships that I share with some very important people in my life.
Essentially, one of Diaz’s main arguments about the state of “womanhood” today is that it’s been co-opted by men. He feels that over the past 10-15 years, society has created a generation (meaning, MY generation) of women who have sex like men (read: often and without feeling); embrace sports, aggression, and competition; strive for money, power, and status; and don’t value interpersonal connections, relationships, and motherhood. He believes that men have given up trying to keep women in the kitchen and instead have focused their efforts into turning women into men. Here’s the kicker, though: Diaz thinks that this has happened in order for men to fulfill their own long-standing homoerotic fantasies. Well then…
I have to say that he makes an interesting point. While on the surface I see nothing wrong with women taking on some seemingly “male” attributes and vice versa, I do think that with all we now know about dominant culture, it’s dangerous for any group to develop the oppressive traits of patriarchy. So, the rational, logical side of me agrees with Diaz. If men make women into men, then they can finally have a society completely run on masculine values, and men can get everything that they’ve ever wanted: women who watch football, make money, and give good head. But, the personal side of me is offended by what Diaz says because just like Elaine on Seinfeld or Deandra on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I, too, am and always have been seen as “one of the guys,” which means, to Diaz, I’m part of the problem.
Until I met Junot Diaz, I have never had a problem with this label. In fact, I have often prided myself in being able to both offer and stomach vulgar behavior and language, “hang” (and not be bored) in a sports conversation, command a crowd or be a leader, and watch a horror movie without shutting my eyes or shrieking. I also don’t mind sweating. And, for these reasons, I think men – including those in my own family – never minded having me around. They didn’t have to watch their words or plug up their butts or turn off ESPN. I’m down with all that stuff (well, ESPN really has gone in the tank over the past decade, so maybe not that one so much…). But, since my conversation with Diaz, all I can do now is think about his claims, especially the parts about homoerotic fantasies, because so much of what he said relates directly to me and my relationships.
Does Diaz mean to say, then, that my dad loves me because he actually sees me as his son? Or, that my husband married me because he wanted a woman who was most similar to the guys he grew up with? Or, that my male friends have only accepted me into their circles because I’m basically THEM with a vagina? You can see how a woman, such as I, would be deeply disconcerted by the idea of this being the case.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to see girls playing sports, talking shit, kicking ass, and taking names. I love that women are graduating college at never-before-seen rates, are taking powerful positions in the workforce, and making their own money. What concerns me, though, is how we’re getting there. If we’re getting there by trying to mimic men, then we may be missing the point of the foremothers who paved the way to make this all possible. The goal of feminism (or any civil rights movement for that matter) wasn’t for the oppressed class to succeed by becoming the dominant culture. The idea was to make a space for themselves in the culture and be afforded equal rights to succeed in that culture in their own way. Thanks to Junot Diaz, I now wonder if I’ve actually made my own space or if I simply sold out women (and womanhood) in order to skirt my way into the boys’ club.