Sunday, July 03, 2005

boys meet girls

Has feminism failed? Elizabeth Meryment thinks it has, and draws on Big Brother to prove it:

"[T]he reality is that the failure of feminism, and the failure of young women to take up the cause of feminism, is beginning to have an impact on society; the behaviour in the Big Brother house is one piece of evidence of this.
"It hardly should be surprising that sexual harassment, racial vilification, poor manners and abuse should be common in the [Big Brother] house given that such behaviours are common in the community. One might believe that young people would know better, being the recipients of good generalist educations, having access to information via the internet and living in an open-minded society. Yet decency and respect for minorities and women seems to be regressing."

It's important to remember at the outset that this is not a random sample of individuals. These particular people are sampled from a small, statistically insignificant group of people--those who audition to appear on a show in which they will go to the toilet on camera, shower nude, get pissed alot and possibly engage in sexual activity. Extroverts and exhibitionists, these people are hardly a representative group of their cohort and we can't generalise.
Still, this group has shed some light on relations between the sexes. I think a lot of the problems in this year's House stem from the fact that most of the males appear to be extrinsically motivated to be there--they are interested in scoring booty of the traditional kind and keep their eyes on the prize. After any sexual pairings that were going to happen had happened, and it became clear it was unlikely for other pairings to succeed, the males separated off into a pack, led by the most dominant and self-interested male, and appear to lie around waiting for (a) the end of the game and the prize-money to happen; and (b) meanwhile, the arrival of female 'intruders' to pass the time.
The girls, who are apparently more intrinsically motivated to be in the House ("I'm there for the experience, to have a good time, to make friends, etc"), have responded by turning to each other for their emotional needs and by disliking the men.
But still--we're talking about a pretty 'abnormal' group of people, so it's impossible to infer that all men are sleazy assholes who sexually harass women. I also think you can't argue, as Meryment does, that this show reveals that women generally are still oppressed.
Are the girls in the House oppressed? They seem to be more than anything confused by the men's lack of emotionality, but you still see them try to work it out in the way women are socialised to do--by analysing relationships in alot of detail, by openly talking to about how they feel, by directly confronting the men, and by being very nurturing towards each other, in the absence of any "compassionate men". They don't curl up in a ball just because these men won't listen to them or be kind towards them. I don't think they are cowed by the behaviors of the men, even if they don't like it. It just seems to make them think less of these men.
I disagree with Meryment when she writes,
"These young women are more concerned with being sexually attractive and available to stupid men like Hotdogs than with standing up for their rights."

First, I think the women often pragmatically take the route that causes the least conflict, maybe because they figure they're only in the House for a certain time and don't have to put up with it for long. It's impossible to know how they would act if they were stuck with living with these blokes in real life. I also think it's wrong to criticise the women for flirting and seeking romance--normal for people of their age group, and geez, it's not the 50s. Young people have sex, big wooop.
However, it is sad to hear that the girls in Meryment's university lectures are clueless about feminism, unaware their grandmothers had to fight for what they now take for granted...but maybe that's a win for feminism anyway. If girls have internalised feminism--if they take for granted that they can go to university--then aren't they equal to men, who also take it for granted? It should be a given, so it's not surprising that women now expect that it's a given. But I do agree that something's probably been lost in the translation as far as how feminism has been explained to the new generations. It probably is crying out to be re-imagined and re-told.

PS. If anyone's wondering how my namesake housemate fared, well, she got booted early. This was a good thing, because she had my name and she was really wearing it out. (And she pronounced it wrong too.)