The mindless reproduction of negative stereotypes

Today I received an image in the mail. It was sent by a female colleague and I know she meant no harm but personally I thought it a bit over the top.

Not that it was offending, in any way. It was a nominally harmless joke – the text “An international symbol for marriage has now been agreed upon”, attached to an airport sign style icon showing a dominating female at whose feet a subservient male kneels while offering the woman his credit card.

I can think of countless ways this symbol, with it’s byline, should be hilariously funny. So why don’t think that is the case?

My reasoning goes like this –

I think this a very common stereotype used between men. It’s a way for a man to joke at his own expense, to play down the emotional aspects of his relationship with his wife. Despite the fact that we look down our long noses on societies were marriage is not a matter of love but of economics and politics we on a societal and cultural level have inherent difficulties with admitting to being in some way ruled by feelings and emotions – we, as rational beings expect of ourselves to behave in entirely logical ways.

Also men, at least in the cultures and societies I have encountered, are supposed at the very least to be independent of women. But a relationship is a co-dependency. This adds to the need to play down the importance of the relationship.

I can understand this need to downplay. Very few are strong or single-minded enough to recognise or withstand these behavioural imperatives. What I don’t have much acceptance for is women who are complicit in enforcing their own subservience.

In this category I count women who complain endlessly how their men don’t help with washing the dishes or cleaning up the house but then deny them the right to help by complaining on how the go about these tasks.

I am known to laugh at gender stereotypes. Some of them work to defuse situations we by no means have the tools or means to handle or change. Others are too close to observed truth, within a given culture, not to be funny.

This particular image, though, paints a picture were the male has to submit to the dominatrix, to give her all his money or perish (in this it also plays on religious imagery but I’m not going into that aspect).
It paints a picture of the shopaholic wife, and so either endorses a consumer lifestyle or shows women as slaves to shopping. Whichever of these two the woman can be interpreted as a mindless animal rather than a representative of Homo Sapiens. She is a slave to her impulses, and her impulses is enslaving the male.

It also paints a picture that justifies men having a higher income, even if they are in the same business and have the same skill levels and experiences as women. You know – “it’s all right, the money will end up in the woman’s purse anyway”.

Contrary to these interpretations it could also be read as showing how it is the woman who have to handle all the purchases of a household. On the surface this seems a more benign interpretation – she is able and responsible! – but in reality it means the male escapes responsibilities by placing them on the female, who then have to carry a burden which should rightfully be shared between the involved.

Whichever way seeing the image did not make me laugh. I only felt very VERY disturbed. It’s closely related to the logic used to justify the delimitation of women’s rights as humans just because males are so brain dead they can’t control themselves if they sees some female skin.

Demeaning to men and women alike.

It follows that GAAAHHH!!! is the only rational reaction I can muster.

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