27 August 2009

Change I Can Believe In: (Mall of) America

1. An end to pairing the words “low” and “rise” on $60 jean tags, or any jean tags for that matter
2. A relocation of the pet store, currently situated in the Millcreek Mall's food court
3. A carpeted mallway, with shock resistant coils and/or free pedicure stations
4. A two-way lane system; U-turns permitted ONLY when trying to avoid hovering mall surveyors
5. An end to pairing the words “ultra” and “low” before “rise” on anything...ever.

02 August 2009

Gender Bender

Think you’re hot enough? asks a Taco Bell application for employment, picturing a single female manager on the front, wearing colorful clothing, cowgirl boots, hair down; and on the inside cover, the same woman in business pants, a tucked-in shirt, hair back.

Abby Richter is a romantically-challenged morning show producer whose search for Mr. Perfect has left her hopelessly single. She's in for a rude awakening when her bosses team her with Mike Chadway, a hardcore TV personality who promises to spill the ugly truth on what makes men and women tick, states Sony Pictures on its summer must-see film, The Ugly Truth.

These two culturally-ordinary excerpts share one thing in common: they are both unabashedly gendered.

Taco Bell doesn’t suggest that men should pass the hotness test to reach managerial status. Now, I love a good play on words (Taco Bell sells hot foods and hot sauces), but subtly challenging young women to prove their spiciness for employment seems at the very least one-sided (and ultimately a mediocre wordplay). An equally-gendered application asking whether or not you’re macho enough is missing. After all, this male-female, mars-venus, truth-emotion divide is real. The hotness question isn’t meant for men--it’s meant for the Gender commissioned to achieve equal shares of sexiness and independence, two ingredients that make for today’s hot enough woman (overseeing your fast food orders).

In The Ugly Truth, Mike Chadway gives Abby Richter a similarly enlightening commission: “You have to be two people, the saint and the sinner, the librarian and the stripper.” Luckily, Abby heeds Mike’s advice and proceeds to snag the ultimate catch, her new surgeon neighbor modeling an obvious spray-on tan.

Well there it is, the ugly truth that so many romantically-challenged, hopelessly single women have been missing out on! Thank God for Mike Chadway and his fearless crossing into the wilderness called femaleness. Abby is romantically-challenged because she works too hard. She is in a position of power, but lacks the sex side, her true other half. She is hopeless because her relationship strategies are outdated, stiff, and cleavage-deficient. But now, if only she can embody two people, the ultimate combo (meal) for men, her efforts will help her achieve ideal man-prey status.

Okay, okay, if you have seen the film (even if you haven't but you've seen at least 1 chic-flick in your life), we all know at some point it has to ease the woman-power rage it’s meant to stir. It has to show a soft side to Mike Chadway that explains his crudeness and makes women pity his splintered soul. Poor dejected Chadway; all he seeks is love, but because he’s been hurt in the past, all this “ugly truth” talk helps him cope.

Of course then, Abby realizes she hasn’t been herself with the surgeon, breaks it off with him (in a dramatic scene in which she removes her hair-extension piece), and falls head over heels for the man who’s been coaching her split-personality all along.

While the end seems to rectify all our haughty gut reactions to the film’s deluge of gender stereotypes , the ugly truth remains very gendered, perhaps just less unabashedly now. Floating up towards the heavens in a hot air balloon, Mike confesses his love for Abby, even though she is a "psycho aggressive freak." "I just told you I loved you and all you can concentrate on is [I can’t really remember, but something surely only a ‘woman’ would focus on]."

So in spite of our polarity, we can love each other, even if we don’t necessarily ever truly understand. The ugly truth we women got offended by early on is smoothed over by a “better” truth, one that says even though men and women are genuinely so different, love can be found and good sex can be had. But the underlying, "objective" truth still remains: men are from mars, and women, from whatever psycho planet we spawn from.

Is truth then the word we should really apply to the great gender divide-- a split made possible, graphic, and o so convincing by our desire to demarcate it? This divide is historical, cultural--that means it’s in our hands; it always has been. We construct what makes something more masculine than feminine, what makes a man effeminate, and therefore, less of a “true” man, and vice versa.

Perhaps the only ugly truth is the simple fact that gender norms are constructed--both authored and authorized by intricate cultural processes. The two-fold ideal wrapped up in today’s “hot”--that is, embodying both sexiness and power, both cowgirl swagger and management smarts-- is painted on our Taco Bell applications by human agents, not some organic, gender-policing force we have no control over. Gender is not black and white; it’s a complex, fluid product that we commodify, normalize, and entertain large audiences with.

Maybe it’s time to throw down our popcorn tubs from our separate planets and meet back on earth, start conversing, and work harder for personhoods based on individual qualities rather than gender models that usually piss most of us off anyways.