By Chelsea Hetelson
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons; orange and blue by Chelsea Hetelson.
This past weekend I was taking a break from being an angry, Jezebel-addicted feminist and took to the Twitterverse for some mindless scrolling. On June 1st, Visit Gainesville, our city’s official tourism website, had tweeted a link along with the announcement that “it’s almost football season!” Interested in another reason why I should not be excited for football season, I clicked it.
When someone is talking to me about football season, I tend to think of football things. Like footballs, of course, and teams and ESPN College Gameday, The Swamp, and tailgating taking up all the parking, the coaches and players, et cetera. That seems normal to me. But Visit Gainesville threw a curveball. Their tweet linked to a list of tips that will help you (you being a heterosexual male) peacefully subdue your female and allow you to bring her along while you spend some quality time with the bros drinking outside of a pick-up truck.
The guide, entitled “Eight Tips to Get Your Girlfriend Excited About Tailgating” written in 2009 by Tamara Herchel is truly a gem, and we have Visit Gainesville to thank for digging it back up.
Posted on GatorTailgating.com, “Eight Tips” sympathizes with the many “die-hard Gator fans [who] have more reluctant wives and girlfriends [...] so, for all of you menfolk wishing to bring your women into the Gator Nation, I now present… The Top Eight Tips to Having a True Tailgating Girl.”
The title and her own presentation of the article as “The Top Eight Tips to Having a True Tailgating Girl” are alarmingly similar to the encouraging language of “How to Bring a Fussy Child to a Restaurant” or “How to Trick a Your Child into Taking Gross Medicine.” Whether or not the reluctant child (or wife or girlfriend) want to do it is not important. The point is how we do get them to do what we want without it being a huge hassle.
“Eight Tips” is so dense with June Cleaver-esque gender constructions that my first thought was that it must be a joke. The 2009 Gator Nation update to Perfect Behavior, A Guide for Ladies and Gentlemen in all Social Crises, best selling etiquette book of the ‘30s — with a twist. How does one stop a woman from reverting to all her “womanly” tendencies for an afternoon?
In this storybook, the women are extremely interested in three things: cleaning, shopping, and attracting other lady friends — and these are the problems we must tackle. Meanwhile the men, who are so ill-equipped to deal with their women that basic communication is reduced to slapstick comedy, are instructed to placate the women by letting them go shopping or by helping to wash the dishes.
This “how-to” to a better girlfriend not-so-subtly reinforces stereotyped gender roles by providing tips that alleviate both the male and female downfalls of their gender. Veiled in the innocence of Gator tailgating, “Eight Tips” marginalizes women and emphasizes their subpar status to the hapless man who needs to be told how to relate to his fickle and difficult woman.
Being subjected to gross exaggerations of my gender promoted on Twitter by Visit Gainesville and originally posted by GatorTailgating.com, I felt especially targeted being a resident of Gainesville and a begrudging member of the Gator Nation. I wanted to take action, I wanted women, and men, to stand up and say, “hey, that’s not cool, man.” Women don’t have to always be cleaning and shopping, and men don’t always have to be inept at relationships.
Last November, in an effort to shed light on another issue affecting women in Gainesville, I wrote an article about campus rape and what UF was doing about it. (The short answer turned out to be not a whole lot, by the way.) I spoke with then UF Student Government Director of the Women’s Affairs Cabinet, Courtney Hunter. Unfortunately, I was not able to use her interview, but she did say one thing that struck me at the time and still sticks with me today.
“Women on campus feel we [as women] have already come so far. It’s hard to inspire women when they feel they’ve already hit a plateau. I don’t think women at this campus think they are fighting against anything, that there’s anything left to fight.”
Ms. Hunter was quick to state that these were her views and not student government’s.
A plateau? Nothing left to fight? I know that’s not true and it worries me so many women feel that way. We can’t just assume any of the rights, privileges and respect that may have been won by our foremothers will be around indefinitely or even through our lifetime.
Tell me, women of Gainesville, do you feel safe walking alone in broad daylight? Do you not feel constantly scrutinized for your looks and clothes? Do you feel equality in your personal relationships with cooking and cleaning and planning? Do you feel valued for your thoughts and actions, rather than what someone else thinks of your waistline?
Is this the life of a respected, privileged and equal woman?
Even the smartest most well-respected women are picked apart and criticized for not being beautiful or “presentable.” Just recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was the center of some unnecessary controversy created by certain online news sites. A picture of Mrs. Clinton’s bare un-beautified face with nothing but black glasses and red lipstick was posted and tagged “Au Naturel” on one site while on another the headline asked (with a snarl) if she “forgot” her make-up.
Ha ha ha, yuck it up, boys.
To be clear, I’m not blaming VisitGainesville.com for re-posting this. I’m not attacking the author or GatorTailgating.com for addressing a problem they identified in their immediate community.
But it does bother me that the obvious gender myths promoted by “Eight Tips” are so non-chalantly taken for granted that Visit Gainesville felt comfortable re-posting it as sensible advice. While confining women to kitchens or shopping malls isn’t anything new, I felt compelled to speak out here since this is so close to home (and so close to football season!).
When we all silently tolerate “small and harmless” instances of sexism, we make it okay to lower women to second-class citizens and slowly pick away at any equality or rights we have remaining.
It’s no wonder government thinks they can force women into a baby-making laborforce. It’s no wonder women only earn $0.77 on every $1 a man earns. And it’s no wonder so many women in relationships end up planning and cooking dinner, doing the grocery shopping, and folding laundry. It’s what we’re expected to do, right? Pregnant and in the kitchen! Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Nothing left to fight for?
I think this football season I’ll try to find the lonely girl on Gale Lemerand who has no boyfriend’s friend’s girlfriend’s to hang out with. I bet she’ll have some things to say.