Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hurricane Harvey pounding Houston has led some conservatives to start up the blather about how men are men and women are girls, and what women want is a Real Man.
Courtesy of LGM, I discovered that right-wingers Jesse Kelly and Matt Walsh have both Tweeted photos of male first responders in Harvey with the point that This Is What Women Want (and in Walsh’s case, What They’re Supposed To Want). Kelly specifically contrasted a responder with a photo of “pajama boy,” the very non-macho looking guy shown in some of the early Obamacare ads signing up online (an image that by sheer lack of machismo coupled with the Evil Kenyan Tyrant’s healthcare plan whipped some conservatives to a frenzy at the time).
This is something we’ve seen before, in the aftermath of 9/11. As Susan Faludi noted a few years later, the media showered us with scenes of heroic men rescuing helpless women on 9/11, even though most victims were men and some responders were women. It ties in to the idea that heroism is supposed to be uniquely male, and that men should be protecting women even if they’re incompetent at it (if I’m dating Black Widow or Black Canary, then it’s my responsibility to fight off an attacker, even though they’re better at it).
And it is, like most Undead Sexist Cliches, wrong. For starters, there’s the assumption that What Women Want is a single thing common to everyone with two X-chromosomes: all women must desire the same thing in a man. Which in the eyes of Kelly and Walsh is, unsurprisingly, a big strong man who will protect them (and I imagine Be The Boss away from the crisis).
And some women do want that. Other women might like to hit that, but not marry that. Other women go for Pajama Boy. Or something else entirely. If my wife wanted big and strong, I’d still be single. Heck, Walsh probably would be too: if you click through from LGM, you’ll see his photo. He looks like Pajama Boy with stubble. Which is a perfectly fine thing to be, but he doesn’t seem to live up to his own standard of What Women Want. Nor is he rushing down to Texas to do some manly heroism, as far as I know. Perhaps, as George Orwell said of warhawks, he figures talking the talk is a substitute for walking the walk.
Then there’s the underlying assumption of a total, black-and-white dichotomy. Men are the savers. Women are to be saved. Men are other successful manly male or they’re PJ-boy wimps.
Only there are women first responders (cops, EMTs, paramedics) and women in the National Guard (many state guards are going to Houston). Possibly there are none working Hurricane Harvey but it’s not as if men really get all the heroism to themselves. Would Walsh and Kelly suggest that if a woman rescuer pulls a guy to safety he should resist and insist on doing it himself?
And there’s no reason Pajama Boy couldn’t be fully trained in krav maga, or have a life membership in NRA. Or that the manly rescuers in Harvey can’t be going home to their husbands, or spend the evening reading Keats’ poetry. But thinking like that goes against traditional gender roles, which pushes panic buttons for some right-wingers. They desperately want to believe (or want their audience to believe) that those gender roles cannot change except when feminists brainwash people into doing gender wrong.
I’m all in favor of heroism. If TYG were in danger, I sincerely hope that short and nonmuscular though I am, I’d take a bullet for her. But if the tables were turned and she had to save me, I’d be proud of her for doing it.