Once more I’ve stumbled across something at work with application to writing. This term, I’m teaching a class entitled ‘gender in administration’.
Yes, I know . . . obscure, dry . . . boring. Such titles are de rigueur in academic circles and I dare not allow my two writing worlds to collide. But darned if I didn’t have one of those ‘worlds colliding’ moments anyway.
‘Gender in administration’ translates to considering how men and women interact and react in organizations. This is good stuff – power, influence, bigotry, revenge – organizations have conflict up the kazoo because of differences, real or imagined, between men and women. The usual stereotypes – women as compassionate and nurturing and men as forceful and decisive – tend to play out in organizations. People acting contrary to type freak out the traditionalists. The problem is . . . most of us, without realizing it, hold onto a great many of those traditional stereotypes. The question for me today . . . must I blame my reading material?
Organizational efforts to manage the stereotypes and reduce the potential for lawsuits neuter gender (in a figurative sense, of course) to take out any discussion of differences and sexuality. The premise is for us to be ‘genderless’. That isn’t possible and pretending may often do more harm than good. But we’re trying to survive in organizations and keep our personal lives separate from the work place. Again . . . pretending has a price.
‘Literature’ might pretend to be more, but we all know there’s not much better than a passionate love story filled with overt or subtle tension between a gal and her guy. So, logically, stories about men and women and grand passion should be on my reading list. After all, what’s the point of politics without a little scandalous sex?
Thus, I toddle along (thank you Florence) ~ reading romances, working on my manuscript (filled as you might guess with sex, politics and religion), puttering with research (nonfiction pays the bills, baby) and supervising brilliant young minds as they answer academia’s burning questions.
Despite how carefully I step, I toddle once more into collision.
A student shared an article by Stephanie Coontz, published in the New York Times. This is a good piece and the link to the full article is linked to the highlighted phrase in the preceding sentence. However, one paragraph stuck out for me
“For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it’s no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful.”
Let me reiterate – this is a very cool article about shifting male preferences in seeking intelligence in their partner and it’s very useful in considering female leadership in organizations. But binging? Intimidation as corollary to infatuation? Emotional hangover?
Are the female characters I love (both those created by other authors and my own) simply overwhelmed by some guy’s macho c***? Are the heroes no more than one-dimensional bags of testosterone? Is binging on Harlequins illegal? (I hope not as I spent a small fortune on them after my oldest went to college. I figured it was better than gallons of ice cream as a distraction from the gaping hole in my heart at her absence.)
I am a feminist. I believe in women and their capacity to lead and challenge others. I recognize that inequity and bias still exists in peoples’ perceptions and throughout the institutions that found our society. But I don’t want to accept that the stories I love are the catalyst for these problems. Am I fooling myself?