Before I even start, I want to reiterate that I don’t really believe in the constructs of gender beyond the roles society does its best to force us into. Delineations of boys-only or girls-only anything is stupid. However, social constructs, when not challenged, do create certain responses in some situations. I’m going to tackle one such kind of situation and what I’m referring to as gendered actions for ease.
A number of weeks ago, I was watching The Closer with my mom, as one does on a Sunday night. In this episode, one of the show’s main characters, a detective, left his AA meeting late after everyone else had gone. He’d celebrated a big anniversary during the meeting and left with a cake. Exiting the building, he slowly walked the dark parking lot heading for his car. He then nonchalantly opened the passenger side door to carefully arrange the cake on the seat –and proceeded to get jumped by some huge guy while his back was turned. A big fight ensued.
Afterwards, my mom said, “What is the deal with men being so slow? Any woman would have gotten in on the driver’s side with the cake, shut the door, and leaned over the middle console to put the cake on the other seat.”
To which I responded, “It’s because men aren’t ingrained with the need to rush and be alert if they’re alone in a dark parking lot.”
Tell me none of that’s true. Exactly.
Had this been a female detective I wouldn’t have had the same response to the scene because women aren’t free to act so careless in such locales. We’re taught from a young age to not be out alone in a dark and/or secluded place. If it can’t be helped we know to have our keys ready (to use as a potential weapon) so we can get to safety ASAP and to be aware of our surroundings in case someone we don’t know is there with us. Heck, if I’m anywhere alone I have a tendency to scout escape routes, but I’m slightly paranoid.
Even before this scene started, I wasn’t 100% certain that the detective was in any danger. Again, had he been a female detective, my heart would have been pounding from the tension because there would have been no other reason to put her there alone. I can’t decide how I feel about that. Just in real life I hate seeing women walking alone anywhere because I legitimately fear for their safety. And the fact I do makes me really angry.
Whatever you want to call it, these lessons are the products of rape culture. It’s horrible and unfair, but that’s the truth. (Certain) men just don’t have to be so vigilante. Not that they don’t occasionally pay the price for it. Women always have to be careful, which is victim blaming at its finest, but it’s something changing ever so slowly in our world.
My writing takeaway from this is: play with your audience’s socially ingrained responses if only for tension’s sake. But pull the rug out from under them as often as possible. And mess with gender norms whenever you can.
*Side note: I found this wonderful photo gallery illustrated my point above.