Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why is there no misogyny on Star Trek? (Dick 5.1)

Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek crew; The men of Mad Men.

The short answer is: Because it takes place in the future.
My friend Joanne McNeil wrote a fuller answer on her blog Tomorrow's Museum"There are no sexist men in the 21st century, only stupid men.I read Joanne's post on the heels of posting a piece about my "girl phone" and a very confusing argument I had about feminism recently. It also coincided with some recent stuff I read on the subject of manhood now, and as it is remembered on Mad Men.
For the record, I love carrying a "girl phone." Even as my nephew makes fun of it, I like him to see that I have carried it for three years in spite of the ribbing I receive from him and my other friends. I don't spend a lot of energy 'transgressing gender roles' - its not my bag, but I admire those that do. I am very aware of how much courage it takes for a young man or woman to tell their parents they are trans-gender, and enormous sympathy for parent's struggling to come to terms with that new reality. These are people who have stepped off the map of the known world, they are exploring the future. I have no sympathy meanwhile for the pantsless men celebrated in last winter's Superbowl ads. These over grown boys are stuck in the past. Madison Avenue's answer to the prospect of a world of men without chests are men without pants.
Captain Kirk and Don Draper - sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

As for my argument - it was more of a discussion, but one in which I was at a disadvantage. I was talking with a journalist and she made almost the exact same point as Joanne, but because there were many beers involved it somehow devolved into an argument that I couldn't quite understand my place within; much less how I had gotten there. In the heat of the moment I found myself defending feminism against a woman who righteously feels that equality between the sexes is so totally self-evident that to defend it at all (as feminism does) is insulting. I like rhetoric. I like the ways ideas compete and replace one another. I love the ways the feminist critique upended ideas that seemed like facts. Even if I couldn't understand her point at the time (sobering up and reading Joanne's piece helped a lot), I did understand her exasperation.
Sigmund Freud famously wrote about penis envy in girls, a theory that extended 19th century European social and legal tradition into the supposedly objective world of scientific fact. Freud made male superiority a biological facet of the human psyche. The way Freud's theory was wagged around during the 20th century you would never know Freud hadn't discover it, he had invented it. It was pseudo-scientific rhetoric. Penis envy didn't grow out of scientific observation of young women, he wrote it in reaction to the theory of one of his contemporaries. A year before Freud presented his ideas about penis envy Alfred Adler presented a theory he called gender anxiety.
Adler proposed that boys and girls both became aware of the manifest ridiculousness of male superiority just as they were entering puberty; a time when girls are usually not just physically bigger than boys, but are also more advanced emotionally as well as intellectually. Adler believed girl's anxiety was based in a sound resentment of the obvious injustice they found themselves subject to, while boy's anxiety grew out of the impossible job of maintaining a fiction they them could see was false, but were required to defend. Gender anxiety was not a part of my discussion with the journalist. Although Adler's ideas preceded Freud's, gender anxiety is an obscure theory. I know it because my father is an Adlerian psychologist and his wife is a feminist. Both felt it was important for me to know that inequality wouldn't just hurt the women in my life, it would hurt me.
Captain Kirk and Don Draper just like Citi Bank likes them: Spread Eagle, With Their Balls Hanging Out.

Because I was hoping that the Superbowl ads were a meaningless coincidence and not a cultural trend, I was pretty disappointed to hear about Newsweek's Manhood issue. The pantsless guys may not have got the cover but they are being treated like a serious cultural phenomenon, instead of a bunch of over grown babies. (Designer axes?) I was happy to see that the cover story was greeted with serious skepticism. Rachel Sklar's smart' part-by-part take down unpacks the biases, over-sights and outright blindness that lard and retard the magazine's vision of manhood. (Seriously, no mention of homosexuality?) Despite herself she does a pretty thorough point by point run through, but this one caught my eye:
I don’t mean to go through this line by line, but that said, the next line is: “But the gender wars aren’t a zero-sum game: when men lose, women and children lose, too.” Very very true. But flip it: When women win, men and children win too. (See this Lancet article about the Millennium Development Goals and the domino effects of potential global gender equity.) Also, if you take that to its logical conclusion, then there’s an implied argument against women taking jobs that were “traditionally” men. I’d just like to see a greater appreciation of context, and some examination of how gender parity in pay, status and opportunity is good for society and family. (I know. I’m such a diva!)
The first season cast of Mad Men; JJ Abram's crew for his Star Trek reboot.

it may be that Sklar is being conservative in her judgement, that all things being equal, will not amount to all things being the same. What we know, thanks to the work of the Noble Prize winning economist Mohammad Yunus, is that in developing economies when men win, men win; and when women win the whole family wins. Yunus writes :
Participation in Grameen also has a significant positive effect on the schooling and nutrition of children--as long as women rather than men receive the loans. (Such a tendency was clear from the early days of the bank and is one reason Grameen lends primarily to women: all too often men spend the money on themselves.) In particular, a 10 percent increase in borrowing by women resulted in the arm circumference of girls--a common measureof nutritional status--expanding by 6 percent. And for every 10 percent increase in borrowing by a member, the likelihood of her daughter being enrolled in school increased by almost 20 percent.
Yunus projects his Grameen bank experience with poor rural women onto the global stage. He believes that if women had run Wall Street there never would have been a global financial collapse. You don't have to believe that to see that the resentments the pantsless guys are meant to appeal to are overwhelmingly positive. Yunus' is free market guy. He is using financial means to actively change the role of poor women in the life of their families and in the world at large, it is a project that has its roots in a very different economic model.
Zoe Saldana's Lt. Uhura; Christina Hendricks' Joan.

According to Peter Watson's book The Modern Mind, the Marxist Erich Fromm, a member of Frankfurt School, was one of the first to study the links between psychology and politics: 
On the basis of more than one thousand replies to a questionnaire he sent out, Fromm found that people could not be grouped, as he had expected, into 'revolutionary' workers and 'nonrevolutionary' bourgeois. Not only were some workers conservative, and some bourgeois revolutionary, but very left-wing workers often confessed to 'strikingly non-revolutionary attitudes' in many areas normally regarded as nonpolitical, such as child rearing and women's fashion.

Fromm and others were formulating their decidedly non-orthodox mashup of Freud and Marx in the 1930s. In the wake of feminism it is now hard to imagine anything more politically significant than identity politics. But 90 years later these issues are still some of the most deeply ingrained and difficult to shift. 

Kirk and Draper; future imperfect and past tense.

Tomorrow's Museum's motto - which is a quote from William Gibson: "The Future is Here. It's just not evenly distributed." - nicely compliments the misquote I use to explain the mission of this blog: The natural environment of man has yet to be built. The truth is that the natural environment of man is under construction. It is unevenly distributed not only geographically but psychically. Because I recognize the importance of the feminist critique and the stupidity of misogyny doesn't mean I am in any way imagine that I myself as especially enlightened, but I am jaw dropped trying to wrap my brain around attitudes that were common 50 years ago.
I don't miss the 'good old days' when men were men and everyone else knew their place. I love watching Mad Men not out of nostalgia. I take issue with Culture Warrior's reading of the racism and misogyny portrayed on Mad Man as some sort of cryptic thrill for our secretly racist souls:
Through the forgiving safety net of distance, we as viewers are permitted to, one way or another, “enjoy” racist and sexist quips and insults, especially those that are delivered with Sterling’s comic timing. We are permitted because we are situated to laugh at the audacity and ignorance of the characters rather than at the show itself.
I laugh at the shots of pregnant woman drinking and smoking; of children crawling around in the back seat of moving cars - does this mean that the "distance" the period provides me is permitting to indulge a part of myself that thinks birth defects and traffic fatalities are funny? Likewise I think it is simplistic to conclude that Mad Men provides it's "audiences a false sense of self-satisfaction in their repeated denunciation of antiquated displays of overt bigotry." I find Don Draper and his cohorts a relief from the skull pounding narrative of the Greatest Generation. It is important to remember not only the victories of that generation - but also why it required protest and near revolution to upend the racial apartheid and vicious sexism that marked the era.
The command structure vs the domestic and professional tangle.

A Note About the Joke that Opened this Post and on Star Trek more Generally:

The joke is a lame racist joke (replace misogyny with an ethnic group) I heard years ago. I take some satisfaction in finally having made some good use of it, but the truth is I do not feel that Star Trek represents a particularly enlighten view of humanity's future - in fact I find it more than a little regressive. I'm not anxious to insert myself in the whole Star Trek vs Star Wars hubbub, but I am  honestly flummoxed by those who feel Star Trek is a progressive image of humanity (this means you David Brin). The Enterprise is a military ship where women dress like stewardesses. I prefer stories about smugglers on the run, farm boys on the make and slumming rich girls. Clearly Gene Roddenberry understood that the future is unevenly distributed. He opened his novelization of Star Trek the Motion Picture (the only Star Trek book I ever read I SWEAR) writing in the voice of his most famous character, James Tiberious Kirk:
The fact that I use an old-fashioned male surname says a lot about both me and the service to which I belong. Although the male-surname custom has become rare among humans elsewhere it remains a fairly common thing among those of us in Starfleet. We are a highly conservative and strongly individualistic group. The old customs die hard with us… Some critics have characterized Starfleet as “primitives” and with some justification. In some ways, we do resemble our forebears of a couple of centuries ago more than we do most people today.
I read that disclaimer 20 some odd years ago, but it has stuck with me ever since because I have found Star Trek a lot more fun with that bit of narrative in mind. I like knowing that in Roddenberry's own opinion Kirk was a throw back. I was very happy that JJ Abram's movie maintained Kirk's frat boy douche-bag-hood. Kirk is to the future what Don Draper is to the past: an asshole. That we we enjoy watching them doesn't mean we ever lose sight of what assholes they are.
Captain Kirk and Don Draper sans pants.

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