An Invite From the Gender-Studies Folks
I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion on the nature of gender at a conference hosted by a particular university here in Colorado. I was honored to be invited and eager to participate because this topic is very important and seldom does the orthodox Christian point of view get represented. I also like to participate because it reminds me — and I truly mean this respectfully — just how wacky this field of academic inquiry can get. There’s just no other way to say it. As I have said at such events, there is more connection between the science and religious departments on this campus than the science and gender studies departments. It is a true statement as this experience demonstrated dramatically.
The name of this particular group’s campus-wide effort is “The Genderfree Bedroom” which immediately causes one to ask, “Then why bother?” Who seeks — regardless of morals or manners — a sexual mate without any thought or interest as to how they identify sexually? Isn’t this exactly why the folks hosting this event and so many others are always telling us about the L, the G, the B, the T and the Q? Can they really seek to be “gender-free” when gender is all they seem to talk about? What other academic discipline seeks to deny what that very discipline is named for? Philosophers against philosophy?
Their conference was the kick-off event of a campus-wide effort to combat “heteronormativity.” This is a fancy souped-up word used nowadays in gender studies circles to note the serious problem that everyone assumes that 1) everyone is heterosexual and 2) all good men act this way and all proper woman act that way. But it’s a made-up problem, a baseless concern.
I reminded them that I was from Focus on the Family, one of the key groups that supposedly pays the gas and insurance to keep the 18-wheeler of “heteronormativity” moving forward in our culture. But the bad news for this thesis is that folks like us don’t assume everyone is heterosexual. Do you? Like everyone else, we listen to the news when famous Hollywood, news and music people finally announce they’re gay, and all when the whole world was pretty sure of it in the first place. We offer help to families dealing with issues of same-sex attraction among their children. We live next to homosexuals and have valuable relationships with them. We have loved ones who have same-sex attraction. We get called ugly names by activists who advocate for all the rest of us to approve of their homosexuality. Yes, there are homosexuals out there. This is not news.
And we also know there are plenty of good men and women who regularly color outside the lines of so-called “gender-stereotypes,” and their standing as authentic men and women is never questioned. To illustrate this fact, I brought up a shining icon of the far right: Sarah Palin. She is clearly quite feminine — perhaps stereotypically so — but loves everything about guns, mostly shooting them. Big ones, small ones, loud ones, quick ones. And she can field dress a moose, elk or caribou with skill and finesse. Do any of her biggest fans on the right think she is radically challenging gender norms in any way?
There are a million such examples, and none of them create the slightest bit of confusion about what a male or female is for anyone, for even the most conservative and traditional among us. If there wasn’t a way we all generally understand how men and women actually are, then Richard Simmons would have no shtick, would he? Again, this is a made-up problem.
As part of the program, a professor from this university gave an interesting presentation on gender stereotyping in advertising. Introducing himself, he said that obviously no one in the room could assume he was a man, even though he appeared like one. The group knew such a determination would have rested upon a “socially-constructed” assumption about what men look like and how they act. He did say that he could settle the question for all by removing his trousers, but that he would rather keep it a mystery. He was quite serious about this, and the group largely shared his seriousness. This was gender studies 101.
So we shouldn’t assume he’s a dude because only his genitals could confirm his manhood. Isn’t this what Beavis and Butthead, Southern rednecks and inebriated frat boys believe, reducing one’s manhood to just this one thing?
So our professor moves from this silly and imaginative explanation of his own sex into his presentation on gender stereotypes in advertising. Nearly all of the advertisements were deeply disturbing but for different reasons, which I will explain. The only one in his presentation that wasn’t was a Wal-Mart ad where a nice lady was setting her dining room table for a special meal. She was smiling, and the professor told us that this was to make us believe that women like doing “women’s work” when of course they don’t. And for you ladies who actually do like setting a nice table for guests, you only like it because society told you, you should. Men don’t like doing such things because society told them they shouldn’t. Who believes such silliness? These gender-studies take it as a self-evident truth.
But here is the interesting part. The ads he showed that were most offensive — and he showed them because they were offensive — showed men as sexual predators and women as glamorized sexual objects. They bordered on the obscene but were dead-center repugnant. All the room was aghast, as they should have been. But guess what. These were not ads from everyday guy magazines like Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics or even Sports Illustrated or Maxim. They were from those very sophisticated, glossy, expensive fashion magazines. Such magazines are not created in Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina or Alabama where these students would assume such gender inequity and misogyny resides. They come from Paris, New York, Hollywood. They are created not by repressed Neanderthals, but by enlightened “progressives.” This glaring irony seemed to be lost on the group.
But here is the real kicker. How could this professor — given his own instructions to us about not being able to assume one’s gender without genital confirmation — tell whether that was actually a woman setting the table in the Wal-Mart ad, and thus gender stereotyping? How could he tell those were men doing the sexual preying and actual women being objectified and preyed upon? Wasn’t this whole event about the “dangers” and simplicity of gender assumptions? He obviously couldn’t live and operate by his own criteria.
I asked him about this in our panel discussion. He didn’t have an answer, but it was glaringly obvious. As I have gone around the country speaking on these issues at colleges and universities, I encounter this sad type of fuzzy-headedness all the time. It’s standard fare. And it shouldn’t cause us to gloat, but to mourn because such smart and valuable people are so easily and deeply deceived by the enemy. You see, this is such an important issue that even Satan gets its significance. All his energy is given to getting us to deny who God is; therefore, he wants us to forget God created male and female as the only part of His entire creation that reflects His divine image in the world. This is what this whole gender studies stuff is really about, even if those being duped by it don’t realize it. God’s people must engage in the conversation in both compassion and truth.
About the Author
Glenn T. Stanton is the director for family formation studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the country. Glenn is the author of four books and a contributor to nine others. He’s a huge Bob Dylan fan, loves quirky movies, and picked out and bought the first piece of clothing for himself when he was 28. Glenn and his wife, Jacqueline, have five children and live in Colorado Springs, Colo.