I went downstairs this morning and found a family member watching Imus in the Morning, a televised radio show that supposedly centers around politics. While discussing the news that some uniforms for the US Olympic Team were, in fact, not produced in the US, Mr. Imus ended up showing off his made-in-the-USA internalized gender codes. I only watched for a few minutes, but I think the segment is a good example of the differences between gender codes and gender roles.
A gender code is a personality trait or characteristic that is believed to be gender-specific, or is associated with a particular gender. Gender codes are basically cultural expectations of gender. So the gender code of submission applies to women.
A gender role is a particular job, attitude, or lifestyle choice that is believed to be gender-specific. Gender roles are the result of gender codes. So the gender role of wives being subservient to their husbands comes from the gender code of submission.
Likewise, the gender role of men being brisk body builders and better athletes than women comes from the gender codes that 1) Men are brawny, muscular, and powerful; and 2) Women are quiet, light, and passive. Cultural expectations of gender impact all people, with perhaps a more frustrating impact on people with multiple, mixed, or lack of a gender(s).
Alright, now we can go back to Mr. Imus and his morning show guests. As a female commentator tried to discuss the somewhat controversial news that some of the Team USA uniforms were (shockingly) made in China, Imus turned the audience’s attention to the woman’s arms. Imus made that classic obnoxious, misogynistic move of talking about a woman’s appearance while she was talking about something of worth; specifically, Imus told the woman that she had attractive arms that she must have built up by working out while the woman was trying to give a sociopolitical opinion.
In Imus’ comments, we can see the gender code of male dominance, played out in his gender role of the domineering businessman. Was Imus threatened by what the woman was trying to say, or perhaps by the mere fact that a woman was talking about something of worth? That could be a bit of a leap, but we’ll never know what went on inside Imus’ culturally warped subconscious.
Unfortunately, the woman on the show hopped on the degrade train soon after. When Imus asked her which country produced the shirt she was wearing, she smirked [paraphrased], “Want me to take it off and check?”
I only wish her response had surprised me. Look like she’s got some internalized misogyny problems, but frankly, we all do. But that’s another topic for another day.
The take home message here is not that gender roles come from gender codes, because gender roles come from gender codes come from gender roles come from gender codes come from. Cultural expectations of gender (and the feeling that comes from not fulfilling them if that was your wish) are ultimately harmful to the individual and society. Be aware of your decisions — they might not have been made consciously, but rather through societal indoctrination. Wow, that sounds scary! Just remember that we’re the ones living in this world, and we’ve got the tools to change it.
Well, that’s enough for one day!