The Comedy and Tragedy of Gender Norms

 

When I was in 10th grade, I was oddly fascinated by a book for sale at a local bookstore: a printed copy of the screenplay to the now forgotten 1999 teen comedy Drive Me Crazy. I swear every week for 6 months I considered buying the thing but could never get to the register with it. Every time a voice in my head stopped me from making the purchase, afraid I’d be ashamed of myself for owning it. Eventually the book was gone and I never purchased it though I scoured used bookstores for years.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Throughout my childhood I wrestled with having tastes that went against “masculine” norms. I didn’t wrestle with my sexuality, as I’ve covered before. Nor did I question my gender identity. But I struggled with being appropriately male, an issue I think many of my peers fought.

My taste in music tended towards lighter music such as the strong (in memory) run of pop in the late 90s with very little interest in the abrasive rock. I didn’t like war movies and still don’t. I hate sports. I preferred things like teen comedies and frankly still do. But I felt I had to keep that secret to fit in with others. (I do love a good action movie admittedly, so I’m not completely atypical. But who doesn’t?)

All of this seems so silly a full lifetime later. These were the most inconsequential things to define myself by yet we all use these barometers. No matter how progressive we are, we know what’s coded male/female and we care about the perception. I’m going to stand out if I blast Carly Rae Jepsen (who I love) instead of Tool (who I utterly despise.) It’s just how this ignorant society works.

What really makes me question the thinking behind these norms is my day to day life. After all, I violate one of our grandest gender norms as the daytime caregiver to my daughter. I change diapers, feed her, dress her, all of the things a man is only supposed to do as a “babysitter.” It’s not lost on me how few other dads I see out and about on a given day. Comically, while I may have doubted myself over the media I consumed, the actual actions I take in my daily life that truly violate these norms? I don’t care.

Why is that? I actually live a life in violation of serious norms yet I don’t care. I think it’s simple. I want to believe with time we mature and outgrow caring about these silly things. I’m not 17 now. I’m 34. I’ve become a man or at least as much of one as I’ll be. I’m old enough to see how silly all of this is. Besides, Lola is a status symbol. I’m a father. I might be a disaster in many ways but I’m a dad and that counts.

But even if I see how silly all of this is, that doesn’t stop it for being a problem for so many still trapped in it. I wish we weren’t so essentialist on gender. It starts at a young age with clothes coded for genders and never ends. How often have I heard the sex appeal of them men listed as the reason the MCU is popular across gender lines? How often have boys been forced into playing sports they hate?

None of this is healthy but it’s so coded into our society and it frustrates me. We cling to these ideas as if they actually matter and as a result they do. Think of how much great art is lost because a girl with killer action ideas was pushed away or a boy with romantic comedy ideas was mocked. The ones that cross those lines are the ones who were wise enough not to care.

I don’t have any easy answers to this issue. Trust me if I did I’d fix society. All I can do is bring this story full circle. A couple of months ago I finally did get to read the Drive Me Crazy screenplay via the internet library at archive.org. It was astoundingly awful just as a piece of writing. I missed nothing.