Will We Have More than a Touch of Respect?

2010 September 5

If I had to succinctly express how our modern world favors men, I’d say that social structures offer men more and better ways to be evaluated favorably. Being the nerd that I am, one manifestation of this that comes immediately to my mind is the way comic book heroes are depicted. In a typical comic book the men will come in a variety of body types—everything from a towering behemoth who relies on brute strength to a significantly shorter and less ruggedly masculine man who has only his mental abilities to boast about. If more than one woman can be counted among the main cast of heroes in a comic book, they are likely to be of similar height, build, and level of femininity. Indeed a common pitfall for new—or simply bad—comic book artists is to make all women clones of the sexiest woman the artist can draw, with only their hair and clothes being different. As for characters who are neither male nor female, you’re more likely to see them depicted as villains or less than villains—some sort of subhuman monsters, perhaps. In short if comic books are any indication, our society believes that men have a monopoly on versatility.

Mainstream culture offered me another piece of evidence of this feminist viewpoint recently when I saw a commercial for a product called Touch of Gray, which gives its users the ability to dye their graying hair only partially. The product is part of a line called Just for Men, which is apt, because it would be difficult to market such a product to anyone besides men. Even if a corporation did feel that there were enough people besides men who wanted the product, it’s difficult to imagine they would try to sell it the same way. The ad I saw features two men, one dark-haired and one gray-haired, being fused together to make one man who demonstrates both “energy” and “experience”. If there were a comparable commercial featuring women, many people would want to see the gray-haired woman obliterated before seeing her fused with a dark-haired woman. The reason for this is that the society we live in won’t admit that women’s experience is of value. As we age, we lose our desirability as potential sex partners or our ability to bear children, and this takes priority over all our hard-earned experience. Advertisements that purport to conceal or reverse the effects of aging are aimed most aggressively at women. It is perhaps only mores that prevent corporations from trying to give women a product called Absofuckinglutely No Gray.

None of this is to say that I hate Touch of Gray or resent anyone who makes or sells it. To some extent all people who are aging face discrimination, and if a new product helps cultivate a space in which age is taken to be a sign of something positive, this is reason for celebration. However I find it obvious that it will be mostly men who have something to gain in this space, and if we’re to be as pro-equality as we claim to be, we need to ask why that is. Giving the rest of us room to share our experience and talk about both the joys and pains of aging is an important part of feminist resistance, and I have no doubt it will remain so for some time. Personally I don’t have any gray hairs yet, but I have wrinkles, and I can testify that every one of them comes with a story. I resolve to use this space to share the stories behind my wrinkles, and I hope you, my readers, find spaces where you can do the same.