I recently read Jen Thorpe’s article about the now infamous Standard Bank dishwasher advert. Not having seen it myself, I’m not here to add yet more commentary on the ad itself. Instead, I want to comment on the commentary – or, if you’ll forgive an even more ridiculous phrase, comment on the comments on the commentary.
Free speech is a beautiful thing. I would never begrudge my fellow denizens of the internet the right to speak their minds, just as I’d be outraged if they tried to deny me mine. But what gets me is the unbelievable vitriol that gets spewed in response to the crazy idea that women are people. I wish I could say that the comments on Jen’s article surprised me, rather than just filling me with the predictable horror that accompanies scrolling down to the comments on any online article, from the Mail & Guardian to the Daily Mail.
“OMG!! Woman you need to realise that radical feminism is dead and no longer has a place in our society… I am really getting sick and tired of radical feminists like you who are so jealous of men and their penises that you spout drivel like this on the internet.”
“Maybe dad should sit in front of the tv with his beer, mom cooking, looking after the kids, making sure that the house is taking care off. Maybe the world will be a better place again… Woman complaining about this is woman with small egos.”
“Let us see the other side of the feminist drivel when she just EXPECT’s the husband or the man in the house to fix the car, and get full of grease.”
“The problem with feminists is that they assume we are all still living in the dark ages and no one has battled for their rights before.”
“Get over the feminism, feminists are selling a fantasy.”
It’s not quite the response Anita Sarkeesian got when she dared to suggest that women in video games might be getting the short end of the stick, but it’s easy to see how a culture where this sort of discourse is normalised is the same culture that makes it acceptable for disgruntled men to draw pictures of Sarkeesian being raped and send them to her.
General sense of indignation aside, what really struck me about some of the comments was the notion that, because some people are happy with the status quo, everyone should be.
“There is a reason that men and women are different – BECAUSE WE ARE! I happen to be a reasonable well educated and successful career woman myself but guess what? When I go home at night I still cook for my fiancé and I still do his laundry with my own while he puts his feet up. Why? Not because he expects it, but because I want to and it shows his importance to me.”
It’s reminiscent of the rabid campaigning against equal marriage by people who seem convinced that letting two people of the same gender get married will somehow destroy heterosexual marriage. What I’m not sure these protestors understand is that no one is trying to stop them doing those things. Legalising gay marriage doesn’t make it compulsory for you to marry someone of your own gender. Challenging gender roles doesn’t mean that you have to stop cooking for your fiancé. If that’s a situation that you and your partner are both happy with, that’s ok. But to assume that everyone would be happy in the same situation because you are, is dangerous and wrong.
As it happens, I like cooking. I don’t even mind cleaning, when it comes to it. Where my problem comes in is when I’m told that, as a woman, cooking and cleaning are things that I should be doing. That I should appreciate a dishwasher in a way that a man would appreciate a home stereo system, as if domestic chores are supposed to be my whole world, rather than just a part of, you know, functioning as an adult. An adult who wants to eat food off clean plates.
Rigidly enforcing gender roles does no one any favours. Sure, there are some men who enjoy stereotypically masculine pursuits, just as there are some women who are perfectly happy with conventionally feminine ones. But when the experiences of these few are generalised to the rest of the population, and policed with the sort of violence we see in comments like these, still more damage is done to the cause of equality, which, despite what a number of the commenters suggested, is far from being achieved. It’s only a testament to how far we still have to go that an article setting forth the “radical” notion that Standard Bank should recognise and respect women’s right to be more than homemakers can garner such negative responses.
In being so rigidly defined, gender roles exclude people who fail to conform, and force people into patterns of behaviour that they, as individuals, are unsuited to. I am no less of a woman for not wanting children, or for refusing to accept that my dreams and goals should be subordinate to those of my hypothetical husband. My friend is no less of a man for minding the house while his wife works. To suggest otherwise on the grounds that you are happy with a more conventional setup, shows a distinct lack of empathy, undermines our choices, and fails to recognise the natural diversity that characterises human existence, beyond the construct of gender. And for Standard Bank to reinforce the same old, tired stereotypes makes the battle harder for the rest of us.
You are very welcome to have a dishwasher, if that’s what makes you happy. Personally, I hate washing up almost as much as I hate ironing. I have no objections to dishwashers as a concept. But please don’t try to tell me that the reason I should want one is because I’m a woman.