There is nothing quite like old movies, advertising or television shows when it comes to social anthropology. Nobody would confuse plot points, costuming or set design with real life. But dialogue is very representative of the way in which people spoke at the time of filming. We can look at films from the 1940s and 1950s and sense racial views of the times. We can watch television of the 1960s and 1970s and see the overt anti-gay sensibilities. Today most film and television depicts bigotry only to make a point. There is one area of bigotry that never seems to have really changed however, and that’s misogyny.
Whether it’s in the casting or the storytelling, women are still objectified and marginalized. Male actors of every age, size, attractiveness and skin condition are regularly cast in prominent roles. Women of one size, one look, one age group and one hairstyle populate film & television roles. If you are an actress who is not a willowy, bouncy haired, 20-35 year old with a symmetrical face you’re lucky to get character roles. Yes, there are exceptions. But for the most part paunchy women over 70 are not getting the guy. The roles themselves often marginalize women. Accomplished doctors, detectives or spies still need to be fashionable and coiffed. When women are depicted as more than a collection of strategically placed highlights they are made to be a masculine cartoon. Even in the most “realistic” television dramas we never see women discussing or experiencing anything about being a woman. Has there ever been a cop show that explains how a female cop on a stakeout deals with her period? Sex, or servicing men is discussed and depicted continuously. Characters are always getting pregnant (and of course having the baby or losing the pregnancy naturally) so someone must be menstruating!
It’s not all that surprising that in the 21st century we still don’t discuss menstruation except as an insult. That’s right, in 2013 it is still perfectly acceptable to refer to someone as “having their period” when the accuser dislikes the behavior of the accused. It is still acceptable to refer to men as “ladies” or “girls” as an insult. In all manner of workplace you can hear these accusations. Imagine just for a moment that instead of hurling a female term as an insult, it was an ethnic or racial term. We wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate it. But insulting someone by calling them a woman; that’s cool. And why not; women tolerate it and even perpetuate it. Women will use the word “girl” to deride (ex., you are such a girl.) Women screenwriters, directors and casting agents perpetuate the one-dimensionality of female characters in film and television. And almost all women everywhere persist in using the incorrect terminology for their own genitalia.
Even those now famous monologues about that part of the body, use the wrong terminology. The vagina is one very specific part of the genitalia. The vagina is the internal, or birth canal, part of the female genitalia. Vulva is everything else (and from a sexual response perspective; what matters most.) Using inaccurate terminology is always troubling. Often, if not always, there is an underlying message in such choices. It is quite possible that the term “vagina” first became popular in the medical field (that same medical field that labeled women as hysterics and viewed sexually responsive women as flawed and/or dangerous.) The (male) medical field singled out the part of the female genitalia that most affected them. The vulva has no role in male satisfaction or in birthing. This is a reasonable explanation/theory. But why have women perpetuated this inaccuracy? We teach our children the word vagina, while we teach them all of the proper terms for male genitalia. We don’t refer to testicles as penises. We don’t refer to foreskin as penises. We use the correct terminology for all parts of male genitalia.
Does all this sound cranky, distasteful and maybe even a bit irrational? Are you thinking; “well someone’s got her period!” As a matter of fact, I don’t. But if I did, I wouldn’t whisper it or discreetly palm a tampon on my way to the bathroom. I don’t routinely discuss anyone’s genitalia in public, and wish I didn’t feel compelled to now. But it is one (important) piece of a troubling puzzle. We should teach our children body pride not body shame. We should correct them when they accuse someone of “throwing like a girl” or “crying like a girl.” We should stop ourselves and correct others when insulting someone with female allusions. It’s not a matter of political correctness; it is a matter of correctness. There is something wrong with considering “acting like a man” to be a compliment and “acting like a woman” to be an insult.