I went to read HuffPo the other day and I read the following headline: Jimmy Kimmel PIcks the Perfect Punishment for Sarah Hucka-BS Sanders
He said she should be sent to live in a Jo-Ann’s Fabric Store for the rest of her life.
My knee jerk reaction was that I thought they meant “perfect punishment” in a totally different way. I thought for a second Oh gosh, that IS the perfect punishment! Inside a Jo-Ann’s for the rest of my life! That would be AWESOME! And then I spent several more seconds envisioning this wonderful Basil E. Frankweiler type situation only with way more crafts.
It was a nice several more seconds.
Then it started to dawn on me – Kimmel. Sanders. HuffPo. Wait a minute. Is association with Jo-Ann’s Fabrics meant to be some kind of an insult or something?
Among people I know, Jo-Ann’s has a so-so reputation. While they do have lots of products I would love to give a good home to, it is kind of a zoo. Jo-Ann’s Fabrics is disorganized, does not have the greatest customer service, and they totally do a lot of irritating crap with coupons (srsly enough with the coupons already) but I really don’t think any of those issues Jimmy Kimmel or his viewers would be well versed in.
The more I thought about it, the more it started to seem like some kind of misogynistic humor or something.
If you go into a Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, fact is, there are not a lot of dudes there. When I want to go to Jo-Ann’s my husband stays in the car at least until he has to come in and drag me out forcibly before I buy even more fat quarters for my fat quarter collection. (I’m kidding, he doesn’t drag me out forcibly, he just looks at me disapprovingly till I drag myself out, desperately trying to resist the temptation to grab a few more fat quarters as I go.)
I would go so far as to call Jo-Ann’s a man-free zone. It’s like a safe space. I have never been groped in a Jo-Ann’s fabrics.
So can someone explain why it’s cool to curse a powerful woman to live in Jo-Ann’s Fabrics? Is it that fabric crafts are somehow beneath a successful woman and thus a craft store is an ideal place to doom a successful woman to? Is it that Sarah Sanders proven herself too dummm to be allowed out into the world and thus she needs to be sequestered back into her pink sparkly rocking chair for some baby-booting knitting (which Kimmel apparently and wrongfully assumes is easy to do and requires no mental acuity)?? What is it? Please explain, using small words so my glue-stick-fume addled female brain can comprehend u.
Is being associated with female-ity bad? Are the traditional accoutrements that come with a pair of X chromosomes meant to be humiliating somehow? Ironically, I recall Sarah Sanders taking some heat over allegedly not baking a pie that she actually did bake in the past, so it would appear to me that women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t – criticized ruthlessly for not being Harriet Homemaker and yet at the same time, insulted with the prospect that they might enjoy doing things that have historically been female pursuits. T’would appear that traditionally female pursuits are used as a taunt against strong women, one way or the other.
All this reminded me of Wonder Woman again. Some of you may recall I took a fair bit of heat for my Wonder Women essay, in which I suggested that maybe, just maybe it was ok, even feminist, to embrace and celebrate some behavior historically considered stereotypically female (or at least not hold it in active disdain). Maybe, just maybe, we could see some traditional female qualities as positives instead of buying completely into the notion that the only way for women to be “empowered” was by embracing the very worst stereotypically male behavior.
Most of the criticism I received for my Wonder Women piece was along this line: “It would be nice if you could come out of your cultural preconceptions a bit.” Come out of my cultural preconceptions to agree with my critics, I guess is what that means. For they are surely right, their position is well thought out and thoroughly considered, while I, on the other hand, could not possibly have thoroughly considered opinions since my opinions are not identical to theirs. If I disagree with them, that means I must have cultural preconceptions. Because no woman in her right mind could ever independently weigh the evidence and draw an unusual conclusion. Just gotsta be cultural preconceptions.
I find it so amusing when people respond to what they (wrongfully) perceive as sexism, with sexism.
That’s really what the takeaway of all this is, isn’t it?? Whenever a woman – particularly a seemingly traditional woman in appearance and/or thought – draws an unexpected or unpopular conclusion, it’s widely and immediately assumed that she has cultural preconceptions of some sort. Traditional women are perceived to be incapable of thinking for themselves because if they could think for themselves surely they’d form the exact same opinion everyone else has. When that doesn’t happen, when a woman expresses an unexpected opinion, welp, it just has to be cultural preconceptions. Apparently everyone in the whole wide world except for traditional women have opinions deserving of respect and consideration, while traditional women and the things they like and value – like Jo-Ann’s Fabrics – are jokes, throwaway lines that make no sense and that people don’t even laugh at.
So Jimmy Kimmel thinks it’s ok to banish Sarah Sanders to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics because Sarah Sanders is a traditional woman and Jo-Ann’s is a traditional woman thing so they deserve each other. Being a traditional woman like Sarah Sanders or Michelle Duggar is pretty much one of the worst things a person can be according to some people, many of whom self-ID as “feminist”. That’s why it’s ok for feminists and feminist allies to refer to Michelle Duggar’s vagina as a “clown car” – which is literally one of the most sexist, vulgar things I’ve ever heard and that little punchline was EVERYWHERE for a couple years. Her body, her choice, except when she makes a choice with her body that people don’t like, I guess. Then she’s a joke.
The political and philosophical views of traditional women are constantly painted as signs of weakness of character and a simple mind. Allegedly based upon cultural preconceptions and internalized misogyny, these opinions are thus inherently inferior to the opinions of everyone else and should be immediately disregarded. That is why whenever a traditional woman dares to enter the public sphere to express an opinion that is outside the norm the response is invariably “Knit a sock, you brainwashed bitch.” Because pegging a woman as being in any way traditional is meant as an insult, implying that traditional women don’t know their own minds, are stupid brainwashed ninnies qualified for nothing but doing cutesy crafts (many of which are actually quite difficult and require high amounts of knowledge and skill. I’d like to see Kimmel knit a fucking sock. Socks are tough.)
Brief aside – Now, I know that someone is going to wax poetic about how terrible Sarah Sanders is how anything is justified where she’s concerned, and I’ll just say right now, save your breath. This isn’t about Sarah Sanders and her many unforgivable sins. This is about Jimmy Kimmel’s response to Sarah Sanders and why even in our controversy-lovin’ society it was uncontroversial despite it being grossly sexist, and how our larger culture constantly devalues and belittles traditional women.
But first let’s talk about my “cultural preconceptions” that everyone seems to assume I must have.
There is literally no traditional female in my family. My great-grandmother owned an entire city block with several stores in it. She had 6 daughters and every one of them worked at the store starting practically at their birth during the 19-teens and twenties. Both my grandmothers were college graduates. One of them worked outside the home for her entire life. My mother and stepmother were highly respected career women with Master’s Degrees. My stepfather was a nurse and he did the dishes and cooked and changed diapers just as often as my mom did. There were few gender stereotypes promoted by my parents; in fact, quite the opposite.
From the second I was born it was expected that I would excel at school and sports and that I would go on to have a very impressive career. My parents pushed me towards excellence in every public arena. No one ever told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl; I was told instead that I had to do everything because I COULD. My dad expected me to be a scientist and an athlete and often suggested I go into the military. He bought me a Commodore 64 when they first came out and encouraged me to learn programming. My mom expected me to be valedictorian and class president and to be in every club at school. She drove me to karate lessons and Women in Science weekends.
It was the “Free To Be You and Me” generation and everyone knew that girls could do anything boys could do. My parents, my teachers, the people on the TV all told me so.
It was awful.
Having all these people in my face telling me “You can do this! You can do that!” wasn’t empowering, it was paralyzing. An eight year old or a 12 year old or a 15 year old does not want to have a life plan foisted upon them whereby they will become an astronaut or maybe president someday. A kid may want to daydream about something like that sometimes but it’s the rare and driven person who manages to get there and it’s generally not by way of goals that they set as a small child. All I knew was that the world expected things from me that I felt in no way equipped to give and it had nothing to do with my gender, it was my inadequacy.
It never occurred to me that it was perhaps the expectations that were awry, not that anything was truly lacking with me.
At the same time, the things I was interested in, that I gravitated to naturally – girly things – everyone acted like I was voluntarily drinking hemlock or something. My femininity became my secret shame. I had to do it all undercover. I sneaked a tattered copy of Dr. Spock off the family bookshelf and read it cover to cover. I secretly taught myself to sew and embroider alone in my room when I was supposed to be doing homework. I bought makeup and nail polish and pretty underwear with whatever money I could scrounge together. I got perms and read romance novels and wore lip gloss and obsessed over boys. And the first chance I had, I got married and started having children because that was what I WANTED. That was what I was drawn to and what feels natural to me to this very day.
Even though I didn’t ever ONLY want those things, even though I’ve done many other interesting and amazing things in my life and excelled at them, the things that some would assume were results of my “cultural programming” (that I never actually received) are of the utmost importance to my happiness and well-being.
The fundamental problem in my life has never been my “cultural programming”. My cultural programming has only ever been that women not only can, but should, go out and take the world by the balls and squeeze till it gives up whatever it is you want. My cultural programming has also been that girls shouldn’t want things that are in any way female, that it is beneath us, and only by turning away from stereotypical female pursuits and becoming small and rather angry men with boobs can we truly come into our own.
My cultural programming told me lies about the history of the world and women’s place in it because women have always wielded a lot of power and done stunningly courageous and historically important things. Believe it or not, I HAVE come out of my cultural programming and that is why I think the way that I do. I just don’t agree with you, that’s all. I like Jo-Ann Fabrics and I didn’t think Wonder Woman was feminist and I drew those conclusions after I logically and dispassionately weighed the input I receive from the world around me and not because my daddy told me I was a pretty pretty princess. Cause he never told me that in my whole entire life.
It simply doesn’t make any sense to me that the only way I can find my way as a “woman” is by rejecting the customs, traditions, and values (be they cultural or innate, who gives a shit, doesn’t matter) that women have shared for millennia, trying instead to behave exactly like a man – adopting even the BAD parts of male behavior. I don’t see how it is in any way freeing or empowering for women when self-styled feminists belittle and devalue real live actual women and the things that many of them enjoy, such as reading romance novels and going to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. Even though my cultural programming involved a good deal of everyone around me doing exactly that, I refuse to sit silently by while Jimmy Kimmel or the majority of people who reviewed the movie Wonder Woman do.
When I look back at my life it feels a little like I had to discover and then battle to express my gender identity. I don’t intend to equate my experience with what any trans person has gone through, not at all, but I do feel I’ve experienced some mild and minor version of the same. As a child I felt that I was not allowed to express my femininity. I had my hair cut and wore boy clothes and indeed was often mistaken for a boy. I was made to play sports against my will, I was pushed into highly technical classes that I didn’t want to take and were actually much too difficult for me because my parents and teachers couldn’t let go of the dream that they had for me rather than seeing the person I actually was.
It took me decades before I could fully start to embrace my gender identity, that’s how much I had internalized my real cultural programming. I was 30 before I realized could grow my hair out if I wanted to, that I could wear skirts every damn day if I wanted to, that I could mince and flirt and simper if I so desired, and that I could be and do whatever I wanted to. Even if that meant I wanted to be a woman. And once I realized that, I never looked back, and for the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin.
Despite my unremitting and inexcusable chronic girliness, as an adult, I grew into enjoying athletics, particularly weightlifting and kickboxing. I became a scientist and started a website that thousands of people from around the world visit to get my opinion on having babies of their own. That still wasn’t enough so I became a writer too and I toss myself into the public sphere every day without (much) fear to share my very often highly unusual opinions and thoughts with the world. Being a traditional woman didn’t stop me from doing any of those things. Not one iota. I did and do these things every day while still raising five children, wearing a skirt and usually far too much makeup, and occasionally visiting JoAnn’s Fabrics stores for craft supplies.
Sarah Sanders has to have about the toughest freaking job on Planet Earth. Can you imagine doing Sarah Sanders’ job? I wouldn’t want it. She was raised in a conservative Christian home and probably had more than her fair share of intense cultural programming yet somehow despite that she managed to go to hold a very powerful job. In fact, pretty much all the strong and powerful women who were born before 1960 or so – Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Michelle Obama, Oprah, Gloria Steinem – all of them raised in a world that probably featured some fairly patriarchal shit. So don’t give me this line where if we don’t tell girls that girly stuff sucks, that femininity is weakness, and the only way they can navigate life is by forgoing the joy that is Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and becoming a small and angry man with boobs, that they’ll live happily ever after.
Because it just isn’t true.