Originally published June 22, 2012
Anyone who has ever met me knows I always had the ‘whatever you can do I can probably do too’ attitude, the unyielding advocacy for women’s equality and eradicating the impossibly achieved body image as defined by popular media.
Maybe it’s my old age, or maybe it’s my developed state of critical thinking, but I’ve found consistently viewing women as solely victims of their second-sex status doesn’t satisfy my view of the state of current affairs anymore.
When I first heard about 14 year-old Julia Bluhm’s crusade to stop Seventeen from using PhotoShop I thought it was great that girls were taking steps toward media literacy. In another thought, I was reminded how different I was when I was her age. Then, I was under the impression that I would only win the approval of the other sex by adhering to what I saw in the pages of magazines I impatiently awaited for every month. I paid for this in many ways and spent many years thereafter ‘blaming’ men for what was wrong with my life and the entire world.
On one June morning during my less than awesome New Hope to Saint Paul I94 commute, I switched from a Cities 97 commercial break to just in time for a Dave Ryan morning show phone-in discussion.
The question: “Would you ever date a man who owned a cat?”
Aside from the talk show guys ripping on men who owned cats, the women who phoned in won the discussion that these guys were certainly not datable.
“I wouldn’t date a guy with a cat! It makes him too soft!”
“That’s just not right, I want someone who is tougher. If I found out a guy had a cat, that would be the deal breaker.”
Wait.. what? Am I in 2012? Do I live in the woods? In my mind, I couldn’t understand why something so small as owning a certain pet could be such a huge barrier in women’s relationship considerations.
Then I got to thinking that as a woman, I could own a cat, sure, but if I owned a very masculine pit bull guys would think of me as cool.. right?
Then my mind spiraled..I thought of all the things activities I can do without being judged too heavily by those of each sex. I can go to the Avengers movie and get points from the opposite sex, or I could watch Sex and the City for the 12th time and no one would care. I could go play basketball followed by a dinner date with a just a girl friend to talk about my personal life and no one would even question it.
Even though these thoughts may seem like I am picking the issue apart, I know it’s about the larger societal issue. While women may feel their sex means barriers for them, I feel I have much more elasticity in what my identity can be than some of my male peers.
I had the privilege of growing up under the care of an outstanding man and father, Joel Steffl. Joel in some ways treated me as his son, taking me hunting & fishing, carting me to my karate classes and attending most every one of my soccer and basketball games. He also jumped at any chance to spend genuine time with me, cook for me, do dishes with me, and assumed the housework that needed attention without batting an eye.
But guess what? Joel loves cats. If my dad was the type of guy who constantly worried about conserving his masculine identity, would I have been able to have such an exceptional relationship with my father? Would I have turned into the person today who can even think about the benefits of bending gendered norms?
What about my roommate? Tristin just so happens to have a cat that he loves to the end of the Earth. I’m dating this Tristin and I never thought twice of Micah being a deal breaker.
Is Tristin tough? What does he need to be tough for? Tough so he can protect me? From what? Tough so that he never wants to talk about anything? Tough so that as a woman I can never really relate to anything he’s thinking? Tough that as a woman I want to be the person that can get to him like no one else can?
Get real, (some of you) women. If we don’t expect to be held to impossible body standards, we can’t possibly hold men to these standards of masculinity.
What happens to our guys when we place them into these boxes of what they should be and what they can’t be? Do these norms determine how women are ultimately treated? Instead of only focusing on the victimization of girls, we need to right the norms and systems by focusing on what our boys need for healthy socialization and development.
Let them have cats!