October 17, 2010
(This post is about sex.)
A girlfriend of mine and I were moseying through town the other day, with our beautiful new babies in tow, when she confessed to me that she doesn’t want to become part of one of those married couples who never has sex. She and I both agreed that we love having sex with our respective husbands.
Incidentally, the idea that women don’t care about, or even like, sex was invented by the patriarchy to aid and abet a rape culture wherein men think they don’t have to perform well or worry about a woman’s feelings during sex because they’re convinced that women don’t like sex anyway, and men believe they can just take what they want from women because they deny that women care if they do. Stereotypical frat boys think this way…not all frat boys…indeed, not all boys. Heterosexual intercourse – or PIV, as the radical feminist Dworkinites refer to it, which makes it sound like a disease – is a very popular subject amongst the hetero females I know.
Gentlemen, many of us like sex and most of us could talk about it all day long (hence the high turnout at Friday’s mothering group meeting for which the theme was “relationships” – yeah, the main topic of that conversation was sex too).
My girlfriend and I discussed the fact that we both had attempted to have sex with our wonderful husbands since the birth of our children, 10 and seven weeks ago; but that our attempts had been painful and unsuccessful. (The sensation – if I may – is like tearing off a Band-Aid®…slowly…on the inside of your vagina. Why? Breastfeeding can lead to vaginal dryness. In short: without the proper lubricant, sex can hurt like hell!)
Why did we perceive that there are couples who “never” have sex? …because cynics like Bill Maher and others claim that marriage and children ruin sexuality in a relationship. …because it’s a punchline and a cliché that married people are unhappy under the sheets. …and because, when you’ve just had a baby and tried to resume your sex life – which was really good during pregnancy!!! – but your attempt fell flat, you worry that you’re in for a long dry spell. It’s the human condition to assume the worst, right?
Let me tell you how it all went down for us. My husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary on October 8th with dinner and a hotel room. He, being a romantic, went all out on the hotel room; this wasn’t a cheap motel, even though that’s what we were using it as. Years from now, I will tell this story as if we intended a romantic evening, but right now is the time for absolute truth…so – fuck it! – I confess that we both were looking to get our rocks off, sexually speaking. We hadn’t had sex since our daughter arrived nine weeks before. We felt emotionally ready to reconnect physically. I had been helping myself for a couple of weeks, thus I knew I possessed the urge. We knew that all we needed was the right time and place to get it on successfully. Or so we thought…
Our daughter was thriving so we asked my mother to watch her overnight. I booked our dogs into a boarding facility near the hotel. I wore real shoes instead of flip-flops – ahhhh…the sacrifices we make for l’amour. Everything was in place. I kissed Ellie “good-bye,” dropped off the dogs, and strolled breezily into the restaurant, tossing my hair as I went. My entrance was like a Pantene commercial. (Not really.)
Despite what awaited us following dinner, I savored a beet salad and halibut filet in a roasted tomato reduction, along with a great glass of Chianti. I checked in with my mother before dessert: a festive pumpkin cheesecake. (Truth be told, the highlight of the meal was the beet salad.) Our daughter had not, according my worst irrational fear, evaporated. She was merrily cooing, drooling and had taken a conference with the blue elephant who dangles from her bouncy seat. (On second thought, the dessert probably rocked…but I really missed Ellie by then, and so my memory has decided it was a bland cheesecake. Is it possible to love your child too much?)
We made our way up to the hotel suite so that I could change into flip-flops for a walk by the neighboring riverside (Hey, I wore pointy shoes with heels for almost two hours!) My husband decided he couldn’t wait for sex and so we began foreplay. I excused myself to put on some sexy lingerie, which I’d brought for fun. I looked pretty good, I thought. I’d managed to tuck the hanging folds of skin on my belly into some lacy knickers – pause for applause. (My appearance has not strayed too far from pre-pregnancy, I’ll have you know. While I’m still about 30 lbs. – or two clothing sizes – over what I’d like to be, I am only about 10 lbs. over my pre-pregnancy weight. And I haven’t yet cut my hair short indiscriminately or donned the so-called “Mom jeans,” despite my empty-baby-bag-of-a-gut.) The lingerie nicely displayed my full, round breasts. I felt really good about myself: not just my appearance, but my efforts to keep the sex alive and well in my marriage. (Fuck you, Bill Maher!)
My husband seemed pleased by my efforts too and told me so (he’s good about compliments). I pushed him back on the bed and straddled him. “Just don’t touch my breasts,” I warned. (The thing about breastfeeding, wonderful though I find it, is that it sort of hijacks your breasts. When they fill with milk and become engorged, they look like you’ve had implants and are large yet perky; but they hurt a lot. They’re hard and sore.) The fact that my husband couldn’t touch my breasts was tough for both of us: they’ve always been a great preoccupation for him during foreplay. And I enjoy that too…which is probably why, when I began to get aroused, I noticed that the right breast was particularly large yet perky.
“Shit! I’m engorged!” I shrieked. I got off the bed, grabbed my breast pump and ran into the bathroom for the second time since we’d entered the suite. Sexy, huh?! (Just nod and smile.)
“I’ll just be one moment,” I assured my hubby through the door. I opened the pump case, got out the motor, the rubber hose, the bottle and the nipple cover. I assembled said parts.
There came a hesitant request for clarification from somewhere beyond the door.
“I forgot the rubber parts that connect to the hard plastic parts.” (At this point, there were hard parts all over the place, if you know what I mean. But the hard right breast had to be soothed as soon as possible.) I tried to hand express some milk from the nipple, but the milk just dripped slowly into the sink. That was not going to work. I exited the bathroom cupping my leaky boob.
“I’m sorry, Babe, but I really need those parts.” (Wait for it…) “Can you go home and get them?”
Can you believe it?! Can you believe I asked my horny husband to put his clothes on, descend to the parking garage, drive home to his mother-in-law, collect rubber breast pump parts, drive back to the expensive hotel suite and wait outside its bathroom door while his severely engorged wife – who was trying to be sexy, by the way – pumped milk from her no-longer-very-sexy breasts?
Well, I did. It had to be done.
And he went. I wrote down the pieces I needed. “They’re in the microwave sterilizer steamer (which is a big plastic dome resembling a cake carrier) by the sink in the kitchen.”
He nodded and told me, sweetheart that he is, that it wasn’t a big deal at all. I settled into the round window seat and looked out over the river. I studied the New York City skyline and almost forgot about my failure to achieve postpartum sexy and my sore and leaky right breast. I thought about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful best friend and husband. I thought about how blessed I am to have such a happy, healthy daughter. I thought about homelessness and hunger and rape and hatred…and how none of those things affect me right now. I thought about how much love I had accumulated; not just the love that I get from others, but the love that I give. I thought about beets and halibut and cheesecake and red wine and how delicious they all are. I thought about sex…and how I’d one day like to have it again…and…where the hell is he?!
About an hour after he’d departed, the suite door swung open and my husband sauntered through it bearing a cake carrier. “Howdy, Ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat. It was just like a scene from an old spaghetti western. (Not really.)
Just when I was about to ask him where he’d gotten a cake at close to midnight, I realized that my husband hadn’t just brought the three rubber pieces that I’d written about in detail on the back of an old receipt that had been hanging out at the bottom the abyss that is my handbag; he’d brought the entire steamer…and there was still water in it! Oh, J***…you carried that steamer all the way through the lobby of this fancy hotel, didn’t you? I thought with a laugh. You silly man. The thought of him being so desperate for sex that he didn’t fuck around with the parts of the breast pump freaked me out a little, though. I had failed him. I grabbed the steamer and went into the bathroom for the third and final time before sex.
I proceeded to pump something like 7 ounces from my right breast (the usual is 2 or 3 – I guess the alcohol helped things along)! I was so excited about the volume of milk that my body had made that I forgot I was trying to get postpartum sexy back. I ran out of the bathroom with the bottle in my hand and showed it to my husband. I mean, I wanted him to know that this was a serious situation he had helped me avoid. My right boob could have exploded or something! “See,” I said, dangling the bottle before his eyes. His face displayed quite possibly the most frustrated/defeated/exhausted/horrified/compassionate look I’d ever seen on a human being before. He waved me off. (That display probably wasn’t sexy of me either, was it?)
Well, as I mentioned earlier, the first time feels something like a slow Band-Aid rip. It was not good for me; but it did provide my husband with some relief. Needless to say, I was disappointed and scared. But after speaking with some other mothers about postpartum sex, I learned that it hurts like that for most women the first couple of times.
The thing about postpartum sexy is that it’s different from the kind of sexy we knew before. When you’re newly married without children and your husband brings you flowers or strokes your hair or rubs your feet after a long day…that’s sexy. I used to want to make love to my husband because of his goodness. But after pregnancy and childbirth, I have found that I love him the most when I observe his tender yet strong paternalism, and that can be harder to spot. At first, he didn’t seem to relate to Ellie the way I did. No surprise there as I had known her for almost a year before she emerged. He’s had significantly less time to bond with her than I. And speaking of bonding: some days, it feels as though all Ellie and I do is bond because I hold her for hours. By the time my husband gets home from work, I have reached my fill of human contact. What I really want is not sex but space…and chocolate.
I have tried to get to postpartum sexy for both of us. I’ve been looking for his new sexiness: his loving attention paid to our daughter. I have figured out ways to get the physical autonomy that I need so that I can spend time physically bonding with him too. I swim laps. I practice yoga. I shower. (New moms everywhere probably know how special showertime is!) I’ve even been known to put on scented lotion, and make-up…and high-heeled shoes.
But sexy really is a two-way street, isn’t it? My husband didn’t wear lingerie on hotel night. And he has taken to farting loudly and blaming the nearest small creature lately: “Oh, that was the dog/cat/baby,” he jokes. The first time he did this, it was funny, because they do fart often and without apology. But it has since gotten really tedious and gross. Before the baby, he used to quietly leave the room before passing gas. Why can’t he try to be postpartum sexy too?
He’ll get there. He loves Ellie more and more every day. And we know we have to talk to each other about what we want and need to move things forward. I asked him what I do that he finds sexy. He thought about it. “I think it’s really cute how you get embarrassed when you toot,” he confessed and grinned.
Well, at least somebody does.
September 5, 2010
I am faced with the self-inflicted task of reviewing a new “gender” relationship guide for a sister site. Oy! Haven’t we seen this kind of thing many, many times before? Uh huh! (Read: Valspeak.)
The problem – aside from the misuse of the word “gender” in place of “sex” – is that, much like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, that classic from the vault of self-improvement literature, this new guide makes use of rigid stereotypes. Hey, stereotypes come from somewhere! Far be it from me to contradict that notion. But as I began reading some of the scenarios in the text – “Couple 1: After the Party,” for instance, when a hetero couple has an argument about how the woman is upset about something and has been “pouty” without explaining the reason behind her mood, I realized that my husband and I are guilty of that exact conversation…in reverse.
How is that possible? I mean, the author of the text has a post graduate degree and decades of professional couples’ counseling experience under her belt. There must be something wrong with my gender. It doesn’t correspond to my sex. I am not behaving like other women, it appears; nor is my husband behaving like other men. We are therefore not feminine and masculine respectively, but have switched roles. (For clarification, the book is about relations between the sexes and not the genders because the author is claiming that men and women act with certain reliable patterns rather than claiming that feminine/masculine people do. Ergo, she is basing her advice on the assumption of gender on both sexes: women are feminine [passive-aggressive, nagging, oversensitive] and men are masculine [insensitive, daft, acquiescing] by default and consistently. She’s really talking about how one personality type relates to another, but claims to be talking about how one sex relates to the other.)
What is wrong with me? What is wrong with my husband? I’m the one who’s always asking him to explain his moods. I’m the one who usually says “whatever you want” when it comes to picking restaurants and movies. He’s the one who pouts and doesn’t explain himself. And, while I would describe myself as “oversensitive” – one who has feelers out in preemptive self-defense to pick up on signals that often aren’t even there to be read, he’s the one who often fails to alert me to the little insensitive things I’ve said along the marriage path: like when I tell him that his pants are too big and sloppy looking, or when I correct his attempts at yoga on the Wii Fit. He bottles them up and then gets cranky many days later. And I, like a puppy who just wet her bed, tilt my head to one side and genuinely think I understand what he’s upset about when really I’ve been listening to another language: the language spoken by a person who is frustrated with me for things I said many months ago.
Of course, I hold onto to some things too: I’ve never been able to let it slide completely that he has a longtime friend who invited my husband to his wedding but did not include me. (The couple was trying to save money, so they asked friends to come alone. But when it came time for dancing, there were tables of singles sitting around who didn’t feel comfortable dancing with people who weren’t their significant others.) So my husband flew across the country to a wedding without me. Tacky? Uh huh! Anyway…
The difference between my resentment and his is that mine rears its ugly head right away and relentlessly for several hours/days/weeks/months/years until it’s out of my system. But my husband will go the same period of time without telling me what’s bothering him and then explode one day with a laundry list of small insults, which usually culminate in one precise character flaw belonging to me: my expectations are too high.
What expectations are those?
- I’d like it if he’d organize his shoes. He has a half-dozen pairs. They can usually be found strewn all across the vestibule waiting to trip somebody.
- I have asked him repeatedly to use the word “well” as an adverb instead of the word “good.” (I mean, he is a literate person with a great career…he might run into somebody who’s a grammar nerd like me and offend them too.)
- He leaves drawers and cabinets open or ajar. This is a daily occurrence.
- His socks never match each other and many of his undershirts are ripped and stained, which he doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind.
- He says one thing but means another. He says: “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.” Translation: “You’ll do it in three weeks when you get tired of reminding me.” He says: “I’ll be down in 10 minutes.” Translation: “I’ll be down in 45 to 50 minutes, or whenever I can tear myself away from work.” He says: “I’ll make dinner tonight.” Translation: “Would you like ketchup on your fish sticks?” or ” Do mashed potatoes count as a vegetable?” or “What toppings do you want on the pizza I’m ordering?”
I would never make the assumption that all men, married or single, leave their shoes around; or don’t talk good; or fail to close things; or don’t take care of their clothes; or don’t say what they mean. Not every kitchen has a row of condiments against the back-splash that are easy to reach yet out of the way. So not every husband fails to put the PAM back when he’s done spraying a pan. Most of the time, that scenario plays out like this: I sigh and put the can back inline. Once, I mentioned it to him – I expect you to put things back where they belong, I said; and he told me he doesn’t even see the can left out. It’s not in his realm of consciousness.
Certainly, not every wife is a neat freak and every husband a slob. I know a couple that are engineered in the exact opposite way: she’s the terribly messy one. And opposites don’t always attract: there could be a pair of perfectly marvelous and affectionate slobs married and living just next door (probably the same people who have a very powerful sub-woofer, God love ’em!). Even though biology does dictate certain traits for each sex – male testosterone makes for physical strength in many cases and female estrogen can make for moodiness, being one or the other sex does not imply adherence to the socially accepted gender binary. Not every man is a well-intentioned simpleton and not every woman a lunatic shrew.
The title of this essay is “My wonderful/lazy/thoughtful/crazy husband.” Let me explain that despite his shortcomings, my husband is primarily wonderful. He doesn’t beat or rape me, which should be a given, but is not – so I mention it, even though it doesn’t earn him extra points. He often tells me how wonderful/loving/beautiful/smart/strong I am. He sometimes brings me flowers, which he thinks to pick up on his way home from a grueling day at the office. He remembers to say “I love you” every day, even if I’ve already removed my makeup. And, when at the supermarket, he always returns the grocery carriage to its nearest stall so that it doesn’t block traffic in the parking lot. In short: he is a lovely person!
At the end of the day, shouldn’t every relationship guide be about helping two different people get along rather than reducing people to the expectations of their respective sexes? Shouldn’t the book tell of scenarios between “Person One” and “Person Two” rather than “Man” and “Woman?” Because aren’t we all special…if not in the grand scheme of things, at least to the person(s) who love(s) us?
November 21, 2009
I am speaking about gender as a distinct concept from sex: gender is masculine/feminine and sex is male/female.
The two weren’t originally distinct. As language evolved, as it continues to do, the concepts of male/female gender said to be “masculine”/”feminine” arose as adjectives inclusive of traits traditionally exhibited by either sex. But as the eras morphed and gave way to one another – and with women’s liberation advancing women’s choices in behavior – the concept of gender became archaic. While masculine and not feminine might originally have been thought to include athletic agility, certainly we have seen women accumulate a myriad of athletic achievements. And while feminine and not masculine might originally have encompassed all things, activities, attitudes and behaviors relating to the sphere of the home, we have seen men take over housework and child rearing in the absence of and occasionally as the preference to women. Ergo, gender as masculine/feminine doesn’t mean anything anymore, really…but we still use these words. For the purposes of this and all my essays, my use of the word gender will always refer to traditional masculinity or traditional femininity. (What is traditional? That’s my point.)
Because Americans are often inhibited by public mention of private, personal things – such as sex and other bodily functions like flatulence – we have learned to substitute the word “gender” for the word “sex.” We fear that we might confuse people with the word “sex,” making them think of the act of sexual intercourse rather than the differences between its heterosexual participants.
When making an academic argument about the members of one sex or the other and their inherent traits, we must remember to use the word “sex” and not the word “gender.” Be clear: are you talking about men and woman and their differences/similarities, or are you talking about the traditionally held attitudes toward what each sex’s sphere encompasses? If it’s the latter, feel free to utilize the term gender. For instance, my sex is female, but many of my traits are traditionally masculine: I have a job outside my home, I drive a car, I speak my mind, I wear pants, etc.
Actress Rachel McAdams was recently quoted by Entertainment Weekly (Nov. 27, 2009) as summing up her character Irene in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie by saying: “She’s not a typical woman of her time. (Portraying Irene) was a matter of balancing her femininity with what was masculine like being a weapons expert.”
McAdams is correct in this wielding of masculine/feminine concepts (gender) in referring to her 19th Century muse as a woman (sex) with traditionally male (sex) qualities. But until we get far enough away to look back on the period we inhabit now (2009), we can’t clearly distinguish the overlying characteristics attributed to either sex. In other words, we don’t know what gender is today because we can’t objectively examine all of its parts or predict what its outcome will mean for the next generation. McAdams is only correct in saying Irene was not typical because the women who came before and after Irene were not weapons experts as a general rule. That skill did not pervade our sex. Does it today or will it tomorrow? We don’t know yet. And someday, when men and women aren’t restricted by expectations of gender, it won’t matter.
“Gender,” when used as a verbal stand in for the collective of men or women, has got to go. We need the term to represent the collective traits long believed to be inclusive in groupings of people of the same sex. If we are specific with this language, then we will be able to examine how gender is really meaningless and detrimental. To believe that women (sex) are only as strong as our femininity (traditional gender) would limit our potential to advance ourselves in society. And to believe that men are all as stoic as traditionally masculine men would limit their potential to assume some of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, thus limiting our potential to advance in roles traditionally held by men. If my husband and I have children, and I am subsequently offered the career opportunity of a lifetime, I might choose to abandon the traditional wifely and motherly duties for a “male” career model leaving my husband to pick up the slack in the arenas of cooking, cleaning and child rearing. He would have to let go of his fear of being judged feminine by other men and women just as I would have to prepare to receive and shrug off any criticism about abandoning my children for long hours at the office. Working mothers often have guilty consciences because the world has long believed they are selfish for pursuing their dreams and leaving their children to be cared for by others.
In my utopia, gender is gone: both the word and what it really means. It is reductive and restrictive and…inaccurate in this day and age.
I could list hundreds of examples of how gender restricts females from doing the things they want in life, but I’d like to turn the tables for a second and talk about one instance where males are being restricted: fashion. It is the privilege of my sex in America to wear ruffles, boas, elaborate costume jewelry, outrageous shoes, make-up and hair accessories. Of course, this isn’t a universal privilege. Some men get away with it right here in the New York City metro area where I live. And certainly, women are restricted from the fun of dressing as they please in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Plus, I also must mention that women do painful often terrible things to their bodies sometimes to feel worthy of the adornments I hereby champion including but not limited to surgery and eating disorders. But for the purposes of this argument, we can hopefully agree that some females in Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia are having fun with fashion, basking in the soft and colorful feminine decorations that males are not allowed.
We must agree that there is a privilege of our sex in these locales because we are allowed to beautify ourselves in ways that males are not, and this can be an enjoyable activity. Earlier this month, Houston’s O’Rhonde Chapman, a 17 year-old high school senior, wore a long wig and stiletto heels to school because they make him feel good. But the school’s dress code restricts males from growing their hair past their shirt collars or wearing wigs to conceal an unruly hair length. Females are not subject to the same hair length restriction. A video interview with Chapman is available online.
Boo hoo, right? Well, dress is a form of self-expression, whether it includes wearing sparkly barrettes in your hair or the name of your favorite sports team across your chest. Males should no more be restricted from expressing themselves in this way than females. The New York Times featured an interesting article about cross dressing rules for high school students and what it means to both sexes on Nov. 8 in the “Sunday Styles” section. This situation of restricting dress based on sex is unsettling at an all-male college in Georgia that has banned, according to CNN, “the wearing of women’s clothes, makeup, high heels and purses as part of a new crackdown on what the institution calls inappropriate attire.”
Oh my god… Does a messenger bag count as a purse? Does zit concealer count as make-up? What’s the reasoning behind this? “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” said Morehouse College’s Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services.
Basically, what Bynum is saying is that the rest of the men at Morehouse College are homophobic and uncomfortable with men who exhibit other than masculine characteristics. The school’s resident gay organization supported the ban by a majority vote, presumably to protect its individual members from further ridicule, hatred or fear.
But why should this animosity exist? It exists because of gender, the concept that men should exhibit only a masculine demeanor and women only a feminine demeanor. And before anybody goes accusing men of being the sole perpetrators of this distinction, I’d like to point out that many women, including and embarrassingly myself, prefer to be feminine and look for largely masculine qualities in their partners. I believe this tendency is somewhat natural, and somewhat compounded by its constant reinforcement in the media. Either way, it’s a yearning of both sexes and neither sex can be exempted from its implications. (I’d like to point out here as an aside that, after rereading some of my older posts, I find it interesting that I used to write these essays for people who were unaware of a feminist perspective on choice issues; but now, after spending time with some radical feminists, I find myself writing these essays with them in mind, defending my “lesser” feminism that holds women partially responsible for our decreasingly subordinate position.)
For the minority of males who want the freedom and yes, privilege to dress with color and flair, I offer you some suggestions. You don’t have to wear women’s clothes to feel…er…feminine. Just adorn one of these outfits for men from other eras and varying cultures:
In case you don’t recognize them, these are depictions of Italy’s Julius Caesar (b. 100 BC, d. 44 BC), Mongolia’s Genghis Kahn (c. 1162, d. 1227), England’s Henry (Tudor) the VIII (b. 1491, d. 1547), France’s Louis (de Bourbon) XIV (b.1648, d. 1715) and America’s Sitting Bull (c.1831, d. 1890) respectively. Each of these men was a ruler or warrior in in his time and each is wearing a traditional “masculine” garb of that time. (You really do know what culture you’re in by checking out what people are wearing.) Yes, those are tights, feathers, ruffles, velvet and gold lame’. But those are men, right? Yes. Yes they are.
So have fun, you cross dressing men! Wearing these outfits, you really aren’t breaking any rules, but you might be able to achieve the femininity (by today’s standards) that you deserve. Don’t complain; get creative!
The biology that is sex and the romance that is gender are no longer always compatible, for either sex. We need to get rid of gender, but first we need to understand it and wield its meaning correctly so that one day we can let it go, celebrate the biological differences that exist between men and women yet not reduce either sex to the sum of his or her parts.
November 26, 2008
I was a kid in a candy store at my first screening of Pixar’s new miracle WALL-E. The film has generated quite a bit of Oscar buzz in that it might transcend the patronizing “Best Animated Feature” category and ascend to the higher realm of “Best Picture.” (As if animated movies require less vision or hard work on the part of their creators than do live action films!)
I fell in love with the little bot as he diligently hummed to and fro, compacting more than 700 years’ worth of human trash into orderly spires of stinking excess. As the sign says, he’s “working to dig (us) out.”
The darker message of the film is that we have destroyed our planet, making it so uninhabitable that we literally cannot inhabit it anymore. We relocate to a luxury spaceship cruise liner where – over those 700 elapsed years – we’ve managed to bulk up our body fat and trim down our bone mass. (Sounds like a terrific movie for children!)
Actually, it is a terrific movie for children. The lighter message is one of love: WALL-E and EVE will sacrifice everything – including their sacred directives – to spend time with each other. And what do they do together? Dance and hold hands. Isn’t that love…at least to a 4-year-old?
My husband – of the pantheon of men who tell their wives “No, I will not watch a love story with you!” – watched the film for a second time with me a few days ago. And just when I got up to go to the kitchen for a cup of tea, I heard a shout from the living room: “Babe, EVE has found WALL-E!” he yelled with glee.
Well, he did watch a love story with me after all…but that’s the secret genius of this film: it isn’t what it appears. To recap: WALL-E is at the same time a love story and a condemnation of our collective consumerism and ecological shortsightedness. But the film also proves a theory that I hold dear: gender (i.e. masculine or feminine) is almost entirely a social construct having very little to do with one’s given sex.
My brother the psychologist says that most children can identify their sex by the age of 3 or 4. And even if they have gay parents, they’re so inundated by examples of heterosexual coupling in the pop culture world around them that they begin to distinguish the differences between men and women – other than those differences they’ve exposed to each other on the playground. Before they even see the film, they identify WALL-E as a male character and EVE as a female character, even though these robots are not anatomically correct. The boy is boxier with square shoulders, my brother points out. EVE, the girl, is shiny and smooth. And if you hear their voices, you note that WALL-E’s voice is slightly deeper in tone than is EVE’s.
Magically, these characters’ genders do not correspond. WALL-E has spent 700 years alone on a deserted Earth…with no real company except for Cornelius Hackl and co. in the 1969 musical extravaganza Hello, Dolly! (And let’s face it: Michael Crawford is not the world’s most masculine hero!) Ergo, WALL-E spins and sputters in an earnest attempt at musicality. He picks up trash and shoves it in his vaginal-cave-of-a-stomach. And he’s emotionally moved by all of the little things rougher beings take for granted: a love song, the life of a lowly cockroach, etc. Like Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989), WALL-E collects precious (to him) things from the long gone human world and treasures them in his tiny, lackluster domicile.
EVE, on the other hand, has a great big weapon that shoots nuclear missiles in a split second. She’s slightly larger than WALL-E, and certainly more aggressive. She rescues him – the “damsel” in distress – and carries his broken body back to Earth in a desperate attempt to heal him and hold his hand. This is an empowering message for little girls, who are alternatively allowed princess role models or Bratz dolls (you know, the dolls who sport bare midriffs and the appearance that they’ve just emerged from botox injection therapy?).
Now, I know what you’re thinking: will WALL-E turn little boys into sissies if EVE is giving little girls another Joan of Arc? Certainly not! But there may be a silver lining in this film viewing experience for boys too: they might learn a little sensitivity…and one day they’ll be open to movies other than Rambo and Die Hard.
The bottom line is that until we’re told we have to behave in a certain way – for instance: our parents say so, our girlfriends do so, or magazines show so – we girls usually behave in a way that feels natural for us. Sometimes, we find ourselves seeking permission to behave differently than other little girls. There are standards out there. This is why little boys often find it difficult to cry…and probably why little girls often find it difficult not to. How quickly they learn the rules!
I’m excited to report that, while WALL-E and EVE might not change our children, they will enlighten them.