Friday, April 04, 2008

The Comics Page: Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes One Strip at a Time

I've been wanting to address this issue vis-a-vis the horrible daily comic The Pajama Diaries by Terri Libenson for quite some time. It's printed daily in The Pioneer Press, and I love to hate it much like I love to hate Pluggers. Except with less enjoyment and more exasperation. The Pajama Diaries is ostensibly about a freelance graphic artist/mother who is married and has a couple of kids. Most days' subject matter can be summed up as "being a working mom is crazy busy!" And though we have this main character who is a "working mom," the strip is rife with gender stereotypes. I feel like once a week there's at least one strip that makes me want to claw my eyes out. Wait, no. My reaction is never quite that strong, because it's not full of, like, shockingly insulting stereotypes, just stupid, unsurprising, Cathy-worthy examples of "women are like this but men are like THIS." And maybe these are true to Terri Libenson's personal family life ("Jill" is obviously a very thinly veiled version of herself), but it doesn't make it any funnier. A strip that can be summarized as, "I have way too much laundry to do, and sometimes my husband tries to help, but his penis prevents him from doing it in the correct (anal retentive) fashion," just strikes me as lazy storytelling. And sometimes I have to write graffiti on the comics page or harangue one of my roommates with cries of, "Why doesn't she just let him wash some goddamn clothes? If he doesn't do it "right," who cares? You don't get to complain about too much housework if you refuse to let him help!"

A certain amount of the "humor" in this strip is never going to appeal to me ("Kids sure do/say the darnedest things!" The Family Circus has this crappy market cornered.), though I basically find it inoffensive. What I do get peeved about, however, and I say this as someone who has never used the word "peeve" sans "pet" in spoken or written language before, is the constant reinforcement of lame gendered expectations. MAN LIKE SEX, SPORTS, BEER; KIDS AND CHORES CONFUSING. WOMAN TOO BUSY AND TIRED FOR SEX, OVER-EMOTIONAL, HAS NO OTHER INTERESTS BESIDES HUSBAND AND CHILDREN (despite token nods towards her career). I was particularly horrified this past month when Libenson had the husband, "Rob," take over the narration for a couple of weeks. You can only get a few days' worth of The Pajama Diaries online (probably for the best), and they finally put up the first, most blandly offensive in this series:

Oh, chicks and their feelings and whatnot! Rob is totally failing at the Manly Olympics. No medal stand for him.

But besides my simmering (not boiling, I don't care quite that much) rage for The Pajama Diaries, yesterday brought me the horrifying reality of crappy gender dynamics in For Better or For Worse. A universally either beloved or despised comic, the recent "flashback" strips have been even more heinous than the regular "present-day" bullshit. I almost gagged when I saw this on the newspaper page:

Oh, kids and their adorable malapropisms that can be interpreted as passive-aggressive swipes at the feminist movement! But besides this one stupid joke, I hate the way that gender expectations are played out in popular depictions of parenting. Often, it seems as though we're still stuck in the "Dad's baby-sitting tonight" phase (as if someone can "baby-sit" their own children) of talking about parenting. Now, I realize that we're still at a point as a society where women are the default caregivers and are much more likely to take time away from the working world to raise children. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with moms being moms, but I wish this were a choice that could be more freely made. American corporate culture certainly doesn't help--an ideal option for many families might be two part-time working parents who equally share childrearing duties. Without the pressures of patriarchy, I wonder what the home/childrearing workloads would look like. Certainly, the stupid "Mr. Mom" jokes would disappear, boys would be encouraged as children to be caregivers, more families would have more choices about when/if/how to have and raise children, and we would all recognize that dads aren't "filling in" when they parent. Once you get past the obvious gestation/childbirth/breastfeeding phase, caregiving is a gender-neutral act. Genitalia doesn't prevent anyone from learning how to change a diaper, help with homework, make a doctor's appointment, play Candyland again, etc. Perhaps I need to do a more extended fatherhood post soon.

But anyway, fuck the comics and their holdout gender binary propaganda. That is all.


  1. There was this terrible article in the Daily Universe (BYU's paper) that was all about the "gender differences" some psychology professor found. Apparently estrogen makes me incapable of using maps, navigating, backing out a car, and anything else that requires spatial reasoning. I was horrified. I happen to be pretty good at those things. Does that make me a man?

    Worst. article. ever.

  2. Oh my gosh, I have never heard of that comic strip the Pajama Diaries, but I am shocked and appalled by the example you provided. How can shit like that get printed?! It's horrible!

    Also, Kelsy, I also happen to be quite good at all of these spatial things--in fact I'm quite a bit better at this things than Ryan, who happens to have a significantly lower level of estrogen than I do, so it's bullshit.

  3. Hate them, hate them, hate them!
    Hate stupid Jill....ugly and pitiful mother.
    Hate the way she idolizes her obnoxious, bratty, ugly daughters. Hate how they parent . I know it's cultural, but they gag me. Those girls will be obnoxious princesses and make boyfriends/husbands wish they had never set eyes on them.
    The bratty kids need a good slap most of the time and Jill needs to know that her husband is having great sex with multiple women who don't talk about their stupid bitch children all the time.
    Ugh! Get rid of this strip!