Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Three Dangerous Mythical Creatures

Please forgive the Buzzfeed-ish structure of this post, but I've been thinking about some some various concepts lately, and I realized the connection they all share...they're totally made up, and yet most people believe in them, often to the detriment of other people.

Let's take a deeper look...

1) Virginity: Every now and then, I see an image shared on Tumblr that says, "virginity is a social construct" and I smile to myself. Really think about that for a moment...when you ponder it in detail, it becomes clear. Virginity is a social construct because it is a made up concept. Does something change about a person when they've had sex? Is there any substantive difference between virgins and non-virgins? Who actually counts as a virgin and why?

The commonly accepted definition of a "virgin" is someone who hasn't had sex, but even that begs more questions like, what counts as sex? Typically this takes us to a cis-heteronormative view of sex. Are we really to agree that a lesbian woman, for example, who has been with numerous other women through the years, is a virgin unless she's had sex with a man? It's absurd. (That reminds me of Clueless when Dion is talking about how she's "technically a virgin" but her "man is satisfied.") Then the next step from there for a virginity-justifier is to talk about the hymen...but that is also a totally flawed and fucked up path to go down. It begins centering virginity on people with vaginas only, and even then, a hymen can be broken with something like a tampon or it might have never even been present. So is using a tampon sex? And do we really want to consider virginity to be vagina specific?

Sadly, it is often viewed that way. And as I've written here numerous times, I think we can also see how this mythical creature of virginity is unequally applied among genders all the time...only adding to its bullshit factor. For example, girls are supposed to be pure, and their virginities are such big deals that entire parties are thrown where they pledge it to their dads or some nonsense (ew.) Meanwhile, in Young Adult Fiction, the virginity topic is up front and central and such a major plot point that almost no story about a young woman is told without its mention and its loss being highly romanticized or just creepily studied. On the flip side, virginity among young men is like a scarlet letter (in this case a big, embarrassing, blazing V) that they're supposed to want to abandon at their first opportunity. There's no bigger loser in pop culture than the young, beta male virgin (think American Pie, Skins, etc.) (Side note: society says people shouldn't be gay, that girls aren't supposed to have sex, but boys are supposed to have it lots...talk about mixed, confusing messages.)

Basically no matter which way you slice it, there's nothing positive about this virginity fetish and its needless social construction. I challenge anyone who wants to defend it to try to do so, because you'll pretty much talk yourself down a scary nonsensical rabbit hole. And besides, perhaps you should ask yourself why you feel the need to be so deeply invested in the concept...What does it matter?

2) The athletic body type: If you've read even just a few of the things I write around here, I assume you know where I'm going with this. Basically, an "athletic body type" is another made up concept and social construct that is designed to shame certain people and promote the thin ideal above all. The fact of the matter is that you can't look at someone's body and tell if they're an athlete--that's only evidence by their actual athletic performance.

Take Sarah Robles and Holly Mangold, for example. They don't have what most people would deem this "athletic body type."

[Image text: Sarah Robles and Holly Mangold, together smiling.]
But haha, suckers, because Robles and Mangold are as athletic as they come. They're Olympic caliber weightlifters and their performance at the elite level of this sport wouldn't be possible if they had the stereotypical "athletic body type."

[Image text: Sarah Robles and Holly Mangold lifting competitively.]

3) Success: The final mythical creature I'd like to discuss is success. So often, we reduce success to dollars in the bank, status, and items acquired. My husband recently shared a Bill Watterson comic with me that drove this point home. I particularly like the line, "As if a job and salary are the sole measure of human worth." There is so much more to human worth, isn't there? So why aren't we reflecting that in our socially constructed concept of success?

Think about conversations that include the words, "S/he's really successful." What does that commonly mean? That they have a lot of money, basically. If that is the full measure success, it's a sad and incomplete picture. I know that money is a necessity for most people, but we've GOT to expand our definition and image of success to include things like contributions to humanity, charity, finding happiness, conveying love, and living with authenticity and sincerity.

[Image text: Comic reads, "To invent your own life's meaning is not easy...but it's still allowed...and I think you'll be happier for the trouble. --Bill Watterson.]

So there you have it...the three mythical creatures that have plagued my mind recently. The biggest problem that I have is that in each case, these creatures have been created and promoted to shame and exclude someone else and to box people into narrow constructs. From a sexually active woman, to a man who lives for art not money, to a fat athlete, each of these concepts are applied in a way which erodes at the dignity of someone.

Mythical creatures are great in literature. They're not great when they're causing harm to another person. As always, let's be sure to pick our words wisely. That's the nice thing about social constructs...they can be changed.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion.

TL;DR Troll comments are never published, so don't waste your time.