Saturday, June 7, 2014

"There's Doctor Em," Steve Says, and the Giftie Holds a Looking Glass Up to My Face: More on Gender Roles and Construction of Masculinity

"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us / 
To see oursels as ithers see us!" Robbie Burns wrote. Here's the shiny, shaming looking glass the ever-active little giftie who skips tauntingly along the corridors of my own life decided to hold up in front of me today:

Steve and I go to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. As we wait for our bowls of bún thịt nướng to arrive at our table, Steve looks out the window and exclaims, "There's Doctor Em, Em, Em." I look. I see a man on crutches and a woman walking beside him.

Since Steve has said Doctor Em, I naturally zero in on the man on crutches, look closely and say that I haven't ever seen him and have no idea who Em is. To which Steve replies, "I meant the woman."

I had seen her through the window but not seen her, if you know what I mean, since, to repeat, Steve was talking about Doctor Em. He then recalls the woman doctor's name and tells me what it is.

Yesterday, as I trudged away on my treadmill, I watched an episode of Twilight Zone called "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" It dates from 1961 and was written by Rod Serling. You've seen it, no doubt. I realized only at the end that I had done so, probably several times.

The premise: a spaceship with a Martian lands, and the Martian invader goes to a nearby diner, where it becomes apparent to the people gathered in the diner during a snowstorm that one of them has to be the Martian, but no one has a clue how to figure out which particular person in the diner is the alien.

I'm not sure what caught my attention on the previous occasions on which I saw this hoary episode of Twilight Zone. Yesterday, here's what intrigued me: as the people sitting sipping coffee in the diner batted around the question of how to determine who was the Martian, it was the men who did the talking — initially, at least.

It was the men who did the explaining and the theorizing. The women sitting at tables around the diner, most of them attached to husbands, sat in meek silence like bumps on a log, making soft demurring sounds as their men explained things for and to them. 

One woman finally mustered the courage to speak. She had the right to do so, because she was a pretty blonde (Jean Willes) who, as it turned out, was a professional dancer. But as she entered the conversation, she repeatedly asked timid questions.

She never took the floor, never tried to explain anything. She asked, instead, to have things explained to her. 

Isn't it interesting to study these quaint old artifacts of a culture long since dispensed with, with their queer notions about things like who should do the explaining and who the listening, who has a right to hold the floor and who should sit in demurring, cooing silence? And don't you love how history holds a mirror up to our faces in which we can see how advanced we our blessed selves have become — in this case, in little more than a half century? 

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