The Canadian Writers' Collective

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where the Learning is

by Tricia Dower

Feminist professor and author, bell hooks—she doesn’t capitalize her name—says she studies popular culture because “it’s where the learning is.” The images we see and the words we read or hear in all media available to us have the power to shape our everyday thinking, to have impact on what hooks calls “the politics of difference.”

Last week I tuned into some of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts— the major Canadian women’s curling event. CBC’s coverage on the weekend was particularly educational if you’re a student of popular culture and particularly frustrating if you’re a feminist.

It opened with a comment about the depth of the talent in the women’s tournament and brief interviews with skips who were former junior women’s champs—Kelly Scott, Jennifer Jones, Marie France Larouche. So far so good, except the interviewer asked the women to talk about the men: why aren’t there as many former junior men’s champs on the men’s tour? Who gives a rip? (The inference, by the way, was that men’s curling is more competitive.)

Next: at one point in the semi-final game between Ontario and Alberta, Ontario’s skip Sherry Middaugh faced a tough shot. Commentator Mike Harris said, “She should be okay. She’s seen Wayne make lots of these.” (I’m getting steamed again just writing these words.) Sherry’s husband, Wayne Middaugh, skips a men’s team. Co-commentator Joan McCusker could have noted that Sherry’s faced plenty of tough shots of her own in the 30 years she’s been curling, but she didn’t. She was too busy gushing about how grateful the women are that their husbands are willing to take care of the kids while they curl. Mike added his two bits about one guy he knew who was home playing “Daddy Daycare.”

And then there were the M&M Meat Shop commercials. Cute, entertaining spots depicting a woman in her cubicle at the office realizing she’s running late – “gotta make dinner.” Rushing to leave, she gets into all sorts of predicaments: hair in the shredder, car keys and glasses sucked into a pneumatic tube, knit skirt caught on a drawer and unravelling. The last scene in each spot shows her delivering to the table a beautifully presented M&M purchased meal to her anxiously waiting two children and her apparently incapable-of-opening-even-a can-of-soup husband. Men should be just as insulted as women by those commercials. (Last year’s M&M campaign included a spot in which husband and sons hide in the attic whenever wife/mom calls them for dinner until she starts cooking good stuff from M&M.)

Throughout the broadcast, we were treated to previews of CBC shows “The Week the Women Went” and “The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives.”

I was considering hara-kiri until the Quaker Oats commercial featuring a man who chooses a healthy diet because of the people he loves. Wow! A man who feeds himself and puts his family first. Such men do exist (I live with one), but you rarely see them on TV.

So here I am harping on something I started harping on more than thirty years ago. If the CBC curling cast is an example of “where the learning is,” we learn that, in popular culture, women are still defined by their reproductive roles and their relationships to men. We learn that men’s curling is more “interesting” and that women “get” to curl only if they have supportive husbands. We learn that women are still responsible for family meals but also get to work in offices. (That’s a bit of “progress” from thirty years ago.)

Maybe this is reality for many women who watch TV and advertisers and commentators are simply holding up a mirror to their lives. Maybe there’s just no way out of what bell hooks calls our “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

Maybe I should just give it a rest. Thanks for listening.

Photo: Skip Jennifer Jones from Manitoba whose team won the 2008 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. She’s also a lawyer.


Blogger Anne said...

I don't think I'm going to comment on this, because it wouldn't cheer you up at all to hear my observations at this point in the sharing-parenting experience.

Thu Feb 28, 07:04:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger jsnider said...

I agree with Anne.

My husband was so bad at the 'sharing-parenting experience' that he is now my ex.

And why do some men feel they are doing their wives a favour by looking after their own children!?

I will never understand that!

The curling commentary and TV commercials are a sad example of some of our culture, but I refuse to take any of it personally.

I don't feed into it or act the way I am supposed to act (according to society that is), so I simply ignore it when I can and point out its flaws when I must.

I certainly don't teach my son to behave like the couch-potato men in the commercials!

Thu Feb 28, 12:22:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Because I don't want to appear to be slagging my husband (I'm not), I should say that my unspoken comments wouldn't be about him in particular.

Thu Feb 28, 01:10:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger jsnider said...

You're lucky.

Thu Feb 28, 01:30:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Glad you cleared that up, Anne. I was going to say that it didn't sound good.

J, I also find it disappointing that some men feel like they're doing their wives a favour looking after the kids. So glad you're raising your son differently.

We saw a wonderful Japanese film last week called "Twilight Samurai" about a man who resists attempts to find him another wife because he enjoys taking care of his two daughters. It's set in the 19th century, so he was definitely challenging what others thought his proper role was.

Thu Feb 28, 01:44:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger jsnider said...

I will definitely check out that film.

I tend to gravitate towards art that expresses the insights of the heart.

If you are interested in seeing a film that's been a huge inspiration to me as an artist and as a person I recommend Babette's Feast.

It is breathtaking in its simplicity and wisdom.

Thu Feb 28, 02:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

You are bang on. And we need to keep underlining it or we'll slip back to status quo. I think things got better in TV advertizing for awhile (you saw men washing dishes on commercials, etc...) but now they're worse than ever in their gender-rigidity. Women's work is still largely unpaid around the world and foisted on them.

The commentary on the curling is another matter altogether. It sounds appalling and insulting.

I'm glad I don't watch network TV. But maybe we should still complain or it won't change.

Thu Feb 28, 02:15:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I've seen "Babette's Feast," J, and agree it's a beautiful film.

Thanks for your support, Andrew. When some things don't change, you feel you should just shut up and stop annoying people who like the status quo, but sometimes it's impossible.

Thu Feb 28, 02:29:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I've been thinking about this post all day, Tricia. I know exactly what you mean - when I see this kind of stuff I almost feel guilty that my (married) life is not so "old fashioned". Are these messages meant to inspire some backward segment of society, perhaps? Women to take back their lives? Men to pitch in? The unattached to beware? Or maybe, simply, they are what they are - the reality some people face.

Thu Feb 28, 08:01:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Interesting, Jen. I don't think the ads are meant as social satire or to be inspirational in a "take back your power" way. I think they're meant to legitimize women's role as meal maker in order to sell product. Men don't have to participate because there's M&M. Women don't have to feel guilty about not whipping up a gourmet feast because there's M&M.

P.S. Glad you don't have an old-fashioned marriage. Don't feel the least bit guilty!

Thu Feb 28, 08:52:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Oh sorry, Tricia, I guess my comment wasn't vey clear, was it? I was refering to the responses from the curling talking about their supportive husbands. Cheers!

Thu Feb 28, 09:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jen. Since Joan McCusker was reporting on the curlers' "gratitude," we don't know what the women, themselves, actually said. I imagine there is a range of attitudes: some truly grateful, some sarcastically so.

Fri Feb 29, 12:39:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I miss watching curling. I never seem to notice feminist remarks when I'm watching sports/TV, but that's probably because I'm a dude.

Sat Mar 01, 03:50:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

We have to draw attention to these situations or nothing will change.

I may have slipped in the last twenty years by cooking for my family after a long day at work, but they also understand that if I don't feel like cooking, they're on their own. They do their own laundry and take turns doing the dishes.

Every few months, I treat myself to a weekend with the girls. We call it BNO, short for Bitches' Night Out. It was tough on the family at first, but they got used to it.

Thanks, Trish.

Sun Mar 02, 08:26:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey, dude, I watched curling again today and didn't hear any offensive comments. Bet you know how to rustle up your own grub.

Thanks, Chumplet. Glad to hear about the laundry. Talked to my daughter tonight who says her 13-year-old does his own laundry and can fix himself scrambled eggs and meatballs -- not together, I don't believe.

Sun Mar 02, 11:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

The politics of sports coverage is always fascinating. I only get CBC and if I shake the TV a bit, and angle the rabbit ears just so I get one or two other Canadian channels. I seem to recall a rather 'folksy' sort of approach to the curling coverage, including those silly M&M ads. I've not seen them during other times, so I suspect the advertisers presume a certain demographic during curling. When I was in university, I had a lot more rage about such things; I've wondered if I've become more complacent or if things have gotten better. Apparently, it's the former. But rage was just so exhausting. Is there an alternative, I wonder? I'm reminded now of the Edna St. Vincent-Millay quote I love:

I know.
But I do not approve.
And I am not resigned.

Mon Mar 03, 07:36:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Wonderful quote, Tamara, thanks. Yeah, most of the time I stifle the rage.

Mon Mar 03, 11:18:00 pm GMT-5  

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