Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's Greek for Sexism? (Greek)

I’m a fan of the TV show Greek. It’s a fun little dramady that has been compared with Boy Meets World (my favorite sitcom in the world), and it has the added element of being gay-friendly. However, I recently found myself offended from the episode “Engendered Species”, which contains a section of dialog I find sexist in a women-against-men direction.

The relevant part of the story involves Casey taking a Women’s Studies class along with her ex-boyfriend Cappie, who claims he wants to broaden his horizons (there is also a running joke about his being unable to stay in one major for very long, resulting in him having scattered knowledge of various subjects). Cappie does surprisingly well (though he’s careful to throw out the odd sexist comment to keep from losing his reputation) and Casey hangs out a bit more with him than she usually would, which causes friction between Cappie and her current boyfriend Max. In an attempt to get them to resolve their conflict, Casey employs tactics from the female politicians taught about in class.

The effort backfires, and she seeks help from the Women’s Studies professor directly. Although annoyed that her lessons on serious issues are being used for petty social reasons, the professor gives Casey her advice. Her advice consists of informing her that women are biologically programmed to seek out harmony, while men are programmed to be egocentric. Casey interjects that she doesn’t think of Cappie and Max as egocentric, but her professor says that it’s not personality, it’s DNA. Casey takes the advice and uses it. It doesn’t exactly go her way, but at least Cappie and Max aren’t at each others’ throats.

The whole concept of the sexes being biologically programmed to fulfill good or bad roles is unbelievably sexist, and it’s worse that the show basically endorses it. When men make such claims about women, it’s usually recognized as sexism. When sexist claims are used in this context, that of female empowerment, the sexism is much more insidious.

Truly progressive feminist philosophy is about gender equality, not misandry. While there are radical feminist groups that do hold that women are inherently better than men, that can’t have been the ideal Greek was going for. Greek has overall had a much more progressive outlook, with all the characters being portrayed equally and generally positively. Even religious zealot Dale is portrayed as pretty much a nice guy who learns to be tolerant of his friends with opposing viewpoints, who are likewise tolerant of him.

Another problem with the ideology holding that males are inherently flawed because of the DNA is that it sort of excuses any bad behavior. A guy does something rude and obnoxious? Not his fault – it’s in his DNA.

In my opinion, it kind of makes it so that the whole theme of female empowerment is lessened. If males are inherently egocentric, then it seems like the females just need to be tolerant or something. It takes away the responsibility of the guys to maintain civility and harmony – something that shouldn’t be restricted to females because of some perceived genetic characteristic.

This is not to say that there are not any real differences in how males and females generally behave. There are some troublesome guy trends throughout society. However, while there are some general biologically based characteristics that separate the sexes, I would say that social conditioning plays a far greater role than DNA does.

Why not, instead of blaming everything on some sexist genetic standard, suggest that the reason Cappie and Max have trouble getting along is because of roles dictated to them by society (or ‘patriarchy’ as feminists generally use)? If they were not hit with certain cultural ideologies of what men in their respective positions are supposed to be like, then they would probably be getting along better. That’s the sort of angle the professor should have taken in my perspective. Casey could still have promoted harmony, but not because as a woman she is genetically superior. Chances are the outcome still would have been pretty much the same.

In conclusion, while Greek has overall been a good show, I find this recent bit of dialog to be sexist and offensive as a result. I believe it displays ignorance the creators have for the issues of sexism and serves to perpetuate it. Misandry is not the answer to misogyny; it only changes the problem.

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