Sometimes I hear people complain that the world is becoming “too PC.” These people are worried that their freedom to speak, uninhibited by respect for other people, is under attack. But as long as people like Tiffany Lew are writing columns like “Rise of the Girly Men” (Jan. 22), racism, sexism, homophobia and heteronormativity will have a place in the public media.
“Trend” columns like Lew’s are meant to be low on substance and high on humor. Lew certainly did write a piece without substance, but her attempts at humor, which target “girly men,” “metrosexuals” and people of Asian descent, not only fall flat but are also disturbingly prejudiced and misinformed.
“Rise of the Girly Men,” is a complaint about the decline of mainstream “masculinity.” Because of its blatant stereotyping, the column received a lot of negative attention and was quickly taken down from The Aggie website. Justin Louie Lock, representing Asian & Pacific-Islander Queers, wrote a condemnation of the column in Tuesday’s Aggie.
When a friend of mine brought the column to my attention, my first impulse upon reading it was to just point and laugh at Lew’s general cluelessness. Its insidious undertones, however, should not be ignored. I hope the outcry against it will serve as not only as a rallying point for supporters and allies of all marginalized people, but also an opportunity to educate those still in the dark.
In a time when LGBTQ rights are a high-profile issue in our country, Lew’s column vaguely posits that those who don’t conform to their gender roles are “an epidemic we’ve got to fix.” Lew may be an undergraduate newspaper columnist, but she sounds an awful lot like Pat Robertson equating queerness to some kind of perversion or social danger.
Additionally, Lew’s dismissal of people of Asian descent reflects the discrimination they face as this generation’s “model minority.” I discussed “Rise of the Girly Men” with Amber Yan, a friend of Asian descent who was particularly struck by Lew’s “Western Orientalism.”
“Asian culture, and specifically Chinese and Japanese, is notorious for being extremely patriarchal and generally male-dominated,” Yan said. “Any conscientious Asian-American can attest to that. To continue perpetuating the stereotype of effeminate Asian men (and submissive Asian women) is insensitive at best, offensive and degrading at worst. I mean, isn’t that kind of thinking a little late 19th/early 20th century imperialistic?”
Indeed. The real social danger here is what Lew’s mindset represents. That a column mocking people based on race and gender identity was written for a college newspaper, and that an Aggie editor thought it was worth publishing, speaks volumes about the prevalence of prejudice in a place even as progressive as Davis, Calif. This column reveals not only her prejudice, but also the ignorance that permitted it.
“Rise of the Girly Men” makes a lot of basic mistakes, like confusing sexual orientation with gender identity. According to Lew, if you’re a man who spends time on your appearance, you’re in danger of “ditching your manhood.” Masculinity, therefore, is reliant on following carefully proscribed gender roles, such as inattention to appearance and not indulging in “emotionally-intense conversations.” Women, it seems, are the only people ridiculous enough to spend time on grooming; men, it seems, are not allowed to have feelings, or to express them.
Lew does allow a loophole for gay men to be “girly.” Gay guys are “set with their sexuality. They know who they are and they’ve left no room for confusion,” Lew argues. Her implication that all gay men are “effeminate” is ridiculous (is she sure that she knows any real live gay people?), but what else is implied is that it is demeaning for males to behave like women. Men who identify as straight cannot be “girly” because this is a bad thing – although Lew doesn’t explain exactly why.
Lew also seems confused about another construct: race. Asian men, she says, are “statistically and genetically destined to be predisposed with more estrogen than any other race.” Citation not provided. Relying on old stereotypes – like that Asian men are asexual, or less “masculine” than men of other ethnicities – is much simpler than citing sources.
Despite the offensive nature of “Rise of the Girly Men,” I really do hope that people can channel their frustration into outreach and organization. These discriminatory misunderstandings about the queer and Asian communities can be changed thanks to the people who are fighting to make the world “too PC.”
HALEY DAVIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.