Rethinking Gender Roles

Hillary Smith

What if gender roles were reversed?

Recently, I watched a French video in my French conversation group called “Oppressed Majority,” by Éléonore Pourriat. While I didn’t catch the majority of the dialogue (I’ve only had a little over a semester of French, and these actors speak very quickly!), I got the gist of what was going on: the roles of men and women were reversed. A man pushes his child in a stroller, drops the child off at daycare, gets bullied by a profane homeless woman while he’s waiting at an intersection, gets sexually assaulted in an alley by a mob of equally profane and gangster-type women, gets bullied again by a policewoman, and is accused by his wife of encouraging his assaulters with his risque dress. He wears a short-sleeved button-up with Bermuda shorts and flip-flops.

Later, I found the video in an article on Huffington Post. This one had English subtitles. When I watched it again and understood the dialogue, I was disturbed by how realistic the women’s lines were. The insults used by the assaulters, the policewoman’s accusatory comments, the way the wife turns the attention back on her and her job even when she finds her husband broken and injured: I found myself thinking, “This sounds exactly like what men often say to women.”

Now, I am well aware that there are a great many men out there who don’t say these things. But there are also a great many men out there who do. And the fact that these lines in the video jumped out at me as so realistic got me thinking: we have become so accustomed to these lines – to these gender roles – that we have allowed ourselves to fall into an illusion. The illusion that men and women are relatively equal in society. I had been aware of the pay gap for women in the professional world, but this video reminded me that we are unequal in so many more ways. Men get away with saying things to women that women would never get away with saying to them. Men get away with treating women as sexual objects, while women treating men in the same way is just something that is not as widely done.

I’m not arguing for an eye-for-an-eye system. I’m not saying that women should be able to treat men just as poorly as men are able to treat women. I’m just pointing out that we are not as equal as we perceive ourselves to be, and that we need to recognize this as a society in order to achieve a more equal balance between genders.