Seeing as it’s National Women’s History Month I thought we might be short on douchebags this week. No chance. Beyond the heaps of reappropriation and cause-branding companies stamping International Women’s Day discounts on “goods” ranging from totebags to mail-order brides, senior d-bags up for declaration are the Network of Enlightened Women and their annual Gentlemen’s Showcase. Misguided by the Palins and Thatchers of the right wing’s anti-feminist past and present, NeW replaces the women showcased during National Women’s History Month with men!
Since their inception in 2004 at the University of Virginia, NeW have a total of 24 collegial, culturally conservative chapters at just as many US universities. With extracurricular interests ranging from repealing abortion rights, protesting against The Vagina Monologues/V-Day, and baking cookies, to holding debates on the validity of Women’s Studies programs, NeW are “ladylike” in a manner that supports strategic opposition to feminism.
Perhaps feeling generous in the spirit of NWHM you’d like to think coincidence played a role in NeW’s choice to praise men with an award ceremony for helping a woman lift furniture. Don’t. The “Gentlemen’s Showcase” (which I’ll now call GS, so I don’t throw up) just so happens to run the entire length of March—the precise 31-day span of NWHM.
Gazing at the faceless man on NeW’s promo poster you may ask rhetorically or otherwise: who are these gentlemen? Imagine a guy who is 99-times-out-of-100 white, opens doors for women (also known as people—the gents in the video will fill you in), buys a dozen red-roses (yawn) for his partner girlfriend, makes fun of gay men, pays attention to how he looks (rated #2 in one of NeW’s gent lists), pays for dinner and a movie (y-a-w-n), and “prides himself on good posture (even while fighting)“—do you know him? I do, I met him in high school and college, and he was a complete douche. More importantly, is a man who lends a woman his photocopy card on campus more deserving of praise than (your favorite Adventures in Feministory here)?
(Link to even douchier promo video on Facebook).
When a media outlet last week asked Lisa Potter whether or not chivalry had become extinct, she responded by saying:
“I did see that on a video where a girl said she’d never met a gentleman before, but I think if [you] don’t look for it, you don’t see it. If you yourself are in a positive place and open to seeing the good, you will see you’re surrounded by chivalry.”
These thin, straight, predominantly white, young women won’t let “radical feminists” squash chivalry any longer—rather NeW prefers to blame women (sadly including themselves and each other) for being treated without respect by men.
But what does NeW’s definition of respect mean? Traditional, heteronormative gender roles of course! In a blog post on the topic two days ago, Jessica Wakeman uses her own life to illustrate the point:
“[T]he ultimate problem I have with Gentlemen’s Showcase is the idea that there’s only one kind of respect women desire, which is a more conservative, anti-feminist definition of a man’s helpmate. But I want a guy who respects me enough to want for me what I want for myself, regardless of what that is. I personally am OK with being in a relationship with a dominant guy who is chivalrous and a gentleman and all that stuff. But if I wasn’t into that—if I was the dominant woman looking for a submissive guy, for instance—I would want to be respected for that choice.”
Granted, some of the men NeW are showcasing have behaved with helpful intentions (grumble, grumble), but giving these guys the entire month of March to bask in their door-opening award is downright disrespectful to women’s history. Let’s just hope that the women and men of NeW have a change of heart and decide to join up with a Women’s Center on their campus to take the spotlight off of men and onto women for National Women’s History Months to come.