Wednesday, April 21, 2010

MADE: Gender Me

So today I was at the gym and while I was pumpin along on the elliptical, I was watching some trashy t.v. You know, how you do when you're on the elliptical. Those 20 minutes are basically my access to the guilty pleasure that is reality t.v. and I love it. So, today, I watched MADE, which I have heard of but never seen which sounds odd, I know, because apparently it has been on for like 10 seasons. The basic premise of MADE (if you've also been living under a rock with me) is that they take a kid and change them.

"An ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful prom queen. An overweight couch potato becomes a model. A sci-fi nerd morphs into a hardcore rapper. See, dreams really do come true -- on MADE! That's right, MADE is about making dreams come true."

The one good thing about this show is that it's not your typical makeover show. These kids ask to do this. They're friends/family aren't doing some sort of embarrassing and degrading intervention. Which is like, the worst.

So I had the pleasure of catching season 9 episode 3: Model Deanna and it blew my mind! So much so, that since I only do like 20 minutes on the elliptical, I came home, found the episode on the internet, and finished watching it.

So, meet Deanna, "shes a rough and tumble tomboy that knows nothing about being a girl." Her friends all say, "when I first met her, I thought she was a boy." She's the only girl to play on the football team and she is in an all girl punk band (with her one sister, who also always gets mistaken as a boy). All of her friends just keep referring to her as "one of the guys." Unfortunately, Deanna wants to get "girly" so that the guy she likes will date her. BTW the guy was also quoted as saying "dating her would be like dating a boy." So in walks Stacy, her model trainer, that helps her prepare for the school fashion show....and what follows is a 40 minute lesson on how to be a girl.

This is what I learned. Wear make up. Fix your eyebrows. Tan. Cut and dye your hair. Wear dresses. Wear high heels. Head up, shoulders back. Sit up straight. Tilt your head, bat your eyelashes, and don't forget to "keep your girls up." Ask him questions and don't talk too much about yourself. These are things you want to do, obviously, because men will then find you more desirable. Now listen, this part really wasn't the most shocking. I mean, it's kind of old news, right? The message: girls just shut up and look pretty... for dudes. And duh, this is totally fucked up and damaging and oppressive and insert second wave rhetoric here.

However, what I found most mind blowing was how desperate everyone was to put Deanna into the appropriate gender box. I can go on and on about beauty standards and how she only received compliments when she was wearing makeup, but this is like totally deeper then that. What people couldn't handle was that she didn't meet societies expectations of what it means to be a girl. No one ever complimented her on how totally kick ass it was that she was on THE FOOTBALL TEAM(!!!) or was totally rocking with her friends in her 3 piece punk band. It was just like, STOP: you're a girl, now put this on. Deanna talked about how it totally sucks having to wake up a half an hour early to put on makeup. There was even a point where she ran around convincing herself saying "I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm a girl." At one point Deanna is talking to her older and very feminine sister about the boy she likes. Her sister asks her what he's like, and she says that he likes sports. Her sister replies with a duh, "he's a boy." The whole episode is basically like a gender and sexual identity PSA with all the "because you're a girl" and because "he's a boy" shit.

Now granted, she chose to be on the show and have someone turn her into a "girl." But why? Well, because the world has done a good job convincing her that no boys will like her until she gets "girly." Through the episode, her confidence does start to build, but that's only because people finally start to recognize her because she's acting like a girl. I bet if she were nurtured more in her "tomboyish" ways, her confidence would have built as well. Oh, and in case you were wondering, she won the fashion show and started dating a boy (not the original boy she liked, but a different one). Whew, thank god. It all worked out and the notion of gender and beauty standards gets preserved and reinforced. The revolution will have to wait another day.

I wish I could sit down with Deanna and tell her that she doesn't have to buy what they're selling. She can be whatever kind of girl she wants to be. She doesn't have to be a girl at all. She can be whatever she wants. She can date whomever she wants and there will be people who will find her attractive no matter how she presents or chooses to identify or whatever! This episode aired two years ago and I wish they did a follow up on her (and her one sister) so I can see if she's comfortable in her own skin yet. I hope she is. Is anyone ever? That's my dream. MADE, can you make that come true?