Column | Dec. 3

The pursuit of frivolity

After Thanksgiving dinner, I lay on a couch in a family friend’s house, sated and sleepy. Whoever was controlling the remote to the television was graciously interspersing the long stretches of football with periodic spurts of “Modern Family,” to appease those of us who were less touchdown-savvy. A commercial came on, starring the well-coiffed members of One Direction. I assume they were trying to sell the perfume they were holding in bottles, but I can’t be positive because just as they came on the screen, a gaggle of prepubescent girls congregated by the sofas started squealing.

That’s when the eyes started rolling.

“They’re just a band, girls. Relax.”

“You girls get so worked up about something so frivolous.”

What struck me as interesting was that not 30 minutes ago, similar noises were coming from the crowd, but no one was making comments. Sure, the yelling was octaves lower, perhaps more guttural. Sure, they were men, and they were yelling about football. But surely the same strain of logic — they’re just a sports team, boys, relax — could apply here just as easily.

It happens all the time. In yet another striking episode of Why We Still Need Feminism, it’s been a very common and rarely talked about phenomenon that women’s and girls’ interests are often derided as frivolous, when something of equal significance in a stereotypically male context would be seen as fine.

The screaming girls who pack the stadiums of boy band concerts are made fun of. The screaming men that gather around their television sets every for Super Bowl Sunday are given special commercials and deals on pizza and wings.

The comparison doesn’t end with just football and One Direction. One of the most female-dominated industries today is fashion — fashion magazines, fashion labels, models, makeup. Coincidentally, it’s also the industry that receives the most flak for being irrelevant to the layperson’s society. People scoff at the idea that skinny jeans can be “in” and pleats can be “out.” People scoff at fashion magazines that list the season’s must-have lipsticks, or splurge-worthy blazers, or designer stilettos. The whole field is viewed more often than not as extraneous — fluffy and inconsequential.

If we’re using sports as a stereotypically male-dominated industry, it’s pretty easy to draw the same parallels. What does it really matter who wins the World Series? How is a national obsession with people wrestling over an elliptical ball any less shallow than a features piece on the right blouse length for your body type?

Furthermore, attempts at integration are, for the most part, one-sided. Girls are encouraged to try out sports at young ages. Boys are never encouraged to explore their sartorial interests. It’s true that athletics are something that’s easy to translate between the two sexes, but don’t we all wear clothing? It wouldn’t be particularly hard to get boys interested in the color of the shoes that they have to wear everyday, but doing so would be feminizing, and in today’s society, feminizing is the ultimate punishment.

On top of this, frivolity isn’t just something used to describe any interest that caters predominantly to women. It’s also something that’s imposed upon women as if it’s the only thing they would be comfortable talking about. Actresses in interviews are consistently asked more “vapid” questions — questions about weight and diet regimens — than are men, who are asked about character and character development, challenging scenes, problems encountered as a serious artist. Earlier in the year, Scarlett Johansson called out an interviewer — who asked her about getting in shape to be the Black Widow in “The Avengers” while her co-star Robert Downey Jr. got a question about the progression of his character’s maturity — for giving her a “rabbit food” question while Downey Jr. got something “really interesting [and] existential.”

The herding of women into a category involving frivolity is a societal problem. It’s not something men exclusively impose on women. Women are equally guilty of dismissing female interests as inconsequential. However, equality in causing the problem doesn’t result in an equal bearing of the problem — women are left to deal with it, not men. Acknowledging the fact that this problem exists can only help.

Shruthi Deivasigamani is a sophomore from Cresskill, N.J. She can be reached at shruthid@princeton.edu.

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