Trouble with the Gender Roles

I walked past an older lady while I was wearing my Wonder Woman t-shirt. She laughed and called after me saying, “Oh Wonder Woman, you look so different.” Pick another evening and I’m walking into a restaurant wearing the same shirt and an old woman looks at me in dismay and says, “That’s weird.” I’m not sure what that means. I do know what I look like and a large bearded man is typically not the prime candidate to be sporting any Wonder Woman memorabilia.

But seriously, Azzarello/Chiang's run of Wonder Woman is really good.

But seriously, Azzarello/Chiang’s run of Wonder Woman is really good.

A large part of my sense of humor for years has been my embrace of what would typically seen as feminine interests. It’s funny to say that I cry or that I’m rocking out to Beyonce or watching A Walk to Remember because I love Mandy Moore. It’s a bit of a schtick that I have become more and more aware of, purposefully creating these juxtapositions. Sure I like watching boxing, but I also have been dabbling with watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

The jokes are never meant to be rude or even that self-deprecating. I don’t look down on any of these things that are so commonly associate with women and I am very secure in the fact that I genuinely appreciate these things of their own merits. But it is beginning to dawn on me that the humor in these situations stems from a larger systematic problem. I shouldn’t have to be “secure in my masculinity” to like a story or show with a female lead. I shouldn’t have to be “secure in my masculinity” to enjoy pop music. Just because a woman creates an art, does not make it somehow lesser and novel for a man to enjoy these things.

But that’s where the humor is most of the time. Men who embrace female roles or feminine interests are sitcom fodder. I know this card and play it all the time. I joke about how I openly wept during “The Fault in Our Stars” along with the theater full of 15 year old girls. I laugh about knowing all the words to “Hips Don’t Lie.” But if I were to try to explain why that should be funny to anyone, the only answer is “because that sort of thing is for girls and I’m a man.” And quite frankly there’s nothing funny about that line of thinking.

There love was so pure. #uglycryface

There love was so pure. #uglycryface

When I was listening to N’SYNC and Backstreet Boys when I was younger, I was not thinking “this is for girls.” When I became obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was eight, I never thought “this is for girls.” But when I retell these sorts of things, there is always a hint of that. A little bit of “haha Chase likes a girl thing.” Even though I continue to embrace female artists and athletes and characters, I feel like there’s this weird undertone to it.

Whenever I talk about the WNBA it almost sounds like a brag. Like I’m trying to buy some sort of feminist bonus points. Like “Look at me, I respect female athletes, aren’t I progressive?” But that’s a large problem that I see with male feminists. We have no sense of subtlety. Its like we’re waving this big banner that says “I respect women, aren’t I cool?!” One of the biggest things that bothers me is the guy that’s like “I’m a feminist and I’ll beat you up, ’cause I’m still a man.” But I tend to do a very similar thing, but with humor: “I love Taylor Swift, but it’s funny because I’m a guy.”

There’s little contradictions all the time in my line of thinking. I talk about wanting to be a stay-at-home dad, marrying a powerful lawyer or athlete and doing the dishes at home while I work on my novel, and yet I still refuse to let a woman pick up the tab. That somehow that makes me a freeloader. It’s a weird way of thinking. To actively try to subvert the gender role in thought, but still my actions are engrained in the traditional.

Maybe Elena Delle Donne's type is fat 22 year old's with a receding hairline.

Maybe Elena Delle Donne’s type is fat 22 year old’s with a receding hairline.

It’s hard to undo this systematic wedge driven into our society. Even the best of intentions ultimately fail in the execution. I’m not saying that it’s bad to laugh, but when I examined why I thought some of the things I say or do are funny, it felt a little problematic. I’m going to continue to read Wonder Woman and watch the Minnesota Lynx. Buffy Summers will always be my hero and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” will continue to get me through rough days. But there is a necessity to remain vigilant. To make sure that what I’m doing is really going towards helping the women I admire and giving girls a platform to stand on in the future.

I scolded a friend of mine because he was joking with his son that women are bad drivers. I said, “You can’t teach him that kind of shit.” There was no harm meant on any side, but jokes are a powerful tool even when we aren’t conscious of what we’re saying. It’s a process and I intend on revisiting mine as often as I can.

Dancing Like A Graceful Little Bowling Ball

Ever since I saw Shakira’s music video for “Did It Again,” I’ve always wanted to learn to dance. Over the years I’d watch my friends who danced with a mix of envy and deep admiration. I’d watch endless clips of So You Think You Can Dance on YouTube, I’d write poems and plays devoted to dancers whom inspired me. I’d turn off all the lights at night, lock the doors and dance to Justin Timberlake like a madman, sweat dripping, limbs flailing awkwardly around. But I never pursued it in any way until the final quarter of my senior year of college when I signed up for Intro to Ballet.

Pictured: Chase's inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

Pictured: Chase’s inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

The problem was that I look like I am more suited to be giving guys concussions on a football field than to performing a skilled arabesque. Anyone I told that I was about to take a ballet class laughed in my face and immediately demanded to watch me attempt this. My mom questioned hard and long if this was the best use of my tuition. I even doubted they made tights large enough for my neanderthal-like body. But I remained undeterred. I was going to be a ballerina damnit and I was going to be graceful.

I’m not sure I was very successful on either front, but I definitely tried. Every Monday and Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. I made my trek across town from my dorm room to my class; my tights worn under my sweatpants. I definitely looked out of place in class. One of just two males, I was this large, hairy obelisk in a sea of dainty little dancers.

It took me some time to find my footing in both senses of the word. For years, I had struggled to merely touch my toes and now my legs were twisting and contorting and stretching into positions that I was certain would send me to the hospital. With every attempted plie in fifth position, I feared popping femurs, dislocating my hips and all around looking quite silly in front of all the pretty girls.

No. My legs don't work like that.

No. My legs don’t work like that.

They really don’t prepare you for just how physically demanding dancing is. Every time I watched someone dance on TV it looks so effortless and carefree. Their happy stupid smiles deceiving me into thinking that, “Sure, I can do that! I got winded walking up the steps this morning but I can totally do all those leapy-turny things.” But I guess that’s why it’s an art-form. Because it’s a lie.

I was always three steps behind everyone else. My feet dragged too long, my legs fatigued after mere moments in the air. Each swing of my leg nearly resulted in an innocent woman being punted across the room. I was a sweaty, uncoordinated, near-asthmatic mess and that was just the warm ups.

Rhythm always seemed to escape me. My friend Colin tried to teach me guitar a few times and he would have to keep reminding me that I was trying to play a song. I would simply just strum to notes like a stiff, mechanical baby. More focused on putting my fingers in the right places than having any sort of fun. I was the same way when it came to learning steps to a dance, except my professor didn’t go slow enough for me to even know the steps, lotless try to get them right.

"Look mom! I'm a real boy!"

“Look mom! I’m a real boy!”

I’d sway clumsily around the room, trying my best to follow those around me but looking more like I was on satellite delay. Always a step behind, always looking awkward and scared. There was a window that looked out at the hotel next door. Sometimes people would look up, expecting to see some beautiful ballerinas in their element, but instead they saw my Butterballing ass flopping around like a drunk toddler who is both mad and deeply sorry.

But in all this mess, I still managed to stay relatively optimistic. I’d oscillate between excited eager beaver, ready to jump into each new exercise and the deeply regretful realist who knew it was probably better to hide in the corner.

I struggled to find my identity in that class. Sometimes I was the overly self-aware guy, making self-deprecating comments about how ridiculous I looked when I tried to do those fancy ballet jumps. Sometimes I was the astute professional, focused, smiling and diligently trying to perfect my craft. Most times I was just the person crying at the barre when the professor would start yelling at people.

One time I tried to be the super enthusiastic guy. When it was time to work, I slapped the ground and jumped around, hooting and hollering like Ray Lewis on game day. Trying to amp everyone up, but realizing that ballet requires a very different style of hype than a Super Bowl. I never tried to get anyone amped in class again.

"Let's work on them sashays, mofos!"

“Let’s work on them sashays, mofos!”

But the most important thing was that I tried. Consistently and without fail. I didn’t complain, at loud anyway, when I felt like I was dying or when I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t let the crushing weight of my own awkwardness drive me out of class. When I stumbled in my exams, I quickly gathered myself and moved right along, my trademark apologies withheld. I know my professor respected me for it.

It wasn’t always a pretty sight and no I am not considering a career change, but it was a good way to spend my last ten weeks. With the steady ticking of that Doomsday Clock called adulthood driving me insane towards my impending graduation, it was nice to step aside from stacking mound of rejected job applications and do something fun. To do something I’d always wanted to do. It was a good reminder that even in the real world of bills and responsibilities, there is still some room to pursue dreams and take risks.

Sometimes you’ve got to be cool with looking a little silly to do the things you want. An awkward story is always better than no story at all.