Talk about old school. In skating rinks around the nation, saucy dames are getting together and strapping on old-fashioned quad roller skates to jam, block, and pummel each other. The roller derby revival is on. More than two dozen leagues operate across the country, with an average of 30 to 40 active skaters each (some leagues even boast as many as 60), and many more are in the works.
See that blonde weaving through the strip on Rollerblades?” writes Details magazine in a March 2005 article. “Please puff up her denim miniskirt just enough for us to drink in the full length of her long, bronze legs.”
No, this isn’t a fluff piece on the latest centerfold hottie. It’s Details’ self-proclaimed “extraordinary” article on professional golfer Mianne Bagger, whose biggest challenge this year was winning the right to step onto the green with other women. In her quest to find acceptance in professional competition, Bagger has overcome the resistance of both golf’s governing agencies and other female pros who worried that Bagger would have an inherent physiological advantage. That’s because, although Bagger has played golf since she was 8 years old, she only turned pro in 2003—10 years after what she calls “a transsexual past.”
In 2004, every corner of popular culture was populated by men in crisis, and I don’t just mean George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. We had men in trouble, men in triumph, men in uniform, men on the cross, men in squarepants; men being men with other men, talking about masculinity—what it is, how to have it, keep it, get it, make it last. We might even call it the Year of the Man, but the response to such a title could reasonably be, So what’s new? Isn’t every year the year of the man?
Two years ago, the preppy mall staple Abercrombie & Fitch released a line of t-shirts that paired early 1900s–style caricatures of Chinese men (complete with coolie hats, big grins, and slanted eyes) with slogans like “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White” and “Wok-N-Bowl—Let the Good Times Roll—Chinese Food & Bowling.” The clothing chain then professed great surprise when Asian-American activists cried foul; A&F’s pr flack Hampton Carney told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We personally thought Asians would love this t-shirt.... We are truly and deeply sorry we’ve offended people.” As a result of continued protests, the shirts were eventually pulled from stores (and quickly became hot commodities on Ebay).
“At least 19 victims, mostly men and children, were taken for treatment to the hospital in Kandahar.” “The Israeli missile...took the lives of at least 14 other people—including three men and nine children.” “Tens of thousands, including men, children and the elderly, were victims of chemical weapons attacks.”
These quotes from recent news articles may read a bit strangely, but they’re all accurate (from the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times, respectively), with only one change: Each story documented the number of female victims, not male. The gender swap clarifies one writer’s point: “It’s bad enough that innocent people died, but they were among society’s most vulnerable.”
When i was 8, my father organized a present for my sisters and me to give my mom for Mother’s Day: a pressure cooker, wrapped up with other fun kitchen items like tea towels, pop-up sponges, spatulas, and an apron. It seemed like a good idea—Mom was the one who was always in the kitchen, and this was the day to celebrate her. But the minute she opened her present, even I knew we had the wrong idea.
Oprah says it. My yoga instructor says it. College students around the country say it. The cast of Friends says it, as do my own friends, over and over again. At least 10 to 20 times a day, I hear someone say “you guys” to refer to groups or pairs that include and in some cases consist entirely of women.
Growing up, I learned a few things about Jewish girls from the copy of Truly Tasteless Jokes my brother kept in our bathroom. In addition to being frigid and cheap, I learned that we love Bloomingdale’s, dislike oral sex, and prefer circumcised penises—as the joke goes, we like everything better when it’s 20% off.
Last fall, at a reading for Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, a 50-ish audience member questioned the thirtysomething authors’ ever-so-casual usage of the word “ladies.” To this woman (who turned out to be tireless second-wave activist Laura X, creator of the Women’s History Research Center), the blithe use of “ladies” ran counter to everything she and her generation of feminists had fought for—and against.
But to the authors, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, and their peers, the lady words can spill forth with ironic glee.