Note: This post is part of a bi-weekly series called Meme Monday. Every other Monday I’ll post a meme I feel is oversimplified or perpetuates injustice. I will then show how the meme’s argument/theme may be more complex, unjust or incomplete.
Memes have a way of being short and sweet, and seem to demand the final word in a conversation or argument. I hope to challenge that in this series, and promote education and dialogue by analyzing what I believe to be haphazard memes. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!
Meme of the Week:
Okay, I hope it’s evident just how radically this meme oversimplifies the outcomes of the presidential election, so I will not press the fact that there are about 100 other issues that separate these candidates; issues that could drastically change more than who you pee beside in Target.
So that obvious point aside, I want to focus on the use of the female body and the implication of accepting the gender roles implied in this meme.
According to the implications of this meme, an America that is “Great Again,” and at its best embodies beautiful women, proper gender roles, and respect toward the U.S American flag.
Marketing matters, therefore it’s no coincidence the face of Trump’s return to a Great America is a skinny, socially beautiful, white woman who is practically personifying the American flag. After all, sex sells, and the beauty and body of this white woman is meant to sell the idea of “correct” patriotism.
Though we don’t truly know the gender identity of the person on the left, this image is meant in part, to speak to what it is to be woman; smiling, sacrificing, open and beautiful. The image on the left embodies the historic reality of women’s bodies becoming objects of idol worship, while also being used as men search for power.
Many people believe the U.S flag stands for freedom and sacrifice, and yet putting it on the body of a gender who has known oppression and sacrifice at the hands of war and empire is missing a vital connection in the history of empire and the female body. It misses the fact that women and children are often the ones who suffer most at the hands of war, wars the U.S flag in part, is meant to commemorate and take pride in.
Since men are often portrayed as polar opposites of women, this meme is also commenting on and limiting what it means to be man. The implication here is that a true man is bravely patriotic; admiring and fighting for both the flag and the woman wearing it. A true man shows respect for country and the flag (an argument found in the recent outcry against Colin Kaepernick and his protest during the national anthem).
Turning our attention to the individual on the right, we first need to be honest, the maker of this meme chose the person on the right because of the ambiguity of their gender identity. We don’t know if this person identifies as transgender, gender fluid, queer or are just taking what they believe to be a funny picture.
What we do know is this meme is telling us what being man looks like and doesn’t look like. And let’s be clear, the person on the right is suppose to be seen as a threat to women in public restrooms, largely because he is perceived as male. If to be woman is to be small, beautiful, white and patriotic, then to be man is to be strong, protective and yet unable to help oneself from assaulting women in public restrooms.
Just as the perceived woman on the left cannot separate herself from her gender and the sexualization of her body, the person on the right cannot separate themselves as being perceived as male and everything a male is “suppose” to be. And because this individual does not conform to what that ideal male is, they are then perceived as dangerous, and their gender identity is perceived as a threat to: the “natural order,” American society, and women like the white, beautiful woman on the left.
It is one of the most played out arguments blocking transgender rights to use restrooms of their choice; “men will dress as women to assault women in restrooms.” This argument lacks substantial evidence such assault is occurring, but also conveniently forgets that more women are assaulted by fathers, uncles and other male family members, than by strangers in public restrooms. This law is not about the safety of women, but rather is using the bodies of women as an excuse to block rights to those who break traditional gender roles of woman and man.
This meme implies gender is strictly biological. However, I contest sex may often be biological (though not always as there are inter-sex individuals), but gender/gender identity is a social construct reinforced by social norms that begin as early as the blowing up of the blue or pink balloons that adorn baby showers.
This meme is meant to perpetuate the fear of non-gender conforming individuals, while simultaneously defining what male and female is and is not.
It uses women’s bodies to perpetuate the idea that women need saving and Trump, an older white male can save them. Trump is the one who can bring order to the chaotic world this meme implies is right around the corner.
Lastly, before we paint Trump as someone who will put a steady foot down on bathroom laws and other LGBTQI rights, let’s remember he continues to flip flop on this subject. In fact Trump has stated that states should have the power to make their own bathroom laws. Therefore even with Trump as President, more than half of America may still end up looking like the picture on the right. And I, as a woman, am okay with that.
Because who the heck cares? In a country we brag as being the “land of the free,” are we really going to restrict people’s fashion choices? Restrict the way they express their gender identity and their personhood? We have a history in this nation, of boxing people, genders, races and classes into categories that further divide and pit them against each other, and this meme continues that trend. Let’s break it.
Let’s stop using the bodies of women, namely white women, as a tool to oppress, and limit the expression of gender identity, and the masculine “duty.”
Thanks for reading! In case you missed last week’s meme on immigration you can check it out here!