Categorization of women hinders expression

Kallen Dimitroff

People are naturally prone to making judgments and categorizations. It is the way we make sense of the world. As children, we put cubes in the square-shaped holes and spheres in the circular holes. Making judgements about what things should be like and where they should go is a fundamental part of human nature. 

Unfortunately, as we grow we begin to make judgements about more than simple blocks. We begin to judge people. We do this to make sense of their actions and behaviors. We then define ourselves in comparison to our judgements of others. 

In the case of women, we make detrimental judgements. Women in all levels of society are grouped into comfortable categories. The loving mother, the bitchy politician, the ditzy valley girl or the butch athlete. The list of generalizations goes on. However, unlike the geometric blocks, women should not be so easily grouped. Their routine categorization is demeaning not only to individual women but to the way society perceives women.  

Some may argue that there is no issue with putting women into simple groups, or that they’re not placed into any categories at all. However, the way women are portrayed by popular media, the routined belittlement of their work and my own personal experiences lead me to believe that this categorization is not only happening, but is severely detrimental to women and their ability to express themselves.

In the case of popular media, the categorization is both evident and destructive. Television, movies and advertisements often display the “ideal woman.” She is beautiful, she is young and she is definitely not fat. On the most superficial level we are shown an ideal of what a woman should be. If a woman is not these things, she is not meeting the standard of popular media and is thereby of less worth than other women. This standard category of “pretty”  deprives many women of a feeling of value or comfort in their own differences. 

In additional to superficial displays of what women should be, society routinely belittles women in their ventures. For example, last year I can recall an article describing the evolution of Tina Fey’s hair styles. As Tina Fey routinely makes headlines for Emmy nominations and awards such as the Mark Twain Award for humor, people find her transcending the typical view of women and humor. Since women are not generally viewed as funny, people must focus on something that places Tina Fey in a category that they are comfortable with. By discussing her hair style rather her talent for comedic writing and performance, Tina’s work is devalued, and her typical “womanly” features are examined instead. 

In my own experience I have found that I do not fit into the easily made categories that should apply to me. Because of this, I find that I am devalued in both of the “categories” I split time with.  Personally my conflicting categories are “sorority girl” and “politically engaged”. As a member of a Panhellenic sorority I have found people that don’t know me automatically assume that I don’t care about issues regarding student life on campus. I remember speaking at a Liberal Arts Council meeting once and afterward being approached by someone (not a member of Liberal Arts Council) who exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t expect you to know so much; I thought you were in a sorority.” Conversely, I recall an instance in which I was told by a Greek student after a conference that they didn’t understand my outfit choice because “women just don’t look natural in suits.” Both groups’ — Greek life and Legislative Student Organization life — inability to fit me perfectly within their confines causes me difficulty in expressing myself. Often I am dismissed as the “sorority girl” trying to vocalize an “obviously uneducated position” or as the “overly political girl” trying to “play Elle Woods”. 

It is obvious that women are categorized. It is additionally obvious that these categorizations undermine woman and their ability to express themselves. Many women are not represented by the categories of women deemed acceptable by popular media because of their appearance, women’s work is devalued by people attempting to place them into more comfortable categories and some women’s inability to placed into obvious molds causes rejection from any mold. Therefore, I ask you to consider which categories you place women in and to make a conscious effort to see them as more than shapes to be fit into holes. 

Dimitroff is a government and history junior from Houston.