American culture likes to situate things in opposition to one another. Yes or no, on or off, open or closed, day or night, black or white, man or woman. This just makes sense to us, it’s not complicated. But what about the times between day and night, or the grey area in between black and white? While our society chooses to focus on variations within “common” places of opposition, American culture has continued to ignore particular human variations that exist between men and women, while highlighting on the variations that provide evidence to emphasize opposition between them.

We all have been exposed to it. “Man, quit being a little bitch…” or “Stop being such a pussy…” could commonly be heard while walking past a group of college guys perhaps listening to one of their fellow friends talk about his “woman issues.” But why does it bother us so much when a man lets his guard down? Why can’t men be emotional about another woman? This is because it is thought of as feminine. Some become uncomfortable when we are faced in a situation when a man doesn’t act masculine, or a woman doesn’t act feminine. But why? Why does our culture have exceptional gender expectations for all of the exceptional gender expressions? Whether we are asking these questions or not, the strict binary system that gender lives within is so ingrained within us, further explanations for why we are so uncomfortable with it need to be explored. I will highlight an example of this strict binary gender system functioning within pop culture, while continuously referring to Julia Serano’s “Intrinsic Inclinations: Explaining Gender and Sexual Diversity,” to further my point.

It’s about time that this has been brought up, and I’m glad to be the one to do it. The Jersey Shore. Whew, what a show. The level or trashiness  positively correlates with the level of addiction you have to watching it, and it is just so difficult to escape it despite how badly you want to. But The Jersey Shore isn’t completely useless. Several of the cast members can be easily be situated and potentially problematic within the binary gender system in our society. Ronnie, for example, is potentially problematic within this system because of the ways in which his gender is evaluated and expressed through his emotions. Despite the fact that big and buff Ronnie looks like he could punch a hole through your head, he continuously displays his “softer” and “more emotional” side when it comes to his love/hate relationship with Sammi…he tends to cry more then she does.  Ronnie is so (disgustingly)  exaggerated with his expected gender appearance that we stigmatize him even more so for his expression of his emotions. What we see through Ronnie’s actions, translate to us as unmatching of his looks: we except the complete opposite. Serano says, “This idea of “opposites” creates expectations for femaleness/femininity and maleness/masculinity that all people are encouraged to meet, and simultaneously delegitimizes all behaviors that do not fit these ideals” (Serano 103).

We expect this from Ronnie.

But we sometimes get this.

And boy, could he not get more shit for it. Not only is he hysterically crying in front of millions of people on national television, but he is crying in front of his closet guy friends. The people you expect to be the most understanding, are really the one’s who just give you the most shit. Notice in the video clip how Pauly-D says, “Ronnie has got big muscles or whatever but big muscles doesn’t mean you can fight…you gotta know how to punch” and he also says “…because he was sick of dealing with the Ron and Sam bullshit.” Pauly- D is definitely giving Ronnie shit for not being masculine.

Serano says, “Sometimes these exceptional behaviors are further dismissed as illegitimate and unnatural through the use of gender-specific insults (e.g., an aggressive woman might be called a “bitch”;an emotional man might be called a “wimp” or a “sissy””(Serano 104). Because we expect Ronnie to behave in a strictly masculine way, when this expectation is not met, he is berated. This is to ensure he knows, “Hey hey hey! You can’t do that! You can’t cry and become too emotionally involved in a relationship! That’s girl stuff.” Ronnie is a prime example of human variation because culturally, his emotional expression of gender is opposite from his expected expression of gender, allowing him to become an exceptional gender expression within the binary gender system.

Serano acknowledges that as a culture we polarize men and women and exaggerate our differences, and she says “…we regularly buy into this way of thinking despite the fact that we all encounter countless exceptions that prove these assumptions incorrect: women who are aggressive, tough, practical, and/or big, and men who are passive, weak, emotional, and/or small” (Serano 103). As a female, have I ever felt aggressive? Definintely. Have I ever once felt practical? Hmm, obviously yes. As a culture, we need to stop placing such strict expectations onto individuals expressions of gender. It’s known that we’re all vulnerable to a wide range of emotions. We all have those days; no matter if you are a man, woman, or anything in between.

Once our society can accept this, maybe Ronnie can cry with a little less shame, but only a little.

– Sophie Reynolds