Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/17/2009

SWM’s: Why do they STILL want us to feel that way (after all these years of equality)?

Straight White Male

Living outside mainstream America has its advantages. Bipolar folks can legitimately ask, “Why is everyone so happy?” and, “Why did Jefferson change Locke’s phraseology from ‘property’ to the ‘pursuit of happiness.’” Epileptics can legitimately ask, “Are you sure what you’re killing yourself striving for is real?” And gay people can legitimately ask all kinds of embarrassing questions. We can ask these questions because the answers aren’t as obvious as one might think they are. 

Everyone (well, maybe not everyone) has seen the TV commercial in which a frustrated young woman is talking (on Skype or some other such device) to an obviously straight white male who knows everything about her boyfriend who is simply not cool. The boyfriend won’t hook up whatever the electronic device is that Straight White Male (he’s even wearing a white shirt and tie, I think—or maybe his persona is so clear in the ad that it seems he should be wearing a white shirt and tie) sells. The girlfriend is delighted to confide in Straight White Male, even though he is way above her socio-economic bracket. He is in a position of power over both her and her boyfriend. 

The boyfriend is not Obama (one of my students used that word to mean “cool” the other day—ugh! it’s better than being “clintonesque”). But Straight White Male is obviously the balls. 

When all is said and done (the All State Insurance good hands man and Justice Sotomayor notwithstanding), it’s the straight white males who have the answers. Ben Bernanke. Timothy Geithner. Vikram Pandit (how did he slip in thee?). Robert Gates. Rahm Emanuel. You know the crowd. It’s not clear how the real Obama slipped in there, which is why the “birthers” are able to keep stirring the shit—they just cannot believe that anyone besides a straight white male can run things—except perhaps the Sweater Girl who runs with the straight white male crowd. We have one anamoly. Except for the hiatus of Colin Powell (who is a straight male as far as we know), we have become comfortable with showing the world our motherly side with straight female Secretaries of State—beginning with Madelyn Albright in 1996, then Condoleezza Rice, and now Hillary Clinton. 

Here we are in an almost-recession, and Straight White Male is giving therapy on TV over and over again to the poor straight white female about how to make her boyfriend (almost certainly a straight white male) shape up and become Obama by hooking some electronic plaything up to the TV so she can play with it instead of with him. Why isn’t Straight White Male giving her advice on how to recoup her losses in the stock market (that would be a conflict of interest), or how to avoid the foreclosure that’s about to befall the boyfriend because he has too much credit card debt—hastened by his purchase of the electronic toy that, in order to be Obama, he needs to hook up to the TV—or even how to eat healthy food in the midst of the almost-depression? 

Of course, any of those sensible self-care options would foil Straight White Male. He couldn’t lord it over her. His  Droit de seigneur ** would be seriously compromised. Straight White Male is deflowering straight white female while her (weak but straight white) boyfriend is off somewhere—playing with the electronic box without hooking it up to the TV, that is, playing with himself. In any case, he’s the object of derision. He’s the cuckhold. Might as well have three french horns playing fanfares in the background (sorry if you don’t get the obscure musicological reference). 

Exactly how are those of us who are not straight white males supposed to feel about all of this? They want us to feel left out. 

To Play with Yourself

In the Renaissance play, Patient Grissil, the poor servant man Laureo eventually understands his place in the scheme of things: 

Pardon me my gracious Lord, for now I see,
That Scholars with weak eyes, pore on their books,
But want true souls to judge on Majesty:
None else but Kings can know the hearts of Kings,
Hence forth my pride shall fly with humbler wings.*** 

The Droit de seigneur is a fanciful idea about the class system in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But it is absolutely true in almost-recession America. Those of us who are not striaght white males are supposed to follow the orders of or succumb to the derision of  Straight White Males who call the shots. They order us to participate in the virtual world of play stations or whatever those things are that people spend so much money on and without which, according to Straight White Male, we cannot live. If any straight white male knows what’s good for him, he will listen to his girlfriend who has succumbed to the power of Straight White Male in the white shirt and tie and do whatever one needs to do to be Obama. 

That’s what lowly straight white males can do. 

What about the rest of us? Many gay white males are almost like Straight White Male. They have the same disposable income, and may even have the authoritative positions—and wear white shirts and ties. But you might well ask yourself if you have ever seen a commercial in which Gay White Male lords it over anyone, least of all a straight white female. Perhaps, in reality, gay white males are the fabulous socio-economic group Straight White Male is talking to, even though they are not powerful over straight white women. It’s all very complicated. 

What about Latino-Americans, and African Americans, and Asian-Americans, and Arab-Americans, and Filipino-Americans? Even if they are straight males, they can never play the part Straight White Male plays. Can you imagine a straight Filipino-American male lording it over a straight white female? You, of course, will stop reading here because I’m bringing up all those horrible old stereotypes of bygone eras. Everyone is equal these days. Then why isn’t it Straight White Female telling a straight white male how to make his girlfriend be Obama and hook things up correctly? Do you really think that would sell electronic boxes? Or, even more telling, why is the commercial happening at all? Why doesn’t straight white female herself simply hook the thing up to the thing and be done with it? 

Why do they want us to feel this way? If you are not a straight white male in a white shirt and tie, you need the help of Straight White Male to be truly Obama. And he will make you feel outcast (even like a cuckhold) if you don’t listen to him. 

Maternal America

I am definitely not Obama. Or cool. Or awesome. Or hip. In fact, I am so not any of those things that I can’t tell you what Straight White Male and his submissive straight white female friend and her (faceless straight white boyfriend off playing with himself) are selling. I don’t have a clue what it is that I need in order to be happy. Straight White Male is ultimately a failure at his own game. 

Perhaps I’ll keep taking my meds and see if that works to keep me, if not happy, at least stable.
** McDonald, Christie. “The anxiety of change: reconfiguring family relations in Beaumarchais’s trilogy.” Modern Language Quarterly 55.1 (1994): 47+.
“The many rights of seigneury included a quasi-feudal law that had become common practice: the right of the lord to deflower his vassal’s wife on her wedding night. In the Dictionnaire philosophique, this right appears under the heading droit de cuissage ou culage. None of the general dictionaries or treatises on the rights of seigneury from the period specifically refer to it. . . . Beaumarchais, however, prefers the generic euphemism, droit du seigneur, as a touchstone for criticizing privilege in general and the power of men over women in particular.”
*** Dekker, Thomas, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton. Patient Grissil, 1599.  Quoted in:        Rutter, Tom. “Patient Grissil and Jonsonian satire.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 48.2 (2008): 283+.


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