Boys Will Be Girls – A Wry Examination of Gender Boxes

Clare Flanagan '14, Staff Writer

In today’s media-saturated world, it is impossible not to be exposed to the unspoken boundaries that define gender. Most of the time, these ideas are used to sell products or lifestyles; often, they can be harmful and confining for those who don’t entirely conform. But sometimes, whether in commercials, sketches, or skits, they are put to clever use.

Recently, a New York comedy outfit known as the Harvard Sailing Team (no affiliation with the university) posted a gender-bending YouTube video entitled “Boys Will Be Girls”, which was soon accompanied by the similarly unconventional “Girls Will Be Boys.” Both provide snapshots of men and women hanging out in separate groups – a seemingly normal practice. However, the behavior of the men was warped to resemble what society terms as “womanly”—they agonized about dieting, intrusively questioned their significant others, and became emotional and weepy. The tables were further turned as the women assumed the stereotypical gender roles of men, drinking beer, hooting at Bud Light commercials, and displaying emotional insensitivity as they complained about their girlfriends. Indeed, the effect was bizarre, for it’s not very often that men are pictured crying over their mother’s dead cat or proposing that they all split an ice cube for a snack. It was equally strange to witness women fantasizing about huge amounts of disgusting food (Epic Mealtime, anyone?) and complaining about their boyfriends’ “continuous stream of talking.” Needless to say, I found myself laughing pretty hard.

Then again, some would argue that there’s nothing funny about gender boxes. Too often in today’s world, people – especially children and teens – are ostracized for not complying with society’s expectations of how males and females should behave. It shouldn’t matter if a boy chooses to wear pink, or if a girl wears her hair short and enjoys football. Unfortunately, to many bullies, homophobes, and narrow-minded naysayers, it does. Because of this, some might conclude that the Harvard Sailing Team videos not only make light of but also reinforce these harmful stereotypes. However, the videos portray gender boxes in such a ridiculous and outlandish manner that they satirize rather than reaffirm. By making stereotypical gender roles so ridiculous, the Harvard Sailing team is poking fun at society’s constructs, perhaps in an effort to chip them away. And that makes their contribution to the dialogue on gender positive as well as hilarious.

I might have chuckled at the incongruous sight of men raving about “HunCal FroYo” or women belching and acting boorish. However, this was not out of disdain for women and men stepping out of their gender boxes. Instead, it was due to the videos’ hyperbolic portrayal of stereotypes, as well as their sharp and intelligent wit. By portraying gender-based typecasts as absurd and ludicrous, the sketches push us to question their role in society, even while making us laugh. Harmful expectations concerning gender are a serious reality in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be laughed at. After all, poking fun at a problem is often a key step in finding a solution.