September 20, 2018 | ° F

PETRUCCI: Discussion on gender requires open mind


Opinions Column: The Annoying Vegan Millennial


I received an invitation to appear on the Tucker Carlson Tonight show to discuss a piece I wrote, which analyzed the correlation between toxic masculinity, gun culture and mass shootings. The Tucker Carlson Tonight show is a Fox News program which brings you a fast-paced live hour of spirited debate, as (Tucker Carlson) holds those in power to account. Taking no prisoners and calling out the status quo in his signature style, Tucker takes you to every corner of America to cover the issues you care about,” according to the Fox News website.

If journalism were a roller coaster, this show would be journalism’s Space Mountain: fast, nauseating, owned by the Walt Disney Company and serving as an idea echo-chamber, which provides riders with the illusion of movement and progress while strapped to a seat and safely returned to the place they began, completely unmoved and unchallenged.

Upon reception of the invitation, I pondered two questions.

Firstly, the piece deals in the concept of patriarchy.

According to Gerda Lerner, patriarchy is “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general. It implies that men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to such power.” Could I address the system of patriarchy, which serves as the cornerstone to government, business and nearly every facet of modern life in just a few minutes of “fast-paced”, “spirited debate”? 

“Because patriarchy and masculinity are the foundation which modern society is grounded in, a few minutes on television is not sufficient enough time to address the pervasiveness of the issue,” I responded to the invitation.

The Fox News empire bares the stain of patriarchal leadership. While many refer to the incidents of sexual harassment from former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as the result of patriarchy, 21st Century Fox chairman, Rupert Murdoch, believes the allegations are “largely political.” 

The most controversial part of the piece was not that men constitute the far majority of mass shooters or that society socializes men to be violent, but rather that gender itself is a social construct. 

I employ the University of Iowa's Audrey Ruth Omar’s definition of gender: “... gender is a complicated social construct. It is simultaneously a way to act, a power structure, a set of social pressures, an identity and more. Gender is created and recreated through interaction, but it also constrains behavior.”

Therefore, “masculinity” is the set of “social pressures,” which mold or “constrain” the ways in which men behave. This idea does not sit well with Carlson, Fox News and, most importantly, their audience. 

Since its creation by Republican Party “operative” Ailes, Fox News has consistently hired conservative commentators and Republican figureheads to host its daily news programs. According to a 2017 study in the American Economic Review, the majority of Fox News viewers remain Republicans. 

Media bias is demand-driven, which means that outlets will take the political stance of their viewership, according to a 2010 scholarly report in Econometrica. Therefore, a conservative news outlet will reflect the ideology of its conservative viewership. 

So, how do conservatives feel about gender as a social construct? 

The words of the archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone in response to Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement that she is a transgender woman, sums up some conservative sentiments pretty well: “The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female.” 

This brings me to my second question: If we cannot agree that gender is a social construction that shapes the ways in which males and females behave, can we ever have a meaningful conversation about the ways in which gun culture correlates with this very construction? 

It is similar to the picture of "the dress" that went viral in 2015, which divided the country on whether a dress was white and gold or a blue and black. If we cannot agree on what the colors black, blue, white and gold look like, how can we discern the color of the stupid dress? If we cannot agree that gender is a construct, how can we debate the nuances of the construct — like how it implicates violence and gun culture? 

“I would love to engage in an off-camera discussion with Tucker if he is willing to discuss these ideas in-depth,” I concluded in my response. 

Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science and minoring in Spanish. Her column, "The Annoying Vegan Millennial," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 

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Francesca Petrucci

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