In recent weeks I have become mildly obsessed with @manwhoasitall on Twitter, billed as "a frazzled working dad with a wife and three kids. He spends his 'me time' on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, giving other busy dads supportive lifestyle advice and sanity-saving tips." Many have called @manwhoasitall a parody account, but the reality is that @manwhoasitall rests somewhere between parody and political activism. It is not a one-off joke that easily exhausts itself, nor is @manwhoasitall an occasion for comic relief. If anything @manwhoasitall is a cross between virtual performance art and political activism as the Twitter feed underscores the societal and media framings of women and girls, that are as patronising as they are perplexing, as offensive as they are regressive.
U.K.-based developer of @manwhoasitall has created a forum for all to be reminded and live through the myriad perverse representations of female bodies, lives, subjectivities and gestures, giving a more palpable feel for what women experience on a daily basis, rather than the repetitive visual parody of scantily clothed women on motorcycles. Instead of going for a quick laugh of women's oppression today, @manwhoasitall sets out to frame the cultural, social and political conditions which lead to an oppressive climate from which women can do or say very little without being recriminated for possessing a thought, opinion or even--wait for it--knowledge. What @manwhoasitall uncovers is the profound subconscious in western culture that adores the rhetoric of liberating women (from the Taliban, from veils, from oppressive governments) all the while enjoying the benefits of the western woman who is reminded that her agency is but a space to be defined, occupied and named. Women are rarely the agents of their own naming and @manwhoasitall reminds us of this precisely as he shares with us "his" "top tips for men juggling a successful career and fatherhood":
The language of these tweets might seem absurdist to anyone who is not female, but this is the beauty of this Twitter account: it reveals the myriad levels of nonsense hurled at women. Utter nonsnese that they have heard since birth. The underlying assumption with sexism, however, is that everyone is in on the appropriation of the female body and the cultural construction of gender.
Replicating titles one can easily find in Cosmopolitan ("How to Please Your Man") or Vogue ("Asset Management: How to Accentuate Your Best Body Part"), the absurdity rests not on how such columns perpetuate print and virtual media today, but moreso, how such framings of women end up eternizing an almost inescapable trap of woman as inextricably linked to the body. And the body is not where this critique ends.
The fact is that today women suffer discrimination due to either being pregnant or having children. In the UK alone, 54,000 women are forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy, and this does not even factor in those women who are discriminated while on the job market. Where men are able to have families, keep their careers, and dream of retirement, this is all but a dream for women for whom pregnancy discrimination is on the rise. Mid-career women are acutely aware as to how their pregnancy will affect their careers and many simply choose to hide it until absolutely necessary.
While women are being managed regarding how and when to have children, her subjectivity naturalised in terms of there body, women are constantly reminded that by engaging in their profession they risk being labelled "nasty," "bitchy," and "not nice," among many possible descriptives. On the one hand women are expected to have "good-looking hair," controlling their milieu through the sartorial and the aesthetic, on the other they are assumed to defy their own "nature" by being "bossy."
What @manwhoasitall underscores is how sexism functions at every single level--from the visual to the discursive, from the over-the-top in trash journalism to the more erudite and ostensibly informed journalistic sources.
For what is highlighted by this Twitter performance is not how "over-the-top" @manwhoasitall's tweets are, but to the contrary how very commonplace and normal these sentiments are uniquely when directed at women.
Women are normalized through the body as spaces of access and definition through their relationship to men (usually in the context of love/marriage), and ultimately through the continual repositioning of female potential in terms of her relationship to men.
For as we read through these tweets, we witness an unfolding of the very tropes of sexism where women are the sum total of their relationship to patriarchal structures within society: looking good (for men) , cooking (for men), raising kids... You get the idea.
The fact is that society together with its political structures and media is replete with these representations of women. As @manwhoasitall inverts these sexist caricatures, it becomes clear how ridiculous such representations are and how pervasive these tropes lurk throughout our society. Paradoxically, were this a parody of anti-semitism or racism, our reaction would not be that of laughter, but instead of shock with protests to boycott the media enterprise. The reality is that our response to @manwhoasitall says as much about how sexism is normalised within laughter rather than revolted against with action.
Perhaps it is time for a "make over" of media ostensibly directed at women? Women are due a complete overhaul of social and political structures which still disadvantage her at every level of society, not least of which is economic. The political parody of @manwhoasitall is a dire refection on the tenaciously rooted sexism of our age and it requires that we do far more than simply laugh.