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Calling Out Everyday Sexism, Spidey Style

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As I watched Andrew Garfield at a Yahoo Kids’ Q&A for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I was not prepared for what he was about to say. I have always admired Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield’s on-set and off-set relationship and have been allured by their palpable chemistry. However, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed when I heard Spiderman’s unexpected sexist comment.

After a young boy asked Andrew how Spiderman got his costume, Andrew responded: “He made it. He made it with his bare hands. He sewed it, he took some sewing classes and some needlework. It’s kind of a feminine thing to do, he really kind of made a masculine costume out of a very feminine…”

Emma awesomely interjected to ask, “It’s feminine, how?”

Clearly caught off guard, Andrew defensively replied, “It’s amazing how you took that as an insult,” and proceeded to explain why sewing is feminine: “It’s feminine because I would say that femininity is more about delicacy and precision and detailed work and craftsmanship. Like my mother, she’s an amazing craftsman. She in fact made my first Spider-Man costume when I was 3 so I use it as a compliment, not just in complimenting women but in men as well. We all have feminine in us, young men.”

Hmmm.

While I applaud Emma for her willingness to challenge Andrew and stand up for her own beliefs, I am still trying to register the implications of Andrew’s comments. If I were able to add to this conversation, here are some questions I might ask.

It’s a kind of feminine thing to do” - Are girls solely responsible for sewing tasks? How would Andrew describe other now feminine roles, such as being a secretary or a schoolteacher? Are the tasks, roles, and behaviors that we deem ‘feminine’ solely relegated to women?

He made a masculine costume out of a very feminine…” - Why did Andrew need to justify Spiderman’s masculinity in spite of sewing his own costume? He seems pretty set on the idea that sewing is for girls only and that Spiderman, a manly man’s hero, is an exception.

Femininity is more about delicacy and precision and detailed work and craftsmanship” - These are sweeping generalizations. How would Andrew describe a girl or a woman who does not portray these crafty characteristics?

I use it as a compliment” - What does he even mean when he says this? I would not feel flattered to be labeled as feminine for any potential sewing skills.

“We all have feminine in us” - Is this supposed to be reassuring? Why does being feminine need to be explained away or “okayed”?

Andrew’s mansplaining underscores just how deeply embedded sexism is in everyday thoughts and speech — and how much words matter. What might seem like a harmless remark to some is actually a buttress to gender stereotypes. The biggest lesson from Andrew’s and Emma’s exchange? We all need to embrace and emulate Emma’s comfort in calling out of everyday sexism. Otherwise, it’s totally here to stay.

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10 replies

  1. ““It’s a kind of feminine thing to do” – Are girls solely responsible for sewing tasks?”

    No, that’s why he said “kind of”. As in, in our culture, as far as the majority of people go, that’s what sewing is associated with – femininity. But boys can sew too, like Spiderman. “Typical” or “kind of” doesn’t mean “exclusive” or “solely responsible”.

    “He made a masculine costume out of a very feminine…” – Why did Andrew need to justify Spiderman’s masculinity in spite of sewing his own costume? ”

    Well, because sewing is the sort of thing typically associated with femininity, you might think that Spiderman couldn’t also be masculine if he wanted to. But in fact Spiderman could both be masculine and feminine. Why do you think this was a “justification” against a challenge instead of just an explanation to children who tend to view the world in very black and white terms? Is that a very charitable way to interpret someone else?

    ““Femininity is more about delicacy and precision and detailed work and craftsmanship” – These are sweeping generalizations. How would Andrew describe a girl or a woman who does not portray these crafty characteristics?”

    No, a sweeping generalization is where you say that something must be true of most people on the basis of it being true of some people. But Andrew is saying that something is true of most people because it is in fact true of most people. Of course, even children understand that just because something is true of most people, that doesn’t mean it’s true of everybody. So a girl who isn’t very delicate or precise or crafty would be described as unlike the other girls in some ways, but she can choose to be a girl in her own way.

    ““I use it as a compliment” – What does he even mean when he says this? I would not feel flattered to be labeled as feminine for any potential sewing skills.”

    Well, Andrew doesn’t really want to compliment you, I don’t think he knows who you are. But there are other people who he thinks will take “delicate and precise” as a compliment.

    ““We all have feminine in us” – Is this supposed to be reassuring? Why does being feminine need to be explained away or “okayed”?”

    No, I don’t think it’s meant to be reassuring really. I’m not sure why you don’t feel like being feminine is okay or why you think Andrew is trying to be reassuring. Instead I think the idea is that people are complicated and we have some of the traits that our culture says are masculine and some of the traits that our culture says is feminine, because our culture really isn’t about anything essential to being male or female, it’s more like a big game that most of us enjoy playing some of the time but not all the time, and Andrew’s point is that we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

    • THIS THIS THIS THIS.Nobody’s perfect. his character did something he views as feminine and HE’S PROUD OF IT. He just mangles saying it.

  2. An interesting read, thanks. I love Emma Stone’s comment and admire her for for publicly calling Andrew up on this. Although we could say it was just a flippant remark, it really does reflect a deeper thought base of backwards ideas on gender stereotypes that stick with us as a society, to varying extents, despite our best intentions and wishes. Andrew Garfield’s remarks reflect these widespread ideas, and so we shouldn’t just single him out and label him ‘sexist’. After having slipped up with his initial, probably thoughtless, comment, Andrew appears to have been just trying to think on his feet and quickly dig himself out of a hole, first by the, let’s face it, a naturally defensive reaction, then by spouting a some waffle which sounded thoughtful but which he may or may not stick to when he properly considers it. Again, big respect to Emma Stone for making Andrew Garfield and us all pay more attention to our language and its implications.

  3. I get the differing opinions. Sometimes people try to do the right thing, but aren’t really very good at it – maybe not well educated about how to be a feminist man and why challenging gender stereotypes (instead of affirming them as Andrew did in this case, then trying to say being feminine isn’t bad) is a more helpful way to approach gender stereotypes and violence. I’ve come down hard on people who’ve tried but failed, like Andrew did here, and I got soundly rejected by those who thought he was trying to do the right thing and shouldn’t be harshly criticized for it. So, I guess for me the lesson here is – good for Andrew, you are spending time with kids and encouraging boys to try something that they may have thought was not OK (sewing). But Andrew, next time, you can do this even better, and here’s why it matters… Because we feminists aren’t getting through to people who just don’t get it – yet – but there is hope that with more inclusive and welcoming language, we can still challenge stereotypes and help our well intentioned, but not-quite-there friends like Andrew. Unless he is just a sexist unwilling to reconsider his ideas about gender.

  4. Do we have to deeply see into everything? saying something is manly or feminine doesn’t always have to damage the culture. he clearly wasn’t thinking about any of the things you pointed out in the article he was just being off the cusp. I highly doubt he is sexist in any way. can we focus on important sexism issues here like rape, abuse, minority pay scales compared to white women and white men and the rampant abuses in other countries of sexual rights!

    • I assume you mean, “off the cuff.” And that’s the point: sexism happens everyday, and casually. And pretending it’s not sexism is unhelpful in the broader struggle against misogyny in all its forms.. Essentializing women into their roles in the family, in society, in economics, in professional spaces limits them, at best, and violates their rights, at worst. No one is saying he’s a terrible person, but it’s important to applaud instances where people (and particularly, men) are held accountable for their sexism.

      and PS — we do focus on rape and sexual violence, income equality, reproductive health and rights, women in the media, etc. We do it on this blog all day every day, and don’t make a habit of heirarchizing feminist issues. They’re all important.

  5. I love this article, and I loved Emma Stone calling him out. The other things that annoyed me was “it’s amazing you took that as an insult” – which is the ‘woman being oversensitive/hysteric over nothing’ cliche.

    • How can you possibly take that comment as an insult? Not only has the comment been traditionally true, it reigns true today. Majority of the workers that produce clothes are women. Ep So Facto, his comment technically reigns true. The association of sewing to femininity is only as damaging as the viewer makes it. Think of it in terms of beauty, if you will. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The real danger is that one may assume them self the target of a generalization. Get over yourself. Please do not be so narcissistic when evaluating statements made by celebrities. They are not referring to you, nor do they care about or your opinion. And to that note, I bid you good day

  6. Why must you always find something to complain about? What about when reviewers pointed out Gwen Stacy’s intelligence as a masculine thing?

  7. Wow that almost makes me not want to see the sequel. Why does Andrew think he needs to admit that he did something feminine and then justify it by saying that we all have femininity in us? That’s like saying “yeah, I steal, but nobody is 100% honest.” Like it’s okay to have feminine traits, (which are less desirable than masculine traits, remember) because everyone does. Great post, and great blog! Care to check out mine? downwiththenorm.wordpress.com

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