I find it amusing how the satire of Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” illustrates the false nature of our socially constructed gender differences. By describing Strephon’s shock at the “Sweat, Dandriff, Powder, Lead and Hair” his lover is covered in, he points out the ridiculous nature of many men’s expectations for the opposite sex.
Without a doubt, it is sort of a gross poem to read, but this would be just as true if the gender roles were reversed. In our society, there is no reason for a lady to want to sneak into a men’s locker room, because it is known to be a gross place.
As a society, all of our disillusion is centered around the female gender. Men expect women to be pretty and proper and immaculately clean, while we are able to go out in public wearing sweatpants and a dirty t-shirt with no judgment. And many women uphold this stereotype: they take time to clean themselves up, put on makeup, style their hair, and dress nicely every day, just because social pressure tells them to.
At the moment, I really can’t think of a similar standard that men are held to. When it comes to dressing, fashion, and hygiene, women are held to an unrealistic standard while men are barely required to do anything. Many old-fashioned concepts seem to be fading, such as the family stereotype where the husband brings home the money, and the wife cooks, cleans, and tends to the children. In terms of the stereotypes I can think of, men are gaining more freedom to do what they like, while women are still relatively less empowered. I would be curious to see if anyone can think of gender ideals (modern or old) that disprove this notion.
On the other hand, I could also see the aim of Swift’s poem not as a critique of gender stereotypes, but as a stern warning against voyeurism. The end of the poem seems like a disgusting story you might tell to curious and disillusioned teenage boys, just to make them respect girls’ privacy.