Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas on Aug. 25. The storm wreaked havoc wherever it reached and Texas is still recovering. In the wake of the devastating tragedy, many people were talking about the storm on social media. While some used their platforms to urge others to donate to the victims of the tragedy, conservative blogger Matt Walsh inappropriately took it as an opportunity to start a social debate on gender norms.
Walsh previously tweeted many sympathetic tweets concerning Harvey and its victims. However, he tweeted a photo on Aug. 28 that had circulated since the storm hit, and the message he included with it had little to do with the hurricane. The photo shows a woman cradling a small baby, assumed to be her child, and a man carrying both of them to safety through knee-deep floodwaters. Walsh’s caption read, “Woman cradles and protects child. Man carries and protects both. This is how it ought to be, despite what your gender studies professor says.”
I was taken aback by the words that Walsh chose to accompany with what I considered to be a beautiful photo of human kindness. I was clearly not the only one who was shocked. The tweet soon spread all over the internet, with people who probably had never heard of Walsh before now denouncing him as sexist and misogynistic. I was not one of those people — I don’t believe that Walsh is sexist or misogynistic because of his tweet. However, I do believe that it was inappropriate and insensitive; overall, a bad way of making his argument.
Walsh is a vocal proponent of gender roles and to an extent, I can understand his position. I don’t believe that there are things that men and women are required to do just because they are men and women. However, I do believe that there are some things many men and women are more inclined to do than others, and that is merely based on personal experience and observation. There is an endless spectrum of wants and desires for members of both sexes, many of which are determined by society. However, that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the desires. I believe a rejection of the realization that men and women often willingly conform to gender roles only leads to more gender-role related problems — not less.
There once was a time when women were only judged for choosing a career over their family. Nowadays, the career judgment is still there to an extent, but now there is even more judgment for choosing a family over a career. People seem to believe that any woman who makes the choice is simply conforming to societal pressures. An author for the Daily Telegraph, Tiahn Welzler, expresses these sentiments in her article, “Why Have a Family When You’re in Your Twenties?” Welzler questions why women would ever “choose housework and babies over actual work and babies.” However, according to Time, survey data from 2016 shows that more women truly want to have children than they did 10 years ago. Additionally, taking the middle ground in the situation is looked down upon, as women also get backlash for attempting to make a career fit with a family, even if they are successful.
Times haven’t changed all that much — we’ve simply demonized the other side. Additionally, we have made the desire to have and raise a family something many women are ashamed of admitting, even though a vast number of them desire it. Walsh advocates for the acceptance of the fact that many traditional gender roles exist for a reason — that sometimes, they actually can be true and be beneficial for the people who embrace them. My take on it was always to take certain gender stereotypes with a grain of salt. They may exist and prove truthful to many individuals, but they won’t always work for everyone.
As best as I can understand, Walsh was taking a stab at a person, whom he refers to as “your gender studies professor”, who would be the one criticizing those who conform to gender roles, even when the conformation is a desired choice. However, I don’t believe that any of it truly matters when looking at his tweet in its entirety. It was not the proper time or place to take a stab and spout his beliefs concerning the role of gender norms in our society. We’re looking at a picture of a man saving a woman and her small child. The two adults in the picture are both saving people. It has nothing to do with gender roles.
To put it in the simplest terms — the flood waters were rising; a taller human saw a smaller human carrying an even smaller human and decided that they’d be safer from the contaminated waters if he carried them, which he clearly had the capacity to do. His courageous act has no business being included in an argument concerning gender roles. If a picture of a woman saving a man circulated throughout the media, would that not be as visually pleasing because it’s not how “things ought to be?” Walsh seems to imply that it would not, when in fact the hypothetical picture would just be another addition to the many showcases of humanity that occurred during the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey.
We’re all human and in times of tragedy, we should come together. I say with a fair amount of certainty that no one in the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey care about gender roles and gender politics right now — they care about surviving. The photo that Walsh tweeted is of survival, of heroism and of humanity, for both the man and the woman. It was inappropriate of Walsh to use a photo of people suffering from a tragedy in the way that he did. It was insensitive to the people struggling with loss of property, possessions and loved ones to bring photos of their grief into what must seem like a trivial topic in comparison with the reality of Harvey.
Do I condemn the message of Walsh’s tweet? No — not entirely. I understand the point that he was attempting to make, although I don’t think he said it in a way that best conveys the crux of the message, or at the proper time. Then again, I doubt he really cares about any of that. Do I condemn the tweet in its entirety? Yes. The actual message of the tweet coupled with the photo conveyed nothing other than insensitivity. It was in bad taste, and while I don’t agree with all of the denouncements of it online, I understand why it sparked anger in many people. While Walsh certainly can express his views in whatever way he desires, I believe that he should think twice before using images of human suffering to demonstrate a societal agenda.