Explaining Sexism to the Oblivious

I knew it was going to be a long conversation when a male co-worker, upon learning I graduated from a women’s college, asked me, “So you hate men?” I told him that it has nothing to do with hating men but with believing in equality and valuing myself and others no matter their gender or sexuality.

I’m busing tables in a restaurant. I’m not part of the waitstaff. I didn’t think I would need to deal with this much blatant and oblivious sexism immediately, especially not two days into the job. How I was that naive, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

everyday sexism

The man who asked me this question told me he never had to think about sexism before. He said, “I can’t really say much because I’m not a woman but in my mind men and women are equal.” If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. “Women might even be smarter than men. Men suck.” That’s an appeasement tactic. You’re throwing me a bone thinking that by praising women as greater I’ll believe you’re one of the nice men. The gentlemen who think holding the door for a woman means you’re not a misogynist. Try again, sir. Try again. “I just think that women only think men treat them differently. I think most men believe women are equal.” Tell that to the wage gap. 

“No.” let me say that again: NO. I told him that everything about our culture praises traditionally masculine qualities and devalues traditionally feminine qualities.

“Do you have an example to prove your point?”

The English language is inherently misogynistic. There are more ways to describe women than men and most of these terms are sexual and insults. The female equivalent to male terms always go the way of insults. For instance, a master is in command, but a mistress is a sexual being. Boys will be boys, but don’t hit like a girl/run like a girl/throw like a girl.

I laid out one or two examples as we stood in the back of the kitchen peeling potatoes. It was a moment of pressure because I was defending all women and all feminists. My answer would be the answer. I hated his smug white face as he nodded occasionally, but clearly didn’t believe me. He did not see sexism in the world because he never had to deal with it, only reap the benefits.

Just the fact that he needed proof is evidence enough that he valued my opinion less than a man’s. I had to defend myself. I had to explain sexism, knowing he wasn’t interested in anything more than being polite. I’d rather he wasn’t polite. I don’t want feminism to be tolerated and on the margins. Tolerance is far from acceptance.

I told him, “Feminism is more than just equal rights or thinking you treat women equally. You have to act on it. Feminism is active and you have to want it. You have to want to tear down the structure of male privilege.”

You have to seek out equality, not just ask about everyday examples of sexism too numerous to count. You have to want it more than anything else in the world.

and that I (gasp!) wanted to be there

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Gender is Not the Only Box

I had a conversation today with a Native American friend of mine which illuminated the idea that oppressive constraints of identity are not limited to gender or sexuality. This wasn’t news by any means, but the parallels between our experiences was incredible and definitely worth sharing.

He told me how he had wanted to buy  me a Batman ribbon for my birthday but that the ribbons were divided up between those for boys and those for girls. He didn’t want to get me the boys’ ribbon because he didn’t want to be rude, but he didn’t want to get me the girls’ ribbon because he knows I “hate pink”. I explained that I didn’t hate pink, but it ticks me off when marketing companies gender products. A thing does not need to be gendered. A boy should be able to wear the pink ribbon just as easily as the girl should be able to wear the blue. Items of clothing don’t have gender, so why do we assign the labels of “boys’ clothes” and “girls’ clothes”? I continued that it’s all just a way to enforce heteronormativity and traditional gender roles.

He began to talk about how frustrating being put into a box is. He made the point that if he listens to country music, for instance, people will come up to him and say “What are you listening to that for? That music’s not for you.” It’s as if his dark skin and traditional choices in dress and appearance are rigid markers of identity. Native Americans don’t listen to country music, what he is trying to do? He said that when he used to wear his long hair pulled back in a pony tail (instead of the double braids he wears now) people would ask him “why are you trying to look like a Chinese man?” And I know these were not the only stories, though these were the ones he decided to tell.

It reminds me of standardized tests: you check a nice little box next to your gender, your race and your religion. You are then wrapped, and shipped off to belong to someone else’s perception of your gender, your race and your religion. You suddenly represent what your identity markers say you should act like, talk like, or enjoy. You either fit the mold and perpetuate stereotypes or become an outlier to critique.

It can seem like there is no way to win when the world holds up a checklist and controls the pencil saying “yes, you’re a woman so you must be…” and “no, you’re not black, so you can’t be…” or “you’re transgender that means…”

Boxes are more than the over used figure of speech. They’re a real concept that damages people of every identity and are always oppressing with preconceived notions of who you should be by someone else’s definition. Gender and sexuality are not the only means of oppression.

You’re an Ugly Feminist so…

It’s no secret that the stereotype of the feminist is an ugly  man-hating lesbian. Because of this cruel imagery girls don’t want to be feminists. It’s not attractive and, as we all know, a girl’s only purpose in life is to attract men.

My brother believes whole heartedly in this stereotype. Months ago, before I was even remotely interested in feminism my brother showed me a video of RamZPaul on youtube discussing (and I use this term lightly) what feminists think of Legos. While I am hesitant to recommend his video to anyone, as it is extremely misogynistic, homophobic, racist, you name it, his video proves a point about why feminism is still needed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TrUNNKPC4E

Mr. RamZPaul’s point in a nutshell, is that feminists wanted the Lego corporation to make Legos for girls and that when the Lego company obliged, the feminists called sexism. RamZPaul’s response to the feminists speaks for itself.

I bring this misogyny up for three reasons. My brilliant friend introduced me to a wonderful feminist youtube channel feminist frequency and Feminist Frequency also tackled the Legos and  feminists debate.  When I found this 2 part video series explaining how Lego markets specifically to boys and how this is not only sexist advertising, but greatly inhibits both young boys and girls, I remembered the video my brother had shown me. Though I had never agreed with RamZPaul to start with, I now understood RamZPaul had it entirely wrong. Feminists did not ask Lego to make Legos for girls; they asked that girls be included in the Lego play experience. No where did anyone ask for Lego Friends  or a pink and purple pastel world separate from the ‘real’ boy’s Legos.

image

So, my second reason for including RamZPaul’s video is that I attempted to show my brother the Feminist Frequency video in return and he would not even watch far enough to hear her argument. According to my brother, not only is RamZPaul correct but that the woman of Feminist Frequency is a feminist and therefore her points are automatically wrong. He claimed to already know her arguments before she voiced them and told me flat out our discussion was not worth having because  he wouldn’t debate something he knew to be true. He left the room after he called the woman an ugly feminist. He did not need to listen to her and he did not need to listen to me either.

It is not just strangers on youtube who have these opinions. It might be people you know or are close to. Which brings me to my third reason for talking about RamZPaul: the more the word is spread that people do in fact act upon and perpetuate sexist ideologies the more men and women will know feminism is still necessary. If a woman can be dismissed for voicing her opinions on what affects female childhood development and and have her words twisted into what RamZPaul claims to be the truth then feminism is necessary. When a woman’s argument is invalid because she is ugly and she is only ugly because she is a feminist then more and more women need to become aware of the issues that affect them. Sexism is not always blatant and that is what makes it so real and so scary.