Posts Tagged 'sexism'

Do you hit like a girl?

Those who know me well – or rather, those who have heard me speak, ever – know that few things aggravate me more than gender-based truisms. ‘Girls are just more sensitive’, ‘boys just naturally love guns’, ‘women are just more talkative’. All of these are nonsense.

These statements, which I find so annoying, can either reflect what is considered to be a behavioral or physical truth: how people act, and how their bodies manifest. There are three problems with this kind of thinking. The first is the assumption that observed differences are genetic – due to biological sex (biological determinism), the second, that something generally true to the population on average universally applies to individuals (stereotype), and the third, that if one difference is scientifically verifiable then difference in all associated abilities or tendencies must also be true (halo effect/reverse halo effect).

In the first instance, many people assume anecdotal experience provides sufficient information for them to make assumptions about the general population. Being the parents/aunt/uncle/cousin/babysittter of a boy child and a girl child does not make you a geneticist, nor give you a representative sample. The appeal of biological determinism is that it makes things (like institutional sexism) simple. Girls just *want* to be nurses/mommies. Boys are just *made* for the cut-throat world of high-finance/hockey.

If things like difference in income or representation in government can be assumed to be a direct result of innate differences in talent and character, then there isn’t anything to be fixed. It’s just natural that women make less money and do more housework and stay at home to make babies and pies. It has nothing to do with the fact that there are social patterns that reinforce certain behaviours and punish others, nothing to do with pre-existing power structures where sexist people are in positions of power where they have the ability and inclination to empower other people who think and act like them. This holds true for racism, by the way. How many people just ‘believed’ that people of colour were ‘made’ for physical labour? How many people still do?

For things that appear to be simple physical distinctions it’s harder to notice how sexist thoughts and beliefs can be reinforced, as they masquerade as scientific truth. XX and XY chromosomes do impart physical differences, including hormonal ones. However, what often happens is that a simple physical reality, e.g. ‘adult women’s hormones fluctuate on a roughly 28 day cycle’ can be used to justify sexist beliefs which are unrelated to the physical truth through anything other than common association and connotation, e.g. ‘for 3-7 days out of the month, women are irrational/angry/hungry for chocolate’. Science is misused to reinforce a pre-existing idea about supposed behavioural distinctions between men and women.

One of the most commonly accepted facts of sex-based physical difference is that men are stronger than women. And it is true in that, on average, the distribution of muscle and fat on men makes them more powerful, pound for pound, than women. This does not mean, however, that all men are stronger than all women, or that strength goes beyond ability to lift heavy things. Recently an acquaintance made reference to the fact that men were stronger than women, and concluded that therefore he could easily knock me unconscious. Note that he immediately made the leap from physical strength to a physical contest.

I think people of any gender will agree that few things are more of an invitation to brawl than an accusation of physical weakness.

I did not, on this occasion, punch my collocutor in the face.

I did stress that in general, it was pretty difficult to knock someone out, and that, if he would but take a look around the room, he would see at least 10-15 men that I could in all likelihood easily defeat in combat by virtue of being about 20lbs heavier than they (any sex-based advantage of theirs being outweighed by the difference in size and the fact that I exercise and eat regular meals).

It is also worth pointing out that knowing how to fight confers a significant advantage above and beyond physical strength; while a 220lb male beefcake could probably bench more weight, a 150lb female with a 4th degree black belt could still, most probably, kick beefcake’s ass. Being stronger is not the same as being better in a fight; however, because there is a strong connotation between physical strength and prowess, the scientific ‘truth’ of average advantage in one is conferred to the other.

Most people don’t think they are sexist (or racist, or other kinds of bigot), but many don’t notice the ways in which their assumptions about difference justify inequality, writ large or in their smaller, everyday interactions. Any generalizations you subscribe to affect how you interact with the subjects of these assumptions as individuals.

If you think of women as physically weaker, this affects how you treat all women, in the same way that subscribing to the belief that women get irrationally angry on a regular basis means that when you encounter an angry woman, part of your thought process in response may include wondering ‘should the source of this woman’s anger be dismissed out of hand because this woman is over-reacting due to her uterus’.

Just like knowing someone’s race doesn’t give you a short cut to knowing what they like or what their strengths and weaknesses are, knowing someone’s sex is equally useless in allowing you to come to any conclusions about them. These generalizations are unhelpful stereotypes, and perpetuate social inequality by declaring it genetically inevitable.

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There is no such thing as ‘too smart’

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a [wo]man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his [or her] intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his [or her] thoughts in clear form.

– Albert Einstein

There are many ways in which women are spoken to and of by other people, and by the media, that separates them from ‘normal people’ (i.e. men), .

Stern faced men, striding down the city streets, are never shouted at by passerby ‘go on, luv, give us a smile’. Men do not have to deal with the aggressiveness of total strangers when the smile so demanded is not forthcoming.

Adverts don’t assume that men emerge triumphant from the kitchen after their children request more peas, or nod and laugh victoriously after eliminating 99.9% of bacteria from food preparation surfaces with the cunning use of bleach. Men are not shown vacuuming.

Men are not told that they are ‘too smart’.

Yesterday, I was told by a colleague that I was ‘too smart’ to work in the industry in which I am currently employed.

Has this individual ever said such a thing to any male, and surely amply intelligent, coworkers?

I take great pride in my intelligence, as I think it is one of the most important traits a person can cultivate. Any person who shows a curiosity and a willingness to learn should be encouraged. Without the critical analysis spurred by informed curiosity, civilization would stagnate. Intelligence is required to interact with the world, to acquire new skills and supplement pre-existing knowledge. Intelligence provides the confidence to challenge what is, and ask if it could not, perhaps, be improved upon.

To be intelligent is to be willing to challenge authority. I wish I were more intelligent. There are so many questions that, tackled by informed, intelligent people, could be answered to the betterment of humanity. I am waiting for a room of engaged, smart people to achieve world peace, cure AIDS, end climate change, and create a solid prime-time line-up on broadcast tv. A room of over-privileged, supercilious ignoramuses is what tends to cause the world’s serious problems in the first place.

So why am I, and I suspect many other women, labeled (in what I’m sure is meant to be a complimentary tone) ‘too smart’? Well, we are expressing dissatisfaction, we are noticing the flaws and failings around us, drawing attention to them, and demanding something better. We are refusing to play by the rules, refusing to accept the game as it is, insisting that it should be changed. We are, to use classically feminist vocab, pointing out the patriarchy to the patriarchs, and that tends to make them a little uncomfortable.

Why? Because it wasn’t them personally who created a culture and infrastructure that just happens to create an inter-institutional bias towards white, cis, straight, abled, (upper) middle class men, just like they didn’t personally have slaves or invade other countries killing off swathes of the local populous so they could steal their resources and claim the land for some monarch or other. They just happen to benefit from being one of history’s winners. They didn’t ask to be born.

So they don’t feel that they should be punished for their success. They earned it! They work hard and just because they happen to fit into the system so neatly doesn’t mean their work, their effort, should be devalued. No, it is they who will change the world, by playing the system from the inside! He will master the game, reach the pinnacle of power and influence, and then, like a benevolent leader, lean down and lend a hand to all those ‘other’ people left outside the clubhouse while he was learning the secret handshake.

As Audre Lorde (not a white guy) famously wrote “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”. Does this well-meaning, accidentally (I hope) patronizing individual really think he’s going to save us all by becoming like, say, Rupert Murdoch? And even if he does, where the fuck does he get off implying that my using my brain somehow precludes me from achieving a position or sphere of influence whereby I might change the world for the better?

But you see, in a mind like that, formed by the life experience he’s had thus far, a woman cannot do it. To win, one must play the game. To play the game well, one must be smart. And to be smart and a woman is to refuse to play the game because a moment’s thought reveals it to be a steaming pile of factory-farmed-chicken manure.

In condescendingly implying that I should take my educated little head somewhere else, this person unconsciously reflects his own investment in the status quo, where someone like me can’t win because I do not mindlessly respect the existing authority enough to become part of it (as he implicitly can and happily does).

I do not quietly accept what is, I actively point out if something is sexist or bigoted or just generally not cricket. I do not assume that money is the only measure of value. I do not aspire to create pablum for the dribbling and unwashed masses to distract them from their own existential crises, nor do I think accepting that as the duty of media is anything other than a grave insult to the human species.

To live as if success is predicated on treating one’s professional life like a game of Monopoly is to right up there with assuming all relationships have the same narrative arc as Pretty Woman – massively over-simplified and ultimately self defeating.

Here’s the thing. Life isn’t a game, there are not winners and losers. Life, society, culture, everything, is a process, massively complicated because it involves about 7 billion living people, and plenty more dead ones.

There is no such thing as a woman that is ‘too smart’, only people who are too foolish to listen to her.

Homophobia and Rape

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=gays+in+the+military&iid=2214077″ src=”7/a/7/e/92.jpg?adImageId=11188097&imageId=2214077″ width=”500″ height=”325″ /] In this Slate.com article, Dahlia Lithwick looks at legal beagle and philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s book From Disgust to Humanity, about the status of gays in America – where the legal system interacts with (thankfully changing) public opinion.

The “language of disgust” within the social and political arguments struck me as related to the current and historic state of heterosexual norms and assumptions.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council warned Larry King if gay soldiers could serve in the military, “we might have to return to the draft” because other soldiers would refuse to serve. Perkins noted that he had showered together with 80 other men during his own time in the military, and he’d feel threatened by a gay man showering there with him.

Is it possible that the fear associated with gay marriage and gays in the military taps into the presumption that men are sexually aggressive and that our society permits this aggression in heterosexual interactions because hey, women get raped? As soon as the mentality that presupposes that is faced with the idea of gay men, possibly at a physical advantage over the fearful straight (?) man/men around them, would have social permission to enact the same sort of aggressive sexual posture, they are put in the same position of women in society.

Are all men rapists? Of course not, but women have to entertain the possibility for their own safety. Creating legal and social permissiveness for homosexuality upsets a sexual power balance that everyone was sort of okay with, since men weren’t ever presupposed to be victims to the same extent that women are.

As she [Nussbaum] traces the genesis of the fear and disgust American feel toward homosexuals, she describes what she calls “projective disgust”—the magical thinking that allows us to believe that things that disgust us (i.e., male homosexuality) are contagious and that heterosexual sex is somehow better and less messy than it really is. So the reason male (as opposed to female) homosexual sex is ultimately experienced as so revolting and so terrifying, Nussbaum contends, is that it is viscerally threatening; it raises the possibility of being penetrated and violated. The very “gaze of a homosexual male is seen as contaminating because it says ‘you can be penetrated.’ “

(my emphasis)

There are those who believe that all men, if they were assured of there being no negative repercussions, would rape. In this case, then, the same people would suppose that gay men would, again, assuming an absence of punishment or social stigma, do the same. Actions to prevent gay marriage or gays in the military aren’t about the ‘sanctity’ of marriage or military coherance, it’s about maintaining social and legal strictures against the kind of freedom to rape than straight men currently have.

Is it legal? No. But are they going to get caught? Probably not – the woman will probably not report it (60% of rapes are not reported to the police), if she does, her wardrobe and sexual history will be used against her, and punishment is usually pretty meager (e.g. On campus, where serial rapists are allowed to continue their studies and face no legal reprisals).

Imagine if this same predatory assumption and social liberty were applied to gay men. Men might be raped. Can’t have that, now, can we? We might have to start taking rape a little more seriously as a crime against a person, rather than some hysterical women who were probably asking for it in the first place.

Obviously I don’t think homosexual men are predatory rapists, nor do I think there is any justification for inhibiting their liberty to work, live, marry, or serve in the military if they so choose.

My point is that in taking apart the fear and disgust Nussbaum talks about, we can see the sexism underlying the homophobia. And perhaps in drawing attention to it, we can start to treat the threat of “penetration” as universal, rather than a woman’s problem.

Sexpectations

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=john+lennon+yoko+ono+bed&iid=3269434″ src=”8/c/b/d/Beatle_In_Bed_0c21.jpg?adImageId=10998610&imageId=3269434″ width=”234″ height=”314″ /]
Sexism is bad for everyone.

Why? Because everyone has a sex, and the stereotypes accepted and perpetuated apply to men and women, with negative repercussions for all.

The rampant and offensive results of sexism for women are amply documented and discussed elsewhere (feministing, feministe, F-word, et al.); at the moment, I have been thinking about the subtler and less seemingly ‘negative’ aspects of the stereotypes at the root of sexism, and how it affects (hetero, though it probably holds true in the LGBT communities, too) romantic and sexual interactions.

Although the ongoing sexual revolution has promoted the sexual freedom of women, in accessing and expressing their desires, gaining access to contraception, and the increasing (though ever-fraught, as with the current debate over hook-up culture) acceptance of these liberties, stereotypes about sexual desires and roles remain present and damaging, even among those enlightened pro-sex, pro-choice, pro-contraception types who should know better.

For example, this terribly offensive video is meant to encourage women to use contraception – not because they and their sexual partner might not be ready for children or due to the risk of STDs, but because, apparently, the men by whom they might be impregnated are coarse, misogynistic, immature, insensitive, and generally obnoxious cads.

To portray men this way is insulting. It also suggests that women making the decision to have sex with men are gullible and completely ignorant of their character.

It falls into the logical nullity of the most basic form of sexist thinking – men are walking penises with no thought other than sexual gratification (and swift escape), and women are commitment-craving baby machines.

Diluted, this manner of thinking can make its way into even the most sensible and respectful of relationships. Women, embracing their sexuality within a social milieu that suddenly celebrates it (Cosmo, Sex and the City, etc – the validity of these as vehicles for sexual normalcy is obviously problematic), are astonished to find that men don’t, actually, want to have sex all the time.

Moreover, women are offended when they attempt to initiate a romp to be met with a polite but firm negative. Suddenly they doubt whether this person finds them attractive, and wonder if they are going to leave them, or have already sought gratification elsewhere. Especially since the media that celebrate their sexuality also insist that their value in relationship is largely a factor of their appearance and sexual attractiveness.

Why do they think this? Because the sexually insatiable male is an accepted stereotype: the male is meant to be constantly sexually interested and available.

If men want sex as often as possible with women, and this man does not presently want to have sex, therefore he no longer finds this woman attractive, possibly does not even see her as a woman (for the stereotype also includes an implied ‘any port in a storm’), and therefore does not value her, or is impotent (id est, is not a man).

If anyone takes a moment to think about it, they will recognize that this false syllogism is beneath their sudden insecurity, and that men are as susceptible to fatigue, stress, inebriation, headache, or simple lack of arousal as women, and this is a reflection not of impotence or disinterest, but of life of an individual in the world.

It is virtually impossible to imagine a partnership wherein both parties have perfectly synchronized libidos. The thoughtful and polite thing to do if rebuffed is to back off without reproach. But when so much in our culture insists upon sex as the be all and end all of conversation between the sexes, it is difficult to maintain a logical outlook.

Sexism is just one of the many isms that get in the way of fair and compassionate human interaction, by creating false expectations (of oneself and others) and encouraging subsequent judgments.

To quote Ferris Bueller: -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.

This would, of course, also apply to feminism, but then, every feminist wants a world where Bueller’s paean to individuality is a given, where everyone is regarded as an individual and not labeled as belonging to a particular group with an associated cloud of character traits.

Pepsi’s Amp for Shallow Sexists! Yummy.

Hyperactivity is *so* hot

Hyperactivity is *so* hot

Jezebel pokes fun at a new iPhone ap (no wait, it gets better). This is an application, sponsored by Pepsi to promote their ‘energy drink’ – Amp.

This helpful application gives guys (yes, Amp is for hetero males, obviously) tips on how to pick up women (“score”), keep a list of their conquests (achieved, of course, with the infallible info from Pepsi’s crack team of experts), and advertise their ‘success’ (and, by extension, the beverage) via various networking sites .

Marketing genius, no?

The ap helps the user identify one of the 24 types of women (including ‘married’ ‘sorority girl’ and ‘trouble’), then provides factoids which the user can present as information they actually knew, which, presumably, gets these easily identified women to take their pants off.

I was going to joke that the ‘married’ pick-up line has something to do with current statistics on divorce, but it suddenly occurred to me that is actually probably exactly what the program contains.

What’s depressing about this is that it is being promoted by a major company; sexism, hetero-normativism, and general chauvinism is nothing new, but every time an advertiser thinks that portraying these ideations as normal, healthy, and ‘cool’ women lose out. The company is deciding that female consumers don’t matter, and that male consumers (and this is equally insulting to men) are straight, juvenile, and shallow.

You wouldn’t catch Coke with their pants down like this.

Yet.


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