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Sexism in a Nutshell

As I grew up I did what I thought was expected of me. I didn’t bring up unmentionable subjects to my parents. I didn’t burp out loud. I didn’t complain. And I didn’t know why.
And it wasn’t that my parents, or my teachers, or my peers, were trying to cram a certain lifestyle down my throat. It was just the norm, what was expected, what everyone was used to (like when parents have a child- if it’s a boy they dress them in blue and if it’s a girl they dress them in pink, and they give them sex-appropriate toys as they become toddlers — because that’s what the kids should want).
When women are born, they are given pink dresses and bows in their hair. Little boys are given light blue jumpers. Even when they are infants, even if other adults can’t tell what the sex of the child, this is done - precisely to insure that the rest of the world will know what the sex of the child is. As they are raised, they are given toys to play with - girls the infamous Barbie, and boys the popular G.I. Joe. Girls progress to baby dolls they can dress and feed and burp, with accessories such as baby bottles, strollers and blankets. Boys progress to model cars and trucks, then on to guns and weapons, then the prized bicycle, then sports equipment, then building and erector sets.
As they grow, parents decide what clothes the children will wear, and what their hair will look like, and what toys they will play with, and how they will go about playing. Girls are clothed in little dresses, fully equipped with tights and buckled shoes, and are given little bows to hold back their longer, more cumbersome hair. They are encouraged to have a best friend to stay in the house with, to play house with, to play quietly with, to put make-up on, and to maintain a one-on-one, more intimate relationship. They role-play, and even in their play define roles for themselves - or at least define that there are roles that exist in the world.
As boys grow they are encouraged to go outdoors, to be rowdy, to find new friends, explore boundaries, play sports where they learn cooperation and competition, and even learn to battle in play fights. They are dressed in comfortable pants and t-shirts and athletic sneakers. Their hair is short and manageable. They learn to get dirty. They learn to win. They learn to lead other boys in play - larger numbers of children than women are accustomed to dealing with.
Each sex interacts with other children of primarily the same sex, but these same-sex children have been taught like them to do the things their sex is supposed to do. They reinforce the behavior of other children - the behavior taught to them from their parents, their siblings, their toys, their television, their movies, their fairy tales. Each sex learns about interactions with others, but they learn entirely different things. The traits each sex take from these experiences are vastly different from the traits of the other sex.
Girls learn the importance of intimacy and trust, fostered by their female best friend. They learn not to be rowdy - they learn a more sedentary form of play. They learn the value of taking care of others. They learn to pretend and role-play the position of mother. They learn the value of their physical looks. They learn from their physical idol - the Barbie doll. If Barbie was a real woman, at 5' 10" her measurements would probably be 38, 18, 32, and she would weigh 110 pounds - an almost unattainable figure at best.
Boys learn the importance of working with other people toward a common goal. They learn to get along with a large number of people. They learn to win - they learn the American notion of competition, and they also learn the harder lesson of not trusting others, especially when other children are working toward the same goal as they are. They learn to explore new things and not be afraid. They learn to stretch themselves physically. They learn to work toward their goals. They learn about pain, about losing, and about winning. And although boys do not necessarily gain close relationships in the same way girls do, they gain a common bond between other boys - any and all boys that can jump in and join the game with them.
I’d see these differences, and the more time I spent on my own, the more I questioned how I was supposed to act, what I was supposed to say, how I was supposed to dress, what I was supposed to like. I saw the way men treated women in relationships, how women primarily reacted to the things men did instead of acting on their own. I also saw women feel like they were being pushed around, like they were being treated unfairly.
And then I saw some statistics about rape. That one in four women will be raped by the time they leave college; that one in three women will be raped in their lifetime. That over eighty percent of college-age rapes are committed by someone the victim knew.
Yeah, I did my research about rape and tried to educate myself about it. I became a workshop facilitator and heard a lot of stories from women who had been raped, even from men who were marrying a survivor of a rape, or a man who was beaten up by men after he raped their girlfriend.
I heard a lot of stories. But now I’d like to tell you two stories about rape.
Let me first tell you a story about a woman. I can’t tell you her name, because the law prevents me.
You see, this woman is the typical victim of a stranger rape. She was walking down the street after getting off of a late train from work and she was cornered by a man with a knife. She was violated, she was hurt, she had the blood stains and bruises to prove it. And she decided she wanted to report it.
She went to the hospital the next morning, after she put on an extra layer of clothing and huddled in her bed the night before, trying to sleep. The doctors took her clothing for evidence, and then they took evidence from her body.
She leaned back in a cold chair half-naked in a doctor’s office, feet in straps three feet apart, and then they took samples from inside her to see if they could prove who was there. They pulled fifty hairs from her head and twenty-five pubic hairs with their fingers to compare them to what they brushed off her.
She then talked to the police. Because she couldn’t identify him, because he had time to flee, because the police couldn’t match the evidence to anyone, she couldn’t find justice.
But her friends helped her through this. They slept in her room with her at night, when she didn’t want to be alone. They listened to her. They accepted her. And she was able to take the first steps toward recovering.
It’s a sad story, isn’t it? She didn’t deserve it. But it seems, especially with her attempts to find her attacker and with the support she received, that she may be able to eventually get over the pain.
Now I would like to tell you the story of another woman. I could tell you her name, but I told her I wouldn’t.
She begged me not to.
She’s a junior at a state university. The first day she came to college, the day she moved in, her boyfriend raped her.
He gave her roommate so much alcohol that she passed out, and wouldn’t know what was going on. He gave his victim so much alcohol that she could barely think or move. During the course of the evening she wondered why her boyfriend was pushing alcohol on her roommate. Now she knows, hindsight is 20/20, and now she feels guilty. She should have said something to him, she thought, but what could she have said at the time? And why should she have suspected anything?
She didn’t go to the hospital. She thought something was wrong with her only because she didn’t want him. She thought what happened was normal. She couldn’t understand why she was so hurt.
She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t talk to her boyfriend about it —- in fact, she didn’t even break up with him until weeks later, when she couldn’t take it anymore and had to come up with an excuse to avoid him.
No one understood why she was acting so strangely. No one understood her mood swings. No one understood why she would break into tears for no reason. She would stand in the bathroom of her dormitory, look in the mirror, and cry before she took her morning shower. She looked so tired in the mirror those mornings, like she had been attacked just the night before.
She waited about six months before she told anyone. She told one friend. He did everything he could to help her. But there wasn’t much he could do. She never told her family. She felt ashamed. She felt alone.
And as she told more people, she received more support. But it only came one year, two years later.
You see, even though it wasn’t her fault, and even though she had help from her friends, she still couldn’t help but think that she could have done something to stop it. She teased him. She was drunk.
He was her boyfriend.
Now, these are two pretty depressing stories, I know. But when people hear the word “rape,” they tend to think of story number one first. The man could have been jumping out from a bush, an alley, or breaking into her home in the middle of the night, as long as he was a stranger. He had a weapon. It was a crime. But both of these stories are similar, because they both are rape. Pure and simple. According to Illinois law, for example, if a woman is intoxicated, she cannot consent to sex, just as she cannot consent to driving a car. That alone defines what the second woman went through as rape. Her feelings, her pain, also define it as such.
And why are so many women frightened by the judicial process? Because many times women are blamed for the rape (the victim is blamed for the crime committed against her), by men as well as women. On the stand, a woman has to defend her past, defend what she was wearing, explain why she went to his place, why she was alone with him, why she kissed him. The accused’s past is protected, and in essence, the woman becomes the one on trial.

•••

So yeah, I heard these stories, and I tried to help people who went through this. But the more I researched rape, the more I realized that rape is only one part of the wide spectrum of misogyny — of hatred towards women.
Then I thought of how women are degraded and objectified in pornography, or how they are treated unfairly in the workplace. There is a different set of rules for women to follow versus men in society, and all of those rules are designed to let women know that their place is behind men.
Then I looked at history. Wedding ceremonies have had the father give away his daughter — his possession — to a man she could love, honor and obey, in a ceremony conducted by a man under the rule of a male god. Virgin women have even been sacrificed throughout history to assorted gods. Ancient Chinese mothers bound their daughter’s feet for years so their feet would be petite (but deformed and difficult to walk with), because it was fashionable for women to have small lotus-shaped feet, which would make their young girls “marriage material.” Some tribes have made it a custom to add tight rings around women’s necks, continually adding more, to elongate the neck, while other tribes pierce women’s ears and put successively larger rings inside the holes, to stretch the ear lobe down past the shoulder. Women were hunted and killed in colonial America for being witches — when they were in fact no more than individuals who practiced independent, rational thought in a society that didn’t like their women to think.
I looked at the way our parents were raised. The woman was expected to work only during war time, and then only to assist men or to work in menial tasks. They were otherwise expected to cook for the family, to clean the house, and to please the husband. The man was the owner of his castle, worked during the day to make this life possible for his family, and expected to be pampered by his wife and children when he got home.
Then I looked at the way I was raised. I was given dolls and pretty pink dresses and was encouraged to play with my best friend indoors instead of roughhousing outside with a group. My hair was long, and curled for special occasions. I had to listen to my elders, especially the male ones.
It translated to they way we were raised to be as adults. Women in society are taught to be “feminine,” to be giving, and to be weak instead of assertive. They are taught to look good for men, and they are taught that they are nothing unless they get married.
So then I looked around me. Advertising and Hollywood demanded beautiful bodies in their brainless women, who blindly followed their leading man. The workplace had female secretaries serving the male CEOs, shaving their legs and wearing skirts and make-up and pantihose and high heels and earrings and necklaces and rings and bracelets... and being called “babe.”
Speaking of language, even the language I heard around me — from being called a pumpkin to a tomato to a peach — made me feel like I was placed on this earth to be consumed, not to be a human being.
Let’s go through the list. Men can degrade women by calling them a child — babe, girl, or baby. Men can degrade women by calling them an animal — like a chick, a bitch, a fox, a cow, a pic, a heifer, a sow, a horse — or even a pussy. Men can degrade women by calling them food — like sugar, honey, a peach, a tomato, a pumpkin, a piece of meat, pie or cherry pie, they can refer to their cherry, their melons or refer to tang (Hell, call a woman a sweep pea, or prepared foods, like a muffin or a cheesecake, or even call her a dish, worthy of consumption). Men can degrade women by calling them inanimate objects, like a hoe or a doll — or even refer to their body parts as things like a bush, or her crack or her hole or her box. Men can degrade women by referring to making love — I mean, having sex — violently, like bagging her, banging her, hammering her, pumping her, screwing her, or nailing her. Men can even use sports analogies for sex with women, like scoring, because when you separate the women from sex with sports, power tools and violence, it becomes easy to make the women not matter at all.
So I started to work for acquaintance rape education groups, running seminars, making posters and brochures and the like for women who were in pain and felt like they had no place else to turn. And the more I saw this pain on such a wide scale, the more angry I got. I’m an intelligent woman, I thought, and I as well as all women don’t deserve to be treated like this.
Although I am no longer working for any women’s groups, I still feel like I am fighting. But what I am fighting for and how I am fighting for it is different from how the average person thinks of a woman “crusader.” I am fighting for people to look at women as people first, before they assume we are less intelligent, less strong, or less valuable. I am fighting, through my writing, through the way I think, through my example, for men to think of women as being on the same level as them, to look at women as their equals. I am fighting for feminism.
The definition of feminism, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” That’s it. It doesn’t mean women should get a job before a man just because she’s a woman and has had bad breaks. It doesn’t mean women have to dress and look like men if they don’t want to. It doesn’t mean pornography should be made illegal, and it doesn’t mean all women should hate all men.
In practice, it means we should have the same opportunities as men. The choice to take these opportunities is up to the individual — not up to their sex. In theory, it means we should not be looked at as inferiors solely because we are female. In other words, we should not be treated unfairly because of the choices that we as individuals make, if we have every right to make those choices.
It is because of the way that women are looked at in society that there are political economic and social disparities between the sexes. It is because of ideas, not laws. These ideas create a spectrum of sexism that starts at things as innocent as jokes and cute nicknames, moves to catcalls in the street to harassment in the workplace to unequal pay for equal work, and then moves on to things as cruel and as painful as wife-beating and rape. All of these things, severe or tame, stem from the idea that women are inferior and all of these things contribute to the inequality between the sexes. They all are manifestations of the same idea, only in different degrees.
A friend of mine told me about how in the Soviet Union, after the revolution, Stalin and the government wanted to make sure all people were equal — that women were free from their economic dependence on men — so they enacted laws to make women work and industrialize the country. But ideas about the role of women in society did not change, and in the post-revolution economic crisis, not only then did the women have to work, but they also had to stand in line for rations of bread. Household chores were still women’s tasks; the rules changed, but the ideas stayed the same. When women were asked whether they were happier after the revolution or before, they said before, because at least then they didn’t have to work as well as do their expected chores.
Today in America, we as American want more and more — we drive our gas-guzzling SUVs, and travel to the islands south of the United States for our vacations, and we pay exorbitant amounts of money to sit in a movie theatre to escape our dreary lives with someone else’s stories. We expect our government to cover our healthcare costs for us as we age, and we expect our government to continue paying oil companies so we can guzzle oil and has for our cars and our homes for cheaper. And to pay for this, most men can’t do it alone — so they ask their wives to work full time jobs. Okay, fine, we can do that, but I’ll bet that when these couples have children (which the women have to bear), it is almost always the women’s responsibility to raise the children as well.
Because that too is a woman’s job.
Have a job, take care on the house, take care of the kids — and the least you could do is act ladylike and dress up and look pretty for us men.
You know, I’m not trying to enact any laws. I’m not trying to twist anyone’s arm. A change doesn’t occur in a free society by forcing rules down people’s throats. All I’m trying to do is make both men and women think about the conflicts between the sexes in all of their manifestations, why they occur, and what effect they have on our society. To think. And then to act.







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