I grew up in a family with 2 sisters, 2 girl dogs, 11 girl cousins (5 boy cousins), and 4 aunts. As you can imagine, we were a bit of a girl power kind of family. My dad, having grown up with 4 big sisters, was not at all thrown by our emotions and requests for tampons when he ran to the store. His mom and also my maternal grandmother had college degrees. So, in our home, being a girl was not a hindrance. It was who we were and we were cool with it. The men in my family were heroes, but taught us we could be, too.
But one time when I was a preschooler, my mom said someone told her that I ran like a girl. To which she replied “well, she is a girl.”
Do you see where it starts?
Sexism starts when our children are very little. It starts with labels like, “tomboy” and “sissy.” It starts when we categorize children who do anything outside of our societal constructs. My oldest daughter loves sports and is good at them. She would rather be outside than in and she would also prefer math to a good book. I refuse to call her a tomboy, because she is a girl. She is a girl who is rowdy and adventurous and fun. And there are a lot of little girls like that. Sexism starts when we say, “oh, you like being outside, you are like a boy, you’re a tomboy.”
Sexism continues, when we demonize emotions. I remember very clearly getting to puberty and feeling insane. My parents were understanding, they walked me through it, they normalized my hormonal highs and lows. Women and men, though I believe wholeheartedly that we are equal, are different. Overall, compared with men, we express our emotions more. And I’d argue that that’s a good thing. But tears and feelings are not acceptable in a world run by men. And so when we grow up and find the real world, we squelch, lest we risk being labeled “crazy.”
Sexism continues as we traverse through job training, college or otherwise. When we are shoved through certain degree programs, certain classes, certain areas of work. A girl plumber? A girl surgeon? Why don’t you go into education or if medicine, stick with OB or Pediatrics. Finance? No, but the Music (ed) school is that way. While I was working on my Masters, in a predominantly male field, there were actual classes for women only, so we “wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.” No. I’ll stay here, thank you.
Sexism continues in the work force. Where women are paid less for the same jobs and garner much lower levels of respect than their male counterparts. When I worked on an almost all male staff, upon learning that I’d quickly be interrupted during meetings, I carefully planned out concise paragraphs in my head before I opened my mouth to ensure I’d be heard.
Sexism masquerading as art is all over our entertainment industry. Women objectified for their bodies. Men like Hugh Hefner celebrated for his “forward thinking.” Female artists in all fields slipping away after about age 30, huge age gaps in leading men and women. The fact that most women feel they are not enough as is: fake hair, fake breasts, fake lips, face lifts, tummy tucks. All to feel beautiful. I contend they were probably more beautiful, beforehand.
Politically, in the lives of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton we see the two competing narratives of women in power. Beautiful and brainless or plain and bitchy. As if for women, there is no in between.
Finally, sexism reaches its pinnacle when women’s bodies are literally assaulted against their will, verbally or like a nightmare that never stops-physically.
No wonder someone like Harvey Weinstein can barrel out of control doing and saying whatever he wants to women for so many years, and in the company of America’s most elite, wealthy, beautiful, and Presidential.
Sexism is systemic.
When will enough be enough?
We’re all living it. Everyone of us: your sisters, your daughters, even your wives, have been harassed. We have all been valued (or overlooked) because of our body parts and the way we look. Our brains have been undervalued by educational systems still built to further male advancement. We have been called weak and treated as such because we are believed to be. When we assert strength against all odds, we are called “bitches.” When we cry, because to us tears are as rote to us as sweat, we are called “crazy.” And still, sometimes we get blamed for the sexism so wildly thrown at us, “maybe you shouldn’t have worn that, maybe you were asking for it, maybe you should stay quiet, don’t talk as much.” Men and their self control are given a free pass.
I could recount all of the times I have witnessed harassment or been privy to it myself.
The way it made me feel small.
The way it made my friends feel weak or unhuman.
I could tell you about the first time I saw a man’s genitals and that some perv in a big gray car called out to my sister and me when we were 7 and 5 and then sped away as fast as he had appeared, but that the memory of what I saw has been impossible to shake, even 30 years later.
I could tell you about countless friends, (women and men) who have been victims of assaults against their bodies-there are more I don’t even know about, covering secret shame.
Or the times in the workplace where I heard men joking about women’s bodies (other people’s wives), followed by knowing laughs.
Or how even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Gosh, I don’t want to sound angry, because then they won’t listen.” But anger from men, that elicits positive change.
So like the racism is to my black friends, right now the women in your life are saying, “Yeah, we know. We live it every day. You want examples? Here they are.” And she can rattle off when and where and who. And whether she said something, or whether she just added it to the longer list of times she said nothing.
Men. It starts with you. And not just by not harassing women or assaulting them. It starts with training your mind to see women as equals. To see them as someone’s mom, or sister, or daughter. See them as valuable and smart. And then hold your tongue instead of saying something dirty or unkind. Never comment on a woman’s body parts. Ever. Never make crude jokes to a woman or about her. Remember that locker room talk is just never ok, in any setting.
Mostly. Teach your sons, by example and with your words, that women are equal and smart and that when they cry they are not crazy and that no means no. Love the women in your life enough to stand up for them over and over and over. Teach your girls that they are full of worth, just like my dad taught me.
I’m one of the lucky ones, most of my life, I had amazing male teachers, professors, and bosses who acted as champions, who treated me with respect, who stood up for what is right, who’s actions were always above board…
I can still say, “me too.”