Sexism In General
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.
But 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.
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.
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 adolescent women had their feet bound for months so their feet would be petite, but deformed and useless for walking, because the inability to move was considered attractive to rich men. 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.
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, wearing skirts and make-up and panty hose and high heels 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.
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 at 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.
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.
What I am 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.
This essay was originally the introduction to the book “(woman.)”.
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