Sexism and my “Truman Show” moment

The usual spate of year-in-review articles by the media has made it clear that 2014 was a great year for feminism.

Note: It was a great year for feminism, not necessarily a great year for women.

2014 was the year of Leaning In, the year of #YesAllWomen, the year of Beyonce,

had to do it

had to do it

Laverne Cox, Emma Watson, Niki Minaj, & T-Swift, Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Long Live Notorious RGB), Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and all of their respective flavors of feminism. The year we refused to sweep domestic violence under the rug. The year of Title IX. Plus, we kicked off 2015 with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Golden Globes.

But 2014 was also the year of the Isla Vista killings, Hobby Lobby,  and 70 new abortion restrictions. The Paycheck Fairness Act did not pass for the fourth  time, and women are still not guaranteed equal rights in the US Constitution. Online, it was the year of Gamergate, and a celebrity nude leak that turned a large majority of the country into sex offenders. Oh, and leggings were banned in schools.

In short, 2014 was the year we acknowledged sexism and feminism, but didn’t really do anything progressive about it.

Let’s make 2015 the year we finally take action.

Take action? How?! you may be asking yourself.

I have a few suggestions on how to make 2015 a better year for gender equality.

But first, let me regale you with a (relatively) short story:

(or you can just skip to the bottom, you sound-byte ninnies)

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a lass known as “the feminist one”, but it had not always been that way.

For the first 20 years of my life I did not notice the social troll known as sexism living in my closet. Not to say I was completely oblivious. The men at my first job (age 15) had nicknamed me “Sophie the Trophy”. I had taken a Gender Studies course at McGill, where “Killing Us Softly” and “Miss Representation” were part of the curriculum. I had weathered my fair share of sexist digs.

But the concept that sexism actively affected me in very real ways was, by and large, foreign.

That all changed when my good friend Bridget explained to me the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” theory, and I read the original post in full. This is what I call my “Truman Show” moment.

truman sho

Truman checks out a light that mysteriously fell from the sky

Much like how Truman was tipped off by one small detail that made him cognizant to many more small details which ultimately reshaped how he perceived his reality, Schrodinger’s Rapist was my feminist catalyst.

This line in particular:

“Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is.”

Never before had it occurred to me that the burdens of personal safety I undertook on a daily basis were actually female burdens of safety.

While men don’t necessarily have it easier, women definitely have it harder.

How does that logic work? Something like this:

logic by lck 2
logic by lck

Little things like texting a quick “home safe” confirmation to friends, bringing my drink with me into the bathroom stall, checking the backseat of my car before getting in – these were all things I thought everyone did.  And then I asked around and found out that none of my guy friends bothered with those precautions.

These small details that pepper my daily routine – driving 5 minutes to my bus stop so I don’t have to walk alone in the dark, wearing earbuds with no music so I can hear my surroundings – essentially what women do to stay safe (and what men don’t do) because of our gender became strikingly obvious in my new state of Femlightenment.

Hungry to understand,  I started reading feminist blogs, and the “woman” section of the news (a section that I had previously avoided because I thought it would be full of baby stuff).

The next “big” detail that really began to rub me the wrong way was the “male as default” phenomenon: The idea that it’s a man’s world, and it is women that must adapt to this landscape accordingly.

For example, linguistically, “mankind”, “man”, and “guys” are all perfectly acceptable ways to refer to humans, “women included” going unsaid.

But vocabulary is the fluffy, “privileged, white, first-world feminism” stuff, as critics like to say.

And the “male as default” phenomenon is not fluffy, it is downright dangerous.

women aren't bad drivers. we're just more likely to die

women aren’t bad drivers. we’re just more likely to die

Male is the default in the car industry, with automotive companies using only male crash test dummies, despite the obvious fact that women drive cars too. This raised the risk of  moderate injury for women in car crashes by an astounding 71%, and the risk of serious injury or death by 47% (source). And we only realized this in fucking 2011. New requirements for female crash dummies were not put into place until 2012 (read more here). Shit like this is unacceptable.

Male is also the default in drug research, with scientists using only male test subjects in animal trials, and a heavy bias towards men in human trials (source). “Researchers avoided using female animals for fear that their reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations would confound the results of delicately calibrated experiments” (Slate). This reasoning is curious, as female humans also have reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations, but experimental drug trials will often be administered to women without ever being tested on female animals first. In other news, men continue to avoid period-stuff like the plague. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, women to experience higher rates of adverse drug reactions than men.

This is when I realized sexism was an active effort, rather than a passive “this is how it’s always been” shrug. It is so much more than a shrug.

gender-gap-busienssSexism defies logic. Even though women are better adapted for work in isolated & confined spaces such as submarines and spaceships (women used less oxygen, required less food, and produce less waste), they continue to face systematic barriers to joining  the ranks of astronauts and submariners. (sources 1, 2, 3)

Sexism defies capitalism. Even though a revealing study showed that companies perform better financially with more women in leadership positions, only 14.6% of executive officers in the 500 highest-grossing American companies are women (source).

You know when that typical jerkoff says, “If the gender pay gap exists and we can pay women less, then why don’t companies only hire women?” just reply, “Because sexism trumps capitalism, asshole.”

It seems like the only thing that beats sexism is good ol’ racism. But that’s a topic for a different day.

Anyways, the more I learned about the pervasiveness of sexism, and feminist theory, the more I started talking about it. For a long time I was afraid of being the “obnoxious feminist” every time I spoke up. I’m sure many people do think that of me. That’s ok. Because something unexpected started to happen:

It started rubbing off on the people around me.

A few months ago a friend excitedly called me to let me know that at her waitressing job an old man tried to pay her by reaching to put bills down the front of her shirt. Rather than giggling it off, she turned away with a flat “no”, and walked away.

“I thought of you,” she said.

I had also started interrupting my guy friends’ sports banter whenever they used “raped” in place of “dominated” or “won” or “triumph” (because really, when you think about it, how fucked up is that?).

It would go like this:

“Holy shizzle, did you see that game? The Seahawks RAPED the 49ers!”

“Could you use a different word, other than raped?”

“Oh yeah, sorry.”

That’s really all it takes. If the dudes in your life are decent people, they will apologize and use a different word.

Sometimes it takes a few times to stick. If my friends use “raped” again – it seems fairly common in the context of sports – I’ll take it a bit further.

“Oh my gawd, they raped in that play!”

“Hey! did you realize that 1 in 6 women have been raped, and there are 12 in this room?”

Watching the most recent Seahawks game, I overhead a friend start to say “raped” – only to stop and self-correct without any prompt. To me, that was more exciting than the touchdown.

Which brings me to my one suggestion for improving gender equality in 2015:

Talk about it. Talk about sexism.

Acknowledge it.

All of it.

Even the stuff that you disagree with.

It’s been a slow process, but over the past year I’ve seen my friends – of all genders – stand up against sexism with increasing frequency, due to their increased awareness.

None of this is limited to female-centric problems. Men should, of course, feel free to speak up about their  gender-specific problems too, because the road goes both ways. Sexism is solved by women and men speaking up and raising awareness to their gendered issues that would otherwise go unacknowledged.

Acknowledgement is a pretty low bar, by the way. It’s the least we can do.

Sexism in developed countries is not one thing we can easily point fingers at, like Saudi’s driving ban, or FGM, or forced veiling. Rather, sexism in first-world countries is an aggregation of small details.

Likewise, the solution to sexism is going to be an aggregation of small details.

Change the discourse, change the culture.

Here’s my easy, anybody-can-do-it short list of things you can do in 2015:

  • Practice compassion and actively put yourself in others’ shoes. Often I stop and think “this would (or wouldn’t) be a problem if I was a man.” And likewise, it would behoove men to sometimes stop and consider “this would be a problem if I was a woman.”
  • Stop over-sexualizing breasts. Don’t freak out and complain when a woman breastfeeds in public.
  • Listen & believe women when they tell you something. Like the fact that we don’t like cat-calling. Or the 30 women accusing Cosby. That is either the most elaborate hoax ever, or… you know… true.
  • Believe rape victims of any gender. Victims of violent rapes experience less PTSD that victims of non-violent rapes, because survivors with physical evidence are more likely to be believed. It is that important.
  • Down with revenge porn! Don’t take or share explicit photos without consent. Delete that shit and tell whoever shared it that s/he’s a grade-A asswipe.
  • And stop fucking using the word “girl” to describe fully grown women.

Dress Coded: An Education on (unnecessary) Sexualization

dress-coded-1

When one Illinois middle school cluelessly decided to ban leggings & yoga pants because they were “distracting to the boys”, they probably didn’t have any idea it would be the catalyst to a national conversation about dress codes in school.

I mean, dress codes are like, so un-controversial. Until now.

Now, all sorts of interesting stories are surfacing. Girls wearing the same regulation gym outfits, but the curvier ones are getting dress-coded. Tall girls getting dress-coded for short garments, even though they’re finger-tip length, while short girls seem to not draw the same leg-bearing ire. One girl getting sent home from prom for wearing pants. Another girl was sent home from her homeschool prom because male chaperons said her dress was “causing impure thoughts”…for the teenage boys, of course.

So… Many interesting stories indeed.

The leggings ban irked me immediately for two reasons. The first being that these girls are in middle school, which means they are 11-14. Stop making them out to be devilish little nymphets, you creepy Humbert Humberts. These girls are not wearing yoga pants/leggings to show off the prepubescent shapeliness (ha!) of their backsides. The main reason girls (and adult women!) wear yoga pants is because they are heaven compared to the alternative:

Traditionally “cute”clothing for young women are notoriously restrictive and often painful.

The following images are from IMPRESSION, a photo series that shows what women wear, by the imprints left on their skin .  Here’s what form-fitting jeans look like:

jeans 2 impression jeans impressionjeans 3 impression

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does that look comfortable to you?  Because it looks pretty damn painful to me.

Keep in mind that loose or baggy clothing for girls is neither “popular” nor “attractive” and even borderline socially unacceptable. Professional women: would you show up to the office in a baggy pantsuit? No? Then why would these girls show up to school in baggy jeans?

(This is a bit off topic but…) I really bothers me how schools insist that girls wear bras (this starts at, like, age 8-14 when girls start budding. Many girls and/or their moms have embarrassing stories of female teachers quietly pulling them aside, and delicately suggesting that she get a training bra), but then simultaneously decree that bra straps are inappropriate. This is like insisting all boys must wear socks, but the tops of socks sticking out of the shoes are inappropriate.  It’s just… so arbitrary.

bra 1 impression bra 2 impression

Anyway, back to my point: the (un)comfort of women’s clothing. Obviously girls are going to pick yoga pants/leggings over form-fitting jeans that cut off the blood flow in the hips. It’s not about looking “sexy”. It’s about comfort. To twist this innocent reason around and treat these girls as if they are temptresses is incredibly disrespectful.

The second reason the leggings ban irked me was the “reasoning” behind it.

It’s “distracting to the boys”

Ugh. Every sane person on the internet immediately called bullshit on this incredibly sexist statement. The basic and very valid counterargument:  Girls clothing is not and should not be responsible for boys’ behavior.  I’m actually not going to go too deep into this. I know if you’re reading my blog then you probably understand & agree with the counterargument. I wanted to take this conversation in a bit of a different direction;

One. 

It’s yet another reminder, and reinforcement, that a girl’s appearance is more important, and demands more attention, than her other, non-visible qualities. You know, qualities like intelligence, perseverance, athletic ability, tenacity, creativity, a hard work ethic… attention to those attributes seem fade away rather quickly once an inch of skin is exposed.

Instead, it teaches her to view herself in a sexualized gaze, from an outsider’s point of view. At an increasingly young age, getting dressed in the morning turns from “does teal clash with yellow?” to “is this too much shoulder? Can someone see down this shirt? Would someone be able to look up this skirt on the stairs? What happens when I sit or bend over? I should test that.”

It’s not necessary a bad way of thinking when getting dressed. But it’s a pretty damn insidious sign of something ugly in our society, when middle-school girls are worrying about people looking down their shirts, and adjusting what they wear because of it.

And schools, the institutions that are supposed to be teaching our kids the importance of education, teach the opposite when they pull a girl out of class because her tank top straps are only two inches wide, not the three inches regulation. It doesn’t matter if she’s the valedictorian working towards the Ivy Leagues. If one day her shirt rides up a bit too much (maybe it shrunk unexpectedly in the wash?), she could get sent home to change (perfect attendance award? who cares!).

Two.

Female bodies are not public art.

They are not for your viewing pleasure.

Or viewing displeasure.

Schools are teaching girls, at a very, very young age, that they are on-display, and that is not ok. They’re normalizing some pretty scary behaviors that women must put up with almost every day:

  • receiving unsolicited comments from complete strangers on clothes and/or appearance
  • fielding “suggestions” from others on how dress, apply makeup, or even style hair
  • being forced to change clothes because someone in an authority position demands it
  • experiencing the unwanted & unnecessary sexualization of her body by older persons
  • responding to all of the above with compliance and politeness

Not only that, but for women, the feeling of being watched is unsettling but very common. I feel on-display when I’m waiting for the crosswalk sign to change. I feel on-display when I’m at the gym. I feel on-display at the grocery store… the list could go on. Usually it’s because I see the leers, the quick up-down flick of the eyes, the possible mental-undressing (many guys have told me apparently this is a common, almost knee-jerk mental reaction, to imagine a woman’s clothes off? Idk, let me know in the comment box). Its pretty jarring to hear that some schools have become one of those places that treat girls like they are objects on display.

I think what we’re hearing online is girls expressing that the strange, inconsistent enforcement of the dress codes is sexualizing them against their will. I’m pretty sure every single private schoolgirl has been subjected to some crass “naughty schoolgirl” joke, or unwanted attention, due to their uniforms.

It’s not the girls.

It’s not their uniforms.

It’s the outsider’s gaze sexualizing  them.

Right now schools seem to be doing a really good job of teaching girls being female in public means their bodies are on display for scrutiny. And schools are doing a really bad job of teaching boys that staring is rude (to put it lightly).

Until this changes in schools, I highly doubt the more mature, serious variations of unwanted sexualization – street harassment, sexual assault, and victim-blaming – will ever fully disappear.

All I have to say for now is:

If you’re a teenage girl in high school, it will all be over soon. You will graduate (or exit with grace), and enter the real world where nobody cares if leggings show the shape of your butt, because everybody wears leggings and everybody has butts. And there is nothing inherently sexual with either of those things.

These Female “Privileges” Suck (but also prove my point)

Dear Mark Saunders,

I see that you are a writer of men’s issues, and have taken it upon yourself to expose some of the insidiously institutionalized sexism that American men suffer from on a daily basis. Your article was titled “18 things females seem to not understand (because female privilege)” and I clicked on it, bracing for the usual dribble such as “we don’t like your pixie cuts”.

I was instead blown away by the incredible amount of  ignorance & misogyny I had unwittingly stumbled upon. Yes! A veritable goldmine of men’s issues & female privileges!

MRA

Although I’m not sure you are quite clear on the definition of a privilege.

Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. 

When I saw your post was a list of privileges I thought to myself, “oh good, something to remind me of how great it is to be a woman.” Too bad it was a list of literally the most pathetic, least useful privileges (& some non-privileges) ever. How ironic!

The vast majority of the list is unsupported by sound reasoning, logic, or statistics. So here I am fuming & taking 4 hours to refute an 18-point list that probably took you 30 seconds to write, when I could be watching Fringe on Netflix.

And, uh, Mark? You forgot the most important female privilege of all:

Yoga. Pants.

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