Category Archives: stream of consciousness

channeling my inner virginia woolf (and other authors whose SOC style puts me off). because maybe I wouldn’t hate them if I understood them.

Not Everything Is Sexism

A lot of people are tired of sexism coming up in conversations. You’re not alone. (Many of you are so tired of the conversation that you already stopped reading this post.) But, before you dismiss the conversation with “not everything is sexism,” consider this:

No, not everything is sexism. But yes, a lot of things truly are. And the more we talk about it and learn about it and point it out when we see it, the more often we are going to see it in the everyday world around us, even in the seemingly harmless ways we engage in personal conversations with our friends and family or inside our own thoughts. Sexism is a huge part of the world, and it sucks to have to acknowledge that because, once we do, we must change. And changing is hard. And it might mean sharing power, and if people feel like they aren’t starting out with a lot of power to begin with, then the idea of sharing it (even with someone who has less power) is not appealing because we erroneously view power like we view the world’s resources: as both finite and scarce. Further, if we ourselves haven’t been socially responsible with the power we were born into, we tend to imagine the worst about other people’s potential to wield power.

The conversation on sexism is changing. It’s like in a game where you reach a certain level of achievement, so the game becomes harder. Well, world, Achievement Unlocked: Noticing Blatant Sexism and Misogyny. So now the conversation is getting harder because now it’s about pointing out the subtle infrastructures our society has in place that not only allow sexism to thrive but also allow it to lurk below the surface and masquerade as not-sexism. Making excuses for sexism or denying that sexism exists in a given conversation are both part of allowing sexism to live on. We all have sexism ingrained in us because we were all born into a sexist world. Even those who fight to dismantle sexism must continually examine the subtleties of their own sexist thoughts and behavior—regardless of their own gender, and especially regardless of their intent.

Intent is a huge roadblock to people thinking critically about sexism. Haven’t you heard the adage about the road to hell and how it’s paved? Intent is ultimately meaningless in any -ism conversation. Intent exists to make us feel better about our own mistakes. But good intentions are not our get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s not tacit permission to ignore the actual ramifications of our actions. Have you ever felt completely satisfied after getting your feelings hurt by someone saying, “I didn’t mean to” and leaving it at that? I know I haven’t. We didn’t mean to [insert bad action here]? Okay. But that’s not very productive toward reconciliation. “I didn’t mean to” has become a poor substitute for an apology, but it doesn’t take responsibility for what actually happened. We’re still responsible for reconciliation. We can’t resolve or change what happened by saying we didn’t mean for it to happen.

Personal experience seems to hinder the sexism conversation just as much as, if not more than, intent. Men look at the women in their lives whom they love—their wives, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters—and draw the inaccurate conclusion that, because they like those women, it must be impossible for them to ever participate in any actions that are sexist or misogynist or hurtful toward women as a whole. In the same way, women who don’t want to engage the conversation on sexism look at the nice ways their own husbands treat them and incorrectly conclude that, just because they don’t experience the oppression of sexism in their own lives, sexism must be a myth invented by someone with a political agenda. Using one’s own positive personal experience as a way to deny someone else’s negative personal experience has become a powerful weapon of privileged classes. It has never happened to me, and I’ve never seen it happen to anyone else; therefore, it doesn’t exist. To digress for a short second, this is a common defense of the privileged classes in the racism conversation. A white person may find it easy to think, I’ve never seen anyone be rude to a black person; therefore, racism doesn’t exist. Sadly, personal experience can also be weaponized in the exact opposite way. People who have had negative experiences use those experiences to form simple generalizations about complex issues. A woman was rude to me once; therefore, all women are rude, which makes it okay for me to be preemptively rude to all women I encounter, or to dismiss any ideas a woman puts forth.

I know there are people in my life who roll their eyes every time I bring up sexism as a possible factor in a given scenario. I’ve literally watched them do it. But I refuse to feel bad about making you uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable too. Imagine how tired I am of talking about the role sexism plays in everyday life! I promise you, I would love to stop starting this conversation as much as you would love to stop hearing about it—probably more! But we don’t quit just because we’re tired. That just isn’t how change works.

In conclusion, if your knee-jerk reaction to someone bringing up sexism is to deny or to argue? Maybe just pause and think before responding. Think about why you want to deny or argue or disagree. Could it be because that’s easier? Could it be because, if you acknowledge that sexism is a main character hiding in the wings just offstage of our lives, you might have to change something about yourself? Sexism is truly everywhere. And maybe it’s just a supporting role. And sometimes just naming it and noticing it without harping on it will go a long way toward finding a sufficient resolution. But we owe it to ourselves as a society to at least consider the role sexism might be playing. We must keep talking about it, no matter how weary we get.



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Filed under bloggy, feminisim, stream of consciousness, writing exercises

Why Are the Sexes Still Battling?

*Obligatory Structure Apology: This post covers the surface of two or three gender-related issues but doesn’t delve deeply into any of them. It flits from surface to surface without looking back and is more on the scatterbrained side of things than I hope my usual writings are. But consider it a free-write exercise or a stream-of-consciousness editorial. Faulkner got famous with that style.*

So, I wanna talk about The Gender Thing. Yes, capitalized. And it might get uncomfortable for you. It might even get uncomfortable for me. That’s okay. You can leave any time you want. I won’t mind. Promise. But if you decide to stay, put on your seatbelts and your thinking caps.

First and foremost, I have realized that the older I get, the more feminist I become. I’m not sure if this is a result of increased awareness, of some sort of defiant personal statement about my own situation in life, or just because feminism (or rather, gender equality, as I prefer to call it) actually does make more sense than any other alternative. Whatever the reason, as I have aged, my beliefs about women’s place in this world and how they ought to be treated have changed pretty dramatically. The world has come a long way too, even just since I’ve been alive, but not as far as it could come, and not as far as I have come.

Growing up, I actually had no concept of male dominance or gender inequality, or even gender roles. Mom and Dad both cooked. They both cleaned. They both mowed the lawn. They both drove the car. And they both worked full time. I do not have a single memory of my dad sitting on his butt while my mom did “women’s work,” nor do I remember my mom putting off yard work or car maintenance “until Dad got home.” When something needed to be done (with a few exceptions that I assumed – and rightly so, I think – were the result of procrastination/apathy more than gender-role assignment), whoever was around and able to do it, did it.

Parents make lots of mistakes raising their children, and my parents made plenty, I’m sure. (And I’m not just talking about the obvious injustices of not letting me go to the movies alone with my seventh-grade boyfriend, or revoked privileges when I broke a rule.) But one thing I had no idea my parents were doing right was The Gender Thing. Sometimes my dad made final decisions, and sometimes my mom made final decisions, and sometimes they both made final decisions. But nobody kept score (that I knew of), and neither one acted superior to the other.

My dad is ridiculously artistic, so he is the one who experimented on my hair when I was a kid. He gave me haircuts (using Scotch tape to adhere my bangs to my forehead and cutting straight across underneath the tape; early ’90s genius); he curled my hair using pink foam rollers; he braided it in tiny braids for me to sleep on overnight (I found out as a young adult that more well-off kids actually had plug-in devices to achieve the same effect); and he styled it into numerous variations of ponytails and pigtails. Once, on school picture day in fourth grade, he even gave me Farrah-Fawcett-feathered bangs. I was too young to appreciate it, and so were my classmates; I got made fun of mercilessly that day.

Growing up, though, I always got weird looks when people complimented me on what my mom had done with my hair and I told them it was my dad’s work. I wish I had understood then what I do now and been able to tell them, “There’s no such thing as a gender role at our house.” But I didn’t, so I just shrugged off their incredulous looks and instead replied, “Yeah. My dad is pretty cool.”

My parents told me the same thing all parents tell their kids when they’re young: You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. Yes, all parents say this to their children. Unfortunately, I don’t think all parents really mean it. But that’s a different blog post. My parents, however, totally meant it. And they never said anything to me about the limitations I might encounter because of my gender. Until I was about fifteen, my only career aspiration was veterinary science. But if, as a child, I had told my parents that what I wanted to do with my life was get a bachelor’s degree, work as an editor, buy a house at the age of 25, and stay unmarried, I am about 93% sure their response would’ve been: “Cool.” Because my parents believe in supporting my decisions. (Or at least, if they don’t believe that, they do a darn good job of pretending they do.  Come to think of it, they are both skilled actors…)

Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t believe that people can be or do whatever they want, and I have encountered some harsh instances of gender inequality in my life, most of them coming in the form of sexual harassment. For whatever reason, we live in a world ruled by men (you can’t argue that; it’s sociological fact); and, unfortunately, they often rule it with their penises.

From the time little boys are taught to pee standing up, they learn early on that their penises are powerful devices, able to be used for whatever purposes they can dream up. It’s why boys have peeing contests. It’s why the four-year-old I babysit once peed all over his bedroom. It’s why a young child a friend of mine used to babysit stood at the top of the stairwell in his family’s house and peed down to the bottom of it. It’s why men lord it over women that they can pee anywhere they want, any time they want, and we can’t. And it’s also why there’s so much phallic-shaped art in the world. Men get a kick out of drawing attention to their penises and what they can do. 

Contrarily, women are told that, because we have vaginas and because they sometimes bleed, that makes us unequal. After all, how can a woman who has wonky hormones once every month possibly be a good leader? Interesting logic, considering that male leader after male leader after male leader (including at least two beloved presidents of the United States) has proven that his hormonal tendencies are even more irregular – and often more frequent – than the average woman’s. At least with women, we can track it on the calendar and predict when hormones are going to get a little out of whack. With men, you never know.

It might be because a pretty girl makes eye contact from across the street. It might be because the wind blows a skirt up for a fraction of a second. It might be because a bra strap is showing (or at least, that’s what church camp said). Or heck, it might be because a guy stares at a blade of grass for too long and randomly springs an erection that has no discernible explanation. How often do men get erections? Healthy men, aged 25-50? At least once a day. I guarantee it.

Anyway, my point actually has nothing to do with who is better equipped to function in any given capacity, because people are equipped by natural or learned skills that have absolutely nothing to do with gender. So let’s not get further sidetracked by discussions of periods and erections. I guess my point is that this is a messed-up, completely broken world, and I’m pretty angry about the fact that I’ve experienced more than my fair share (if there is such a thing as a “fair share”) of sexual brokenness because of guys who thought they deserved to treat me and my body however they pleased, simply because my body exists, and because their penises communicated a desire to their brains.

And, honestly, I have wished in the past for those certain males to have something painful happen to their man parts. But that wouldn’t solve the larger problem, and anyway, in the interest of telling both sides of the story, there have been other instances when I’ve found myself in problematic situations and have made my own mistakes that I have had to take responsibility for. So I’m not pointing fingers at men or at women specifically.

am pointing fingers at the world in general. I don’t understand why it’s 2013 and the majority of women still earn lower salaries than men. Or why certain healthcare policies exclude or ignore women’s needs. Or why women compete with other women in any capacity other than pure athletics. Or why men still rape women (even their wives). Or why women still get cat-called or otherwise inappropriately addressed in public. I don’t understand it at all. And it makes me sad, and it makes me so angry.

But I’m grateful for the way I was raised as it regards gender roles (or the lack thereof, rather). And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an aunt to a little girl whom I hope to teach early and often the truth about gender, and how that truth differs from what the world may try to tell her.

In some ways, feminism has been really good for this world, and in other ways it has simply made things more ridiculous, more difficult, more complicated. But my friend Karly articulated it well several days ago in a co-ed discussion about stay-at-home mothers. Feminism was originally about fighting for the right to choose, rather than the right to judge. If every person in this world was truly created equal, and if every person was truly created in the image of God, then terms like gender rolemisogyny, chauvinismfeminism, and sexism shouldn’t even exist.


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