As I’ve gotten older, sexism has become a very important issue for me, and because I think about it a lot, it’s turned into the kind of thing like when you get a new car and suddenly start noticing all the other cars on the road that are the same model. Have they always been there? Of course they have. Well, unless what you got was a Prius in 2008 or a Hummer in 2003. Hello, trendy bandwagoners.
In any case, I see examples of sexism everywhere because it’s ingrained in our culture to the point that, unless it’s blatant sexual harassment, most people (men especially) don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s similar to how people don’t have any clue that gypped is actually a racist slur, or that thug is an offensive term that should not be used to label any given adolescent who happens to be wearing baggy pants. When it comes to sexism, terms that our society considers harmless insults are thrown around every day, especially in the sports world: throws like a girl, sissy, crying like a girl, etc.
So, because I’ve trained myself to stop ignoring sexist comments or treating them as harmless, I’ve become a bit of a Sexist Nazi, much in the same way that I’ve been a Grammar Nazi my entire life. It’s a soapbox issue, and I know certain people view me as beating a dead horse, or as crusading a pointless cause. I also know, however, that other people are listening, and some are even examining and changing their own behavior and language as a result of heightened awareness. And for that reason, I will probably always raise my feminist voice when I think it’s needed.
However, something I’ve noticed recently is that sometimes the line is blurry between what is sexist and what isn’t. Believe it or not, there actually are some legitimate differences between male and female human beings, and acknowledging such a truth does not make one sexist. I had to confront this reality for myself recently during the Sochi Winter Olympics. For instance, as far as athletic ability, male bodies appear to be predisposed (at least in some sports) to a higher level of elitism than female bodies, which is why they separate the competitions by sex. If the female snowboarders and skiers were pitted against the male snowboarders and skiers, then women would rarely – if ever – reach the podium.
This truth became the most evident to me while watching women’s slopestyle snowboarding just a day or two after watching the men’s competition. The men’s slopestyle competition was impressive. Those guys can do things I would never dare attempt, even underwater or in a padded bounce house. And the judges gave the men impressive scores for their impressive tricks. All right. Cool. I could handle that. A few days later, the women took their turn in the same event, on the same course, with what I presume to have been the same group of judges.
However, even though the women – like the men – did things I will never be able to do, they didn’t seem to be performing as many tricks or turning around in the air as many times as the men had. (Keep in mind, this is the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about snowboarding, but my untrained eye perceived the women to be turning only once or twice in the air instead of two and a half times or thrice like the men had.) Despite that, they received comparable scores to the men for what seemed like fewer tricks, and less impressive technique. This bothered me because, in my mind, if a man jumps and turns three times around and receives a score of 90, and then a woman jumps and turns around one and a half times and also receives a score of 90, that’s an unjust imbalance, and it’s insulting to both parties. It’s insulting to the man that half as much trick gets the same score, and it’s an insultingly patronizing way to treat the woman. It makes the woman feel like the fat kid who gets a head start in a foot race.
Before I was able to reconcile my indignation with the scoring disparity, the snowboarding announcers (I heard their names were both Todd-something, but I’m unfamiliar with them) made everything worse by making comments such as, “That would’ve been a really good run even for a man!” and, “[She] snowboards better than some men I know, and the men get paid to do it!” It is clear the announcers were trying to pay compliments to what they considered impressive feats of athleticism, but was it necessary to be so condescending?
If a feminist such as myself is going to accept the premise that in some respects, such as athletics, men have a natural ability to achieve higher levels than women, then shouldn’t men accept that there is no need to remind the world that women are inferior? In my mind, it was bad enough that the judges were inflating the women’s scores, but the announcers didn’t need to pile on by opining that it was impressive, for a woman. If everybody knows that, why does it need to be stated outright? I can concede that, no matter how good Jamie Anderson gets at her sport, Shaun White and Sage Kotsenburg will probably always be just a hair better. Not because they work harder but simply because their ceiling is likely higher than her ceiling.
It is a biological fact we can all agree on that, in general, men tend to be taller and more naturally muscular than women. God just made it that way. (Okay, we may not all be able to agree on God’s role in it, but that’s irrelevant.) So, as far as inflated scores go, I get that. If they graded the women on the same scale they graded the men, then gold medalist Sage would stand next to gold medalist Jamie with a huge score disparity. Sage’s gold medal score would be 91-point-whatever, and Jamie’s would be (according to the scale by which they scored the men) 70-point-something, probably. And then people would be up in arms about that because it would feel sexist and insulting, even if it technically isn’t. So I can get on board with separate competitions for each sex, and even with adjusting a scoring scale and inflating or deflating the numbers based on competitive ceiling.
But I cannot get on board with the condescending comments toward women. If we’ve established that the competitions need to be separate events, and scored on a slightly different scale, then why do we need to remind everyone that the cute little women just aren’t as good as the men?
Well gosh-darnit, you gotta give those girls some credit. Sure, they can’t do what the men do, but golly, them li’l firecrackers try their best, and it’s just adorable, and boy, do their boobies look great in those jumpsuits, don’t they. Garsh. I hope my mom/wife has a warm bowl of soup waiting for me when I get home from this taxing, bread-winning job.
That’s what I heard when the Todds made their ignorant and insensitive comments.
I am slowly coming to terms with the concept that the genders being equal does not mean the genders are the same, nor should it mean that. But if men could dispense with the patronizing comments, I could make my progress a lot more quickly.