By Madeline LaMee
He’s a player, she’s a slut. She’s feisty, he’s abusive. He’s a boss, she’s just bossy. We hear these things constantly, but more often we see them. We see them in the ways couples interact, how friends socialize, and even how governments are run. Sexism (against both men and women) is an idea embedded in our society so deeply that it is hardly discernable from the everyday practices and traditions of life. Despite the great leaps in our mindsets about sexism, the problem is not completely solved. In fact, it is still highly evident in the language and standards of present day teenagers.
Of course, sexism exists in both the men and women, but, in the spirit of irony, ‘ladies first’! Irony aside, there is a lot of historical context that must be taken into account when dealing with sexism against women. We have had the short end of the personal freedom stick for a very long time, making it a far touchier subject than sexism against men. And there is a reason for this! Atrocities that women suffered and still suffer under the name of male supremacy have been one of the more widespread injustices of history. Since about the neolithic age on to present day, females have been in most societies oppressed as the roles of males became ever more powerful. For a very very long time women in almost every country couldn’t hold a position in the government or have a career in a male-dominated field. Laws restricting female sexuality became extremely strict as it became the norm to pass down property through male heirs. In many places, it was a crime for a woman to even speak up against her husband.
In some areas of the world, women have fought for and have obtained their rights to the freedom to choose their own futures, but even in these places, the sexism has left its traces in the traditions and standards that have been passed down from generation to generation. One thing that has resulted of the overly strict regulations on female sexuality is the double standard of slut shaming. I have seen how young mothers and sexually promiscuous women are treated with such little respect by their peers, whereas promiscuous men are often commended, if not openly praised for their behavior. In this situation, it’s clear the guys have the cop-out solution, while the girls are held to the higher moral standard.
Another incredibly important double-standard that affects women is the lingering expectation that women are gentle and submissive by nature, an assumption that makes it difficult for boss women to appear to their employees as both likeable and assertive at the same time. Since female beauty is often associated with passiveness and frailty, and handsomeness is associated with assertive behavior, women who attempt to act more assertive are often considered to be manly. Plus, this probably contributes to the fact that the United States still hasn’t had a woman for president, since Presidents are expected to be strong leaders but also have to be likeable in order to win elections. Whereas men are generally considered more charismatic if they are decisive and unyielding, it’s the unfortunate truth that these qualities are often seen as undesirable for women.
The same goes for attitudes that young people hold for each other. I notice constantly how many of my female peers will seek a relationship not by flaunting their best traits but by acting smaller, dumber, and shallower than they actually are. They see in the media and sometimes in their own families that acting that way is what makes a woman attractive, and by mirroring these practices, they enter into a relationship that is in most cases very devoid of respect towards their actual good qualities. This dynamic, I would argue, is the reason why there are generally more abusive relationships that target women than men; the women are taught that sticking up for themselves will be unattractive, whereas guys are taught that aggressiveness is a way to prove their manliness.
Still, there is another idea that comes along with this. While women were idealized as the perfect images of beauty and grace, men were then idealized as the epitome of strength and toughness, and it reflects in the way that we see their roles in relationships even today.
Needless to say, it turns out that not every man wants to be dominant, just as not every women wants to be submissive. This in itself is often referred to as reverse sexism, a rising epidemic that is taking form in some countries who have already made strides in women’s rights.
Take, for instance, the abuse scenario. Since it is still statistically more likely for men to be abusive, many men complain that it is much harder for them to press charges against an abusive wife than it would be for their wives to press charges against them. This makes sense, since women are generally stereotyped as the caring, gentle homemakers, an image that doesn’t really fit very well with domestic abuse. Some would even blame the abuse on the husband, who somehow wasn’t manly enough to stick up for his own dignity. In this way, divorce and abuse cases are prejudiced towards the woman and so usually end with her taking custody of the children.
Another one that I personally notice quite often is the expectation that men should be chivalrous towards women even when their girlfriend/ wife / friend is not being polite to them. I frustrates me greatly when I see girls who think it’s perfectly fine to be rude to the guys in their lives (and in the name of empowerment!) but expect their boyfriends to open their doors and help them out of their cars. First off, if you want to be empowered, then why not open your own door? Secondly, if you expect equality for yourself, then it should not exclude the less convenient side to this, which is having to learn a bit of chivalry yourself. It is paramount for women to learn to command respect, but in the spirit of actual equality, that means we must take responsibility for respecting others too.
So, yes, I consider myself a feminist, and I am proud of that, but if there were such a thing, I would be a “minist” too. Feminism was never meant to become the tipping of the tides so that females would have their time to oppress. Instead, it was meant as a promise that all men and women were created equal, and that this equality must not be marred by the doubles-standards of casual sexism.
I describe myself as a feminist and I am not afraid to say so. Throughout the past year
I have really gotten to know what it truly means and currently feel a great sense of connection
to what is stands for and how it shapes and defines the person I am. Nevertheless, there are still
others who might be scared, intimidated, and worried about the repercussions that come along
with identifying as a feminist. In this way I have recently found myself having more courage
standing up to be a voice that brings awareness to fellow peer’s stereotypes and biases. As I am
getting older and more exposed to how to talk about controversial and “hidden” aspects of the
culture we are exposed to. I see how the more informed I am the better and more empowered
I feel in expressing to others how to be more thoughtful about what they say, think, and do to
make the biggest impact.
Just this past week for instance there was a boy in my class who kept calling his friend
a bitch. The friend was horsing around and irritating the other boy, and after hearing the word
for about the fourth time I couldn’t handle it anymore. I told the boy to stop using the word to
describe his friend and he told me how he would never say that to a girl but somehow it was
ok to call a boy that instead. This struck me as an odd response, but I proceeded to explain
to him that no matter who he is speaking to, the word is hurtful and shouldn’t be used in any
circumstances to describe someone. After I had talked to him, I noticed a sense of understanding
not immediately but gradually.
The experience made me notice how if you educate someone they begin to see the world
a little bit different. Gradually influencing people in small settings can be the spark that inspires
people to hold others accountable for times when they might be unaware of what they are saying
and how that impacts others around them. Lastly, you never know who is listening and to have
that small victory it made me feel as though I could change the world because I had the bravery
to say something instead of just accepting what was going on in front of me. Whenever you feel
as though you’re witnessing injustice in your community just remember “speak the truth even if
your voice shakes.”
By Juliana Trujillo
Blossom Project Participants
We are empowered high school girls, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.