(Certainly sexism exists for men well as those from the LGBTQ communities and others – this post however, discusses sexism as experienced by women)
I picked up Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates when it was released earlier this month. I stumbled upon her twitter project a while back and have been following it for quite some time, so when I heard of an upcoming U.S. release (she works out of the U.K.) I was hoping to not only support her efforts by buying it, but gain some insights into just what exactly it is that women experience we men do not. Not being privy to the female form, I think it can be hard to understand what exactly concerns females ….and so the best way to go about things is to place myself in a woman’s position and imagine how I’d respond. The problem though, as logical as that sounds, is that it can never translate into an equitable positioning because men will never experience exactly what a women goes though. Ever. Sure, we can empathize with certain events or situations in a general sense, but the details of those encounters, combined with the sheer magnitude of their occurrence, can only be appreciated as a female.
In a nutshell I suppose, it’s easy for us guys to write off women’s experiences in sexism because the frequency to which we might experience similar things are so much smaller. It means little to us precisely because we encounter so little of it. Women, comparatively, are faced with an almost daily onslaught of sexist attitudes beginning even before puberty. It’s nowhere near as simple as them not being able to handle a poorly behaving male, but rather by being exposed repeatedly to this behaviour women develop a ‘concern’ that compels them to change their behaviours and at times, alter their lives and lifestyles to avoid future encounters …whether well intended or not. Male behaviours dictate female behaviours.
Even making the choice to avoid a situation can encourage harassment too for example, leaving the women to feel responsible for not ‘going along’ and then being made to feel guilty or at fault for overreacting or making a ‘big deal’ out of things. It’s a sort of damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario: Damned if you smile or make eye contact with a passing male because he takes that as some sort of invitation to open a dialog, or damned if you walk by while looking down or away because that same male attributes your lack of interest to a personality issue ….deciding you may be a stuck-up bitch and then letting you know about it. The possibility for an exchange exists in both scenarios regardless of whether an exchange is even wanted or not, and this unintended (and more importantly cumulative) passing of judgement sticks with the female over time, shaping many aspects of her life for years to come. Taken one step further …these experienced behaviours often become normalized, leading many women to believe it’s a natural and expected part of life. The repetition and acceptance of wrong behaviours does not change the fact that they are still wrong however, and having one sex ‘naturally’ proclaim or assume a superior role over another is blatant inequality.
The cover of the book states “A must-read for every women” ….but it should read “A must-read for every man” for only by having men realize what the opposite sex has to go through can there be genuine, meaningful and long lasting change in our culture. Men are best suited to change men after all, especially if we want our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, girlfriends etc. to be treated as equals in what is a hidden and entrenched inequality that thrives beneath our collective male radar. It’s an issue not just because women experience it …but because men don’t.
I’m including a few quotes below from the book that I found particularly interesting. The whole thing is eye-opening of course, but these are the ones that caught my attention for whatever reason. If you’re a women, buy the book and realize you’re not alone. If you’re a man, buy the book because you may inadvertently be part of the problem …both you and the significant females in your lives will be better off for it.
One of the clearest messages to emerge from the Everyday Sexism Project has been that everything is connected: Inequality is a continuum, with the minor and major incidents irrevocably related to one another as the attitudes and ideas that underlie one allow the other to flourish. This isn’t to say that one directly leads to another; rather, the culture created and sustained by each incident is part of the fertile ground from which the others spring. Loc. 920
When we end up justifying and normalizing and getting used to everything, telling young women that this is the world they will have to navigate and the way they should expect to be treated, we leave them with nowhere to go. When we tell them that everything they are is what they look like—that their bodies and their sexuality and their sexiness comprise their sum value—and then bully, repress, criticize, and censure them for their bodies and their sexuality, we create a society that has no place for them in it. Loc. 4862
By the age of thirteen, this intelligent, thoughtful girl had been taught by society to be polite, taught not to offend a stranger or to disturb other people on the bus. Because girls are socialized into submission and into acceptance of others’ behavior—even when it invades their personal space. But nobody had ever taught her that she had the right not to be touched without her consent. Similar stories repeatedly suggest that not wanting to cause a scene or upset anybody silences young women into feeling unable to protest. Loc. 1337
They’ve just grown up in a world that teaches them that this is the way things are. All the same tiny cultural signifiers and media messages and behavioral norms that affect young girls impact their male peers too. Teaching them that it is their job to be strong and macho and masculine, that women should be treated as objects, and that putting girls down, or harassing them, or making sexist jokes is a way for men to prove their manliness, particularly to one another. So if we are (rightly) to be aware of the huge impact of these subtle influences on women, we must also, fairly, acknowledge that some of men’s sexist behavior is not intentional, or deliberately prejudiced, but simply the result of being immersed in a very patriarchal culture too. Loc. 4468
Why make such a fuss? Because street harassment is perhaps the clearest manifestation of the spectrum of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault that exists within our society. Yes, it starts out small, but allowing those “minor” transgressions gives license to the more serious ones and eventually to all-out abuse. We’ve heard the same words and phrases crossing over and echoing and repeating from women who are shouted at in the street to women who are assaulted and women who are victims of domestic violence in their own homes. The language is the same. And if we say it’s acceptable for men to assume power and ownership over women they don’t know verbally in public, then, like it or not, we’re also saying something much wider about gender relations—something that carries over into our personal relationships and our sexual exchanges. Because this is a line that doesn’t need to be blurred. It should be clear and simple. Take it from the women whose experiences started out with just a little “harmless” street harassment—a sexual “compliment” or a wolf whistle or a “Hey, baby”—but then turned nasty, became full-blown attacks. Ask them what the problem is with a harmless bit of fun. Loc. 2188
… it comes down to defense of privilege. [….] There is also a sense of tradition—of men’s entitlement and expectations being handed down from one generation to the next—which is accepted unthinkingly as just the way that men are “supposed” to behave. This is an idea many project entries corroborate… Loc. 4455
The everyday becomes the accepted norm, accommodated in the way we live. By making this allowance we reinforce the idea of acceptability and compound the sense of entitlement; that assumed prerogative is then exercised to an ever-increasing degree, and naturally we then find ourselves with even more of an everyday problem … To tackle street harassment, we have to break through that pernicious circle. We have to abandon the mistaken idea that street harassment is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, or a compliment taken the wrong way. Loc. 2248
But it is also important to acknowledge three things that make men and women’s experiences of sexism, in the main, different: frequency, severity, and context. In the United States and around the world, most women face disproportionately far greater sexism than most men do—in terms of both individual incidents and the general cultural climate. The incidents themselves are (again, in general) more severe. And within the framework of a patriarchal social structure—that is, taking into account the wider context of social, economic, professional, and political gender imbalance—sexist incidents often have a far greater impact on women’s lives than they have on men’s, both individually and in combination. Loc. 4276
There are a lot of myths that exist about street harassment, including that it’s a compliment and that women secretly love it. The thousands of stories shared on #ShoutingBack disprove those myths. I doubt that anyone who reads story after story about men groping, grabbing, flashing, stalking, or making sexually explicit comments at women can see it as anything other than gender violence and the human-rights violation that it is. Loc. 2376
This is not a men-versus-women issue. It’s about people versus prejudice. Loc. 4251
Some people tweet using the hashtag #KillAllMen. I hate it. It’s offensive, distasteful, and not conducive to progress, particularly when used by those who identify themselves as feminists. It doesn’t matter if they choose to describe it as “ironic”—we wouldn’t accept that as an excuse for a trending #KillAllWomen hashtag. Loc. 4195
Under the Department of Justice’s definition then, every one of the thousands of women who have reported being touched, stroked, grabbed, or groped in public spaces was the victim of sexual assault. Yet we are living in a society that not only downplays and accepts this crime but also deliberately normalizes it—telling women not to overreact, not to make a fuss out of nothing, or even to be glad of the attention. It is only when you really spell out the definition that the realization begins to dawn, even for many of the victims. Loc. 2392
Many of the men writing to the project said they thought they knew about sexism when they imagined a catcall or a wolf whistle but had no concept of how it actually affected women’s lives, living it every day, influencing every choice and thought. Because it isn’t just about the individual incidents; it’s about the collective impact on everything else—the way you think about yourself, the way you approach public spaces and human interaction, the limits you place on your own aspirations, and the things you stop yourself from doing before you even try because of bitter learned experience. Loc. 4034
And no: Of course this isn’t to say that men’s mags and song lyrics and video games turn innocent men into rapists, or that a single image of a scantily clad woman in a newspaper directly causes immediate harm to the viewer; of course it’s not that simple. But these are not a few unique examples. This is a culture steeped in misogyny and the objectification and subjugation of woman—and yes, it does have a real impact, both on the way society sees and values women and on the way women feel about themselves. Loc. 2832
…take, say, a man who, every six months, witnesses just one instance of catcalling, after which he goes about his business without giving the matter a second thought. And then take a woman who every day experiences several such instances of harassment and has also on more than one occasion ignored the catcalls only to have the situation escalate into something more aggressive. Those two people would, understandably, react very differently to a hypothetical description of an isolated instance of harassment. The man would probably consider it minor, insignificant, and even harmless, while the woman would likely view it as more serious and potentially damaging. This is partly why it’s so hard to discuss the problem of sexism—and why, when we do, the narrative (often led by those in the first category) turns so frequently to whether the problem in fact exists at all, or whether it’s simply exaggerated. Our limited ability to view things through the lens of another’s experience is even more pertinent when considering the intersection of sexism and other forms of prejudice. Unless we’ve experienced something similar ourselves, it’s virtually impossible to imagine how it feels to experience multiple forms of oppression at the same time. Lo. 3794
On the misguided assumption that perpetrators must be overt, lecherous monsters, people often believe that nothing could possibly be going on in their own workplace. Frequently there are significant power dynamics at play: Victims may feel unable to report the behavior of a senior colleague, manager, or boss; they may be afraid to risk losing their job or being branded “troublemakers” for speaking up. The inherent difficulty of proving a pattern of what can be very subtle behavior, often with little evidence, gets weighed against the cost of a legal claim and the potential resulting career suicide. Consequently, only a tiny number of cases ever go to court or even come to light. Loc. 2899
As the thousands of entries we have received from working women testify, workplace equality laws and initiatives have yet to truly make a dent in the stony conviction that it is a woman’s career that should take the hit for the price of parenthood. And after all, people still ask, What “real” woman wouldn’t care more, deep down, about her child than her career? It’s natural for men, of course, who have worked so hard and put so much into their prized jobs, to want to maintain a balance and not allow new fatherhood to derail a promotion or an ascending career path. But for a woman to voice the same priorities? Cold. Hard. Selfish. Loc. 3641
when researchers at the University of Melbourne reviewed 88 studies involving 74,000 women, they found that continual and repetitive low-level sexism in the workplace was just as harmful as overt incidents and could have serious psychological consequences. Writing in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, they referenced sexist jokes, repeated questions about women’s competencies to perform their roles, lower pay, and fewer opportunities to progress. The researchers said: “The pervasiveness of these experiences makes them very harmful over time and with repeated exposure across situations. Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low-intensity sexism the same way they do for overt harassment.” Loc. 3037
It’s extraordinarily unhelpful to suggest that it is women who must take responsibility for workplace gender imbalance, and women who hold the key to fixing it. The notion that women must simply be stronger, or somehow learn to “deal with” these incidents, is ridiculous. To imply, as people frequently do, that women are too shy and retiring and do not push themselves forward professionally is nonsensical. And all of these things serve as an enormous kick in the teeth to the thousands of hardworking, talented, and committed women out there who are stepping up, who are putting themselves forward—who are, in fact, fighting tooth and nail for a seat at the table—and nevertheless finding the door closed in their face. Loc. 3205
Like the normalization of street harassment and the multilayered media culture that so desensitizes us to the use of women’s bodies as currency, the frequency of many of these occurrences in a single workplace can lead to a wider acceptance of such sentiments—whether in company policy or around the boardroom table. The more such incidents crop up—from a “little” sexist joke here to a “cheeky” pat on the bottom there, a “tongue-in-cheek” comment about the hassle of maternity leave to a “joke” about a colleague’s sex life—the more they lubricate the wheels of a system that comfortably maintains the male-dominated status quo. And, just like any hierarchical status quo, the more it repeats itself, the more comfortable it becomes for its beneficiaries to maintain it, whether as perpetrators or passive bystanders or ostriches with their heads in the sand. And the harder it becomes for its victims to speak out, as they stand on ever shakier ground. Loc. 3056