Lots of things about being female that irk and irritate me, but none piss me off more than everyday sexism.
I have spent all but a few years of my life railing against the limitations, inequalities, dangers and outrages visited upon me simply because I am not male.
Decades of my life. Quite literally.
So it stands to reason that I am very interested in varying takes on the subject that appear in the news and on the social media.
Yesterday, a conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Michelle Rempel, who also happens to be the immigration critic, wrote a piece which appeared in The National Post, detailing her ongoing struggles with the daily hassle of trying to represent her constituents while being female.
I’d like to report that the Canadian Parliament is an enlightened bastion of gender equality, and that Canadian men are not sexist Neanderthals in the workplace, but sadly, I cannot.
Here is some of what Ms. Rempel had to say on the subject:
The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the “bitch” epithet when I don’t automatically comply with someone’s request or capitulate on my position on an issue, confronting assumptions that I have gotten to my station in life by (insert your choice of sexual act) with (insert your choice of man in position of authority), enduring speculation and value judgements about my fertility, and responding to commentary that links my appearance to my competency. It involves my ass being occasionally grabbed as a way to shock me into submission. It involves tokenism. It involves sometimes being written off as not serious when I’ve clearly proven I am.
I’m fortunate, though. I haven’t had to overcome obstacles that many other women face. I have a romantic partner who isn’t emasculated by my success, and enthusiastically encourages me to pursue my aspirations. I’ve worked for and with employers who have done the same. I’m in a position of authority. I haven’t had to raise children as a single woman. I haven’t had to raise children, period. I’m cisgender, straight, and white. My body mass index doesn’t exceed 25. I’m not an immigrant. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. I’m fortunate enough to have had a steady job throughout most of my working life. I could go on, and on, and on.
It’s a laundry list of not only the dismissive attitude men in the workplace still harbor and act upon, but it also highlights that being very privileged isn’t the shield some might suspect.
At the end of a day, what a man sees when he happens upon women in the world – wherever it might be – is someone who is not his equal. Someone he is free to not only make assumptions about but to give them voice. Someone he can fondle, leer at, proposition, and belittle because he is the man and the man is allowed.
It’s 2016 and the. man. is. allowed.
Let that sink in.
Then ask yourself, why is that?
In my opinion, some of it stems from the fact religions and out-dated cultural beliefs and practices still have too much influence in the world, but it also stems from the reality that women are a diverse group with differing and competing ideas/needs concerning what equality should be.
Regardless, I am firmly on the side of those who believe the root of the problem is men. Their attitudes. Their unwillingness to let go of a status quo that suits them just fine because it asks/expects so little of them.
A gentlemen on Twitter responded to one of my tweets about Rempel’s article by saying he flet responding with a positive when a man behaves in a sexist manner is more likely to prevent similar behavior in the future than scolding or outrage.
Generally, I would agree. I spent too many years slowly luring teenagers to the trough of knowledge to not recognize the wisdom in such an approach.
It doesn’t mean, however, I am not bone weary fucking tired of it.
When after a conversation a man says to me, “You are a lot smarter than I thought you were.” My reaction is no longer “Thanks.” As it would have been when I was young.
Now, I say nothing.
Because there’s nothing to say to something so incredibly insulting the mind boggles he thought it was okay to say this out loud.
And grabbing my ass is grounds for slapped fingers. Or losing the whole hand.
Not that I have to worry about being groped anymore. My ass is too old to entice anyone but my husband. That or men save this kind of extraordinary personal space invasion for younger women because they instinctively know older women will hurt them.
Like Rempel though, I haven’t experienced sexism in a way that held me back during my education or kept me from employment or advancement after I graduated.
Though I have been physically threatened at different points when I was a young girl and woman, I was never hurt and was never trapped. I would point out that fear leaves its own marks but how we deal with them is an individual thing that can’t be easily quantified.
While I have been a single mom, an immigrant and “too large” to qualify for inclusion in what passes for “beautiful”, they were not obstacles for me either in the sense that they are for many.
I have been lucky and lucky, as most of us are wise enough to realize, is simply another way of saying “privileged”.
And she makes several good points about privilege when she writes,
The everyday sexism that I experience is grating. It angers me, and it makes me roll my eyes. Sometimes, when it’s bad enough, it causes me to second guess myself. I address it. I speak out about it. That said, I’ve never lost a job because of it. I’ve never experienced violence because of it. I’ve never had to worry about feeding my family because of it.
So, who am I to tell other women how they should combat everyday sexism? In fact, who are any of us to do the same?
There is no one sizes fits all solution for everyday sexism from a women’s perspective and, in my opinion again, there is no solution at all until men are willing to share privilege with us.
Because equality is really about leveling privilege.
And I don’t see that happening.
We’ve come a long way since the days we were not allowed to vote and were passed from father to husband like chattel. But we still owe the progress that been made more to the largess of men than anything. And unless we speak up, insist and address the daily insults and outrages, little is going to change.
So it’s incumbent upon those of us who are in the position to do something to do it. Like Michelle Rempel does in Ottawa. Like I do when I radicalize my daughters with knowledge, encouragement and being embarrassingly outspoken.
We need to push. We need to call out. We need to remember that women are still not equal and it’s way past time we were.