I have been thinking about sexism and the part I play in reinforcing the fences created by others (and possibly myself) that ultimately bound me tighter. Talk about frustration loop. At times, this one feels insurmountable, even though I know that just a small twist of the perception could release a tunnel of light revealing an entire scene that I never knew existed. I just haven’t fully developed that twist, but I’m working on it. Here’s the progression…..
Boundaries can remain invisible until they are crossed, or at least attempted. Then, they can come to life maybe as a block, or a shock, or simply dead weight trapping the contained in place. Sexism is one of the many actual expressions of boundaries reinforced by society standards, expectations and rules. Sexism has polluted my existence since I ran into my first boundary and didn’t like it.
When do I experience sexism? Every time I walk out the front door. What about inside the home? When I read the news? When I watch a TV show? When I talk with my parents? When I have a conversation with my significant other? When I write in my journal? Wow, yes, even when I write in my journal. What re-occurring voices have lodged themselves so tightly in my brain that I think they have been there since I was born and are hissing slow leaks of sexist BS, playing on fears, enhancing doubts? When am I sexist towards a man, or to another woman? Here is the scary thing – am I even aware of it? A behavior and mindset so engrained in my setting that it is difficult to identify that the process is even going on.
Recently, I saw an article regarding an ad created for the organization, UN Women. (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/women-should-ads). They had used the initial words for searches including “women cannot…”; women shouldn’t…..”; “women need to…”; “women should…” and allowed the google ‘auto complete’ feature to suggest the search most likely to be used. Those search suggestions declared discriminatory and sexist sentiments. At first, I could hardly believe it and yes, I tried out the searches myself. They came up with slightly altered sayings but none of them positive, all judgmental and highlighting the limits of women’s stature in this society. I was pissed off.
I suppose the ad had done it’s job.
I really don’t need this ad to remind me that sexism and discrimination are still prevalent in my world. I experience it, view it and read about it daily. Most behavior is so socially acceptable, I probably only consciously register half of the BS flying around. And since the normalized behavior is the real danger of being forgotten, ads such as this one serves as a reminder. At the same time, the endeavor is still manipulating. The chosen searches were addressing women as subservient, submissive children in the first place, choosing commanding and authoritative words (should and shouldn’t; need to and cannot). Of course, this could be part of the point; I can get that. The searches are judgmental and authoritative to begin with. The thing is, I would never need to ask for guidance from google (or any other portal to the internet) what women need to, should or shouldn’t, or cannot.
I think that the genuine message in this ad was unfortunately the text that was the hardest to see.
“Women cannot accept the way things are”;
“Women shouldn’t suffer from discrimination anymore”;
“Women should have the right to make their own decisions”;
“Women need to be seen as equal”.
It’s okay to bold that – right up front, not hidden behind shock value. Those are commands that everyone should be able to demand with clear authority.
Over the summer, I read Frank Bruni’s New York Times Op-Ed article titled “Sexism’s Puzzling Stamina.” Inspiration for the piece came from a photo taken during a Congressional Hearing regarding sexual assault and harassment in the military. In the photo, only a couple of women could be seen. Women were in the minority, when the hearing was specifically about the sexual assault of women. In the article, Bruni, as well as most who commented on the piece were baffled, puzzled, and frustrated that sexism continues in our society. And their frustration was contagious. For instance, I tried to imagine that the opinion article had been written by a woman. I had to ask if it would have been published, or if it would have had the same responses. And then, I stopped myself from going down that “what if” road paved in jaded confusion and blame. That’s the cycle and there has got to be another way to approach the topic. Perhaps that is why all the “isms” are lingering; good people who want brilliant change and goodwill get stuck in patterns that ultimately feed the internal anger, but never lead to fruitful solutions.
Mr. Bruni’s article points out that there hasn’t been much development on getting rid of sexism. I think all the “ism”s are continuing full force in our society. Still going strong, and maybe now we are adding a few. I think age-ism is definitely one that doesn’t get enough press. So, why is sexism continuing in a rampant march down the middle of our culture? I know that we live in a patriarchy; we define winners and success primarily through power struggles; and many things in our culture tend to be judged against a white-male standard. Perhaps it’s a domination culture. How often is that ole “survival of the fittest” argument given with a shrug and helpless hands gesture? Like we can’t seem to help it because we’ve given our power over to a saying that’s been around for a while and pounded into our brains. It’s a rampage of isms, defining ourselves by them, defining ourselves by our differences from others, deciding that certain traits are more valuable than others.
So, if I am worried that I may be continuing sexist behavior, reinforcing the normality and perpetuating the boundaries, to my friends, colleagues and even myself, what tangible things can I do? Monitoring every behavior seems an ominous undertaking. But what about an umbrella effect. Intention. Intention encompasses all of my behavior, action, and communication. What’s my intention? Let’s take “positive empowerment.” Intention transcends emotion and perhaps even compassion, empathy, sympathy, unless maybe that is my intention. Focus on the intention of positive empowerment. Anytime I engage with myself, my significant other, a bus driver, a customer service rep, hold the intention. It applies not just to me, but to the interaction.
Is this an alternate perspective that is possible? Well, I just thought of it while submerged in this chaotic culture. Intention and awareness of how one interacts is not beyond mainstream capacity, I think. I suppose we have learned how to normalize certain intentions already. For example, the intention of social self preservation and the use of guilt, persuasion, or compromise to achieve it. Perhaps recognizing intention is not beyond this world’s capability and could perhaps be a new direction that is within reach.