Sexism, like racism, to many people who either hold privilege or have internalized oppression doesn’t exist unless it’s extraordinarily obvious. These are the people who don’t see racist microaggressions as racist, because someone needs to be wearing a white hood and burning a cross in order for their actions to qualify. Today I’m offering you, dear readers, a lesson in casual sexism: the ways in which actions done sometimes deliberately, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes without malice intended and sometimes as a “joke” creates and perpetuates sexism in homes, offices, public spaces, and our culture at large. Whereas rape might be “obvious” sexism, today we’re talking about the stuff that makes up the broader cultural contours that inform women they are not welcome, that their interests and concerns don’t matter, that they are less-than in a host of situations. The stories I’ll share below have been mostly submitted via Twitter and have been anonymized to protect the submitters.
This is part 1: some groundwork, then family and social sexisms. Next week we’ll talk casual sexism in the workplace. Get ready to roll your eyes reaaaaaalllly far back in your head.
Lately there have been some skirmishes on ye old Twitter regarding taxes. One side includes people who see taxes as theft and/or will skirt them as much as possible. Another includes those who don’t feel that way. A third wants us peons to thank them for paying taxes.
In 1905, America was 40 years post-slavery and Jim Crow–a system of unequal everything, from train seats to schools to jobs, and which was held in place by brutal violence–was well-ensconced. Lynching threatened African Americans for damn near everything they did, and Reconstruction–the period post-Civil War that initially held such promise for freed people–came under sharp fire by southern whites as a time of tyranny and lawlessness. That year, Thomas Dixon published The Clansman, a book that gave many white southerners exactly the image it wanted of itself: the South, it said, had been a romantic, chivalrous place destroyed by Reconstruction. Reconstruction, it continued, led to an epidemic of sexual violence by black men against white women, an epidemic the KKK fearlessly righted by lynching those men. The Clansman was a dogwhistle–though purely fiction, it justified racist brutality both in the past and going forward. Yesterday we heard that dogwhistle again as The Man in the High Office (what I’m calling our president now) doubled down on a campaign claim that immigrants coming to America from and through Mexico are rapists–implicitly, of white women, and needing to be stopped. Continue reading On Rape: A Particular, Historical Dogwhistle
So in the last week modern medicine has evidently gotten some decent results road testing hormonal birth control for men. It’s still very much in the study phase but the pill functions by lowering testosterone dramatically but suppressing potential side effects (lower libido, breast growth) by including other chemicals that mimic what testosterone does. I’m a little ashamed to say it, but part of me laughs pretty heartily at stories like these in which the potential side effects may limit eventual production and taking of the drug, given how much women on birth control have tolerated over generations. We had to fight to be able to have access to the stuff, and it routinely mucks about with our systems, but we keep taking it: the costs are much higher for us than for men, generally speaking, without it. Continue reading Hey, Let’s Talk about Birth Control (part 1: History)
Today we’re going to talk about Hope Hicks. She’s yet another outgoing part of the rapidly-imploding presidential administration, announcing her resignation a few days ago after being interviewed by a congressional committee. While Hicks was, arguably, in a very powerful position (especially at her very young age), the administration turned her into a mother-figure to the president, doing emotional labor on his behalf rather than letting her do her actual job. This, I think, is yet another window into the creepiness, the backwardsness, of this administration. Continue reading Hope Hicks: Babysitter to the Chief
Skin changes throughout life, and while I’d hoped that my smooth and supple post-teenage acne stage would last forever, it hasn’t. I’ve got a skin issue I can’t seem to remedy or find easily online so I started looking at getting a facial. This impulse runs pretty much contradictory to my fairly public stance (twitter-public, anyway) on beauty regimens. I love makeup and now that I’m older I use really nice moisturizers and the like, but I try not to be vain and try not to spend serious money regularly on vanity-related things. But my face is making me crazy. Continue reading My Face Wants Me to Make Weird Choices (plz send help)
So last week some friends and I–women I dub my “feminist fight club” as we argue with people on social media for fun–had a convo about one member’s brother. Said brother is conservative and a frequent sparring partner. In a conversation about something regarding the fight against racist and sexist discrimination, he said, “the fact of the matter is that the middle class white men vote in large numbers and would be on your side if only the message was tailored differently.” This week, kittens, we’re going to tear that quote apart. It’s resonant as it reflects an unwillingness on the part of many people to understand our current historical moment. Continue reading It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)
By now you’d have to live under a rock to have missed this week’s edition of “there’s a mass shooting, but let’s not talk about it.” Once again, a young white man obtained military-style weapons and took his rage out on innocent people. And while we’ve all offered Hopes and Prayers (trademark pending) and wrung our hands over the State of the World, I’d say it’s safe we stop here and wait until next week to start the cycle again. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. As a nation we refuse to discuss the actual factors these things have in common and so we insist there’s nothing we can do. Tho there is. Continue reading Well, If it isn’t another white man with a gun
Things have been happening so fast at the federal, state, and personal level that I haven’t had the wherewithal to process and post much in ages. Two special-needs kittens are exhausting, as it turns out, between vet visits and adjusting them to overnight sleeping (rather than locking them into a room of their own, they now have the run of the house overnight. This isn’t great for non-kittens). My job has been busy and parts of it have been kind of draining. Politics here in our state are garbage (we need a budget to make up for decades of unfunded pensions which have left us a multi-billion-dollar hole, and the GOP and some Dems here suggested gutting the state’s public higher ed as a solution). And 45 et al are, well, their own form of draining and exhausting.
So. here we are.
Arguing that we don’t deserve to have health care gutted because the Kochs promised big bucks if the GOP does it–that lives are worth more than their money. Waiting for Mueller to begin publicizing indictments as our president raids campaign funds for his own defense, which certainly suggests a lot of somethings. Plus natural disasters. Shit is wearisome.
So much goes on in an average week that it’s hard to remember that what happened last week still matters even as this week piles it on. Many people are quick on the draw, posting their thoughts as stuff happens rather than after digesting it, as a consequence of this pacing. I’ve debated on the pointlessness of writing on last week’s stuff, but since that stuff still matters, onward I forge.
Let’s talk about Title IX, which Betsy DeVos plans to dramatically alter following an announcement last week.
Title IX guarantees sex and gender parity in higher ed so long as the institution receives federal funds in some way. Initially developed to give women access to sports at co-ed schools. Women’s teams were few and far between at most universities, chronically unfunded and seen as irrelevant. Title IX has also become an important tool in addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. This is a new phenomenon, developed after then-president Obama issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” arguing that parity in higher ed included access to educational spaces, and that having to attend class, for example, with one’s rapist meant that women (overwhelmingly it’s women who are assaulted) did not have parity of access.
Title IX developed protocols for university reporting of sexual misconduct on college campuses, stemming the tide and tradition of universities shielding such information from public or federal scrutiny. Many universities downplayed sexual misconduct–this includes everything from harassment to assault–and women faced all kinds of other harassment for reporting. So women rarely reported. Since the Title IX changes, university protocols to remove the allege assaulter from spaces (this can go as far as expulsion) has led more women to report assault, and schools like the University of Connecticut had to face a real reckoning when its rates of assault became public.
Reckoning is good.
Reckoning forces change. And it created spaces in which women who long hid the rapes and groping to speak out, which many women avoid because of the backlash she often faces–anything from social ostracization to public doxxing to the usual blame-the-victim garbage.
Well, Betsy DeVos wants to do away with all that.
Now on the surface what she suggests doesn’t sound entirely crazy, and some intelligent women are even defending her points. She argues that rule-by-letter isn’t good governance, that a systemic approach would be better. Ok. She argues that schools expelling alleged assaulters violates our innocent-until-proven guilty legal system. But here she’s missing several key points.
School isn’t necessarily public space. Schools have their own rules and policies. Schools can and should be subject to federal and state laws, but what DeVos is referring to is our legal system. Should the alleged assaulter go straight to jail? No–that person is entitled to a trial like everyone else. But if schools feel that an alleged assaulter’s presence is violating Title IX’s argument for equal access, then they have the right to take what actions they choose.
DeVos rooted her point of view in the claims of Men’s Rights Associations. These people are BATS (the We Hunted the Mammoth archive can fill you in). They see men, usually white men, as being on the losing end of our society, a society which has shriveled because of feminism. They regard women with hostility at best and brutal animosity at worst. They argue not just that expulsion and the like isn’t fair, but that women mostly fabricate allegations of assault–thus, assaulters are expelled for fraudulent reasons. DeVos herself has even said that some 90% of campus assault allegations are really just break-up and drunk sex, regretted.
WE KNOW THIS ISN’T TRUE.
The costs of claiming assault are often so high that, as noted above, women don’t often report it when it happens. Only a very tiny sliver (2-10%) of assault allegations have been proven to be falsehoods or unsubstantiated (though there’s no common definition of those terms used): to say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. What we have, then, is a proposal to make assault less punishable by the colleges and universities themselves and compelling women to repeatedly cross paths with their assaulter until a legal trial–which can take years to even get started–concludes. Should this be shocking, given that the man who hired DeVos bragged about sexually assaulting women? Nope.
It feels like we have our eyes on more balls than we can handle right now (pun firmly intended). Exhausting though it is, we have to keep at it. We have to engage in a public discourse on all of this stuff–assault, health care, election veracity, saber rattling–so that we don’t come to normalize what isn’t normal. Treating women like gossipy, threatening demons used to be normal–it’s not anymore and we shouldn’t go back there. If we stop being appalled that 45 publicly calls foreign leaders “rocket man,” we’ve begun to allow the erosion of our basic system.
We deserve better than 45 and his horse-people of the government apocalypse. I’m being dramatic, but the stuff that’s going down–lots of it in the name of making money, holding on to power, and erasing Obama’s legacy–is apocalyptic to a lot of people. Take time to breathe so you don’t wear out. We need you in this conversation.