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.
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)
Mid-April the long-esteemed Gray Lady hired Bret Stephens to join its staff of opinion writers. Stephens hailed from the Wall Street Journal and his hiring served as an addition to the Times’s conservative lineup, featuring don’t-even-get-me-started-on-him David Brooks and “I flew with kids, which is worse than being beaten on a plane” Ross Douthat. Given the Times’s coverage of the Clinton email debacle and their unwillingness to condemn 45’s pro-fascist leanings during the campaign last year, I’ve all but bailed on the Times’s coverage of nearly anything. The addition of Stephens feels like the last nail in that particular coffin.
To wit, check out Stephens’s interview with Jeff Stein at Vox. Here, let me paste for you:
You wrote one column for the Wall Street Journal about the imaginary enemies of the liberal mind, and one of the ones you named was the “campus rape epidemic” —
Focus on the word “epidemic.”
You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?”
My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?
Of course it is.
But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.
I am not for one second denying the reality of campus rape, or sexual assault, or behavior of the sort you saw from that swimmer at Stanford — that’s inexcusable and should be punished.
I’m taking issue with the claim that there is an epidemic based on statistics that, when looked at carefully, seem to have a very slim basis in reality. So what you’re transforming is horrendous, deplorable incidents into an epidemic — and that’s not altogether supported by reliable data….
they should go to institutions of higher learning. But I guess my point is this: The statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses is a highly dubious statistic.
If it were a true statistic, it would probably create a very different environment. My sister went to Mount Holyoke. I don’t think single-sex education has been thriving in recent years, but there would be more of a movement to single-sex education if in fact this epidemic were as epidemic as that statistic suggests.
Here’s Stephens’s theory, in a nutshell: Women mustn’t be raped/assaulted on co-ed campuses as often as they’re saying they’re being raped/assaulted, because if they were, why would women go to co-ed campuses? (full disclosure: I went to Mount Holyoke).
The logical underpinnings of his theory are that:
Women are liars. Women lying about rape is a dogwhistle, disproven over and over and over again. With very few exceptions, women do not lie about assault because even mentioning being assault starts a sequence of scrutinization usually accompanied by cross-allegations, violence, and verbal/emotional abuse by peers. But women lie, evidently, so as to create this false statistic.
Everyone knows this statistic is false, which is why women continue to attend co-ed institutions. This approach, of course, lacks consideration of the trends in education which suggest most women, despite the numbers that Stephens thinks would encourage them, do not want to attend a single-sex school. It lacks any understanding of the gendered nature of secondary ed, the ways that women are taught from a young age to see each other as competition rather than support. I live in a state with an enormous flagship university with a huge sexual assault problem. I see women flock there. There are days I don’t get it, but I at least try to understand the multiple components at play. Further, big state schools are often less expensive for residents than private schools (Mount Holyoke wasn’t cheap). And additionally, Stephens seems to imply here he sees little reason why a woman might chose, for example, Stanford, despite its known history of protecting rapists. Maybe because it has programs Smith doesn’t? It’s in California? It’s none of Stephens’s goddamn business? Oh, ok.
Relatedly, in his construction of co-ed campuses, Stephens is clearly imagining them, whether he realizes it or not, as male spaces. His logic goes like this: if he’s wrong about the statistic—if it’s as bad as we know it is—then these spaces SHOULD be all-male, because women shouldn’t go there. Let that roll around your noggin a bit. He’s not suggesting that if this statistic were true (it is) that the campus cultures should change—he’s sure as hell not touching the issue of rape culture here because I suspect he doesn’t believe it’s a thing—women should avoid those cultures.
That’s some old-boy network shit right there.
And don’t even get me started on his metaphor of the Congo. It’s so laden with implicit undercurrents of campus-rape-as-race-problem, that someone smarter than I should take it apart.