“Sexism is a big problem in this country…” started a woman.
“NOT ALL OF US ARE SEXIST!” Interrupted the men in a booming chorus.
“Yes, but we need to talk about…”
“But we’re not sexist. We think you’re equal. See? Not sexist. I agree you should get all that stuff you’re asking for.” And thus the men patted themselves on the back for not being sexists and avoided the conversation entirely. After all, it should have been had with all those crazy sexist men out there, not them. Certainly not them.
I have something to say. I’m sexist. Before you act all surprised, if you’re a man, so are you. In case the message was lost in that phrasing what I’m saying is that ALL MEN ARE SEXIST.
Before you skewer me in the comments, consider this, sexism isn’t always obvious. You don’t have to slap your wife around or throw insults at women. You don’t have to outright view women as lesser or even be against equality. All you have to do is live in a sexist society and pick up sexist attitudes without even considering what they are.
Consider two stories. One, the president has an affair. Two, the first lady has an affair. Which do you think will be the bigger scandal? You know which one it is. You know where the moral outcry will be loudest even if they’re both the same thing. You were brought up in that society and whether you like it or not you picked up some traits from it that determine how you treat women.
Most men have given some form of preferential treatment to a pretty girl as if looks were an indicator of how well someone should be treated.
Most men have said something to the tune of “you know how women are.” As if half the people in this county (or in the world) could fit into such a narrow behavioural pattern.
Most men have reduced a woman’s interests down to how they relate to men (“She likes football/top gear/ video games. She’s wife material.”) As if everything you find good or interesting about her is really just a criteria for whether or not she can be married.
All men have done and do things like this not out of malice or some intentional bigoted agenda but because the significance of these acts never even occurred to them. This is what I mean when I say you’re sexist. Perhaps you’re not A sexist. I acknowledge that difference. You don’t go out of your way to do it. Nevertheless the underlying tendencies are there and the fact that you hardly notice it is why this conversation is so important. Until you start listening you might never see how you’re mucking things up and you can never do better. Not hitting, insulting or openly looking down upon women is not an accomplishment. You don’t get a cookie and a free ride to skip this class.
Inevitably someone will point out that women are entirely capable of doing some of the things mentioned and of being sexist at large. That’s true. Here’s the difference. As a man you have certain privileges that women do not have. You do not have to feel any fear when walking down the street simply because you’re a man. When you’re assaulted you know what you’re wearing cannot be used to dismiss your claims. You’re not likely to be paid less because of your gender. Being a man means you’ve probably never had to worry that you’ll be forced to have sex to be able to do your job.
When it comes to sexism and men, in well over 90 percent of cases, you can simply walk away and be done with it. Women cannot walk away. They have to live with it. They lack that choice that you have. And when the problem is so systematic, of course it’s going to get priority. It affects half the country’s population directly. Any way you look at it that’s a national crisis. That’s why you (should) hear about it all the time.
Now, if my point still sits wrong with you here’s an analogy to help you along. You’re like a tourist on his first visit to an African country. Everything he knows about “Africa” is based on books and shows and hearsay that have a skewed slant to say the least. As a result he keeps offending people. For some reason the “you don’t live in trees!?” and the “I was expecting wild animals everywhere” don’t sit right with people.
The tourist isn’t a bad person. He’s not trying to offend. But what he knows is inaccurate and inadequate and it comes across. Many of us can find it within ourselves to have patience with him. It’s not entirely his fault. If he’s striving to actually learn something then we can even let his slips go by. But if he responds to every correction or confrontation with defensiveness, you’re less likely to be understanding. “It’s what I know!” Is not a particularly good defence if you’re not trying to know more. Nor is “I respect Africans as equals.”
So, in summary, just because you’re not a sexist doesn’t mean you’re not sexist. Those “you’re letting a girl beat you in school” speeches and their ilk among other things probably influenced your world view when you didn’t know any better. Your problem, and my problem, is largely ignorance. We can know more and we can do better. Don’t cling to your ignorance. Don’t defend it. Accept it, catch it, correct it and with hope, we can pass a lot less of it to the coming generations.