What women's rights look like when the two sides come together as one.
What women's rights are when women are no longer manipulated by party rhetoric.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sexism....Should We Talk About it or Not?

I want to write about something that can become an explosive topic between women and that is whether we should be talking about sexism or not. I will tell you right up front that I come from the school of thought that we must speak up or we will be trampled for sure. I believe that if we don't speak up we will forever be held back by people's prejudices and stereotypes and women's advancement will be so slow as to be almost imperceptible. I also believe that people should be ashamed for being sexist. I know that that sense of shame is there, but it is in a constant battle with the sexists who like to cruelly make fun of women. In people's "sheeple" need to go along to get along, we often let sexist remarks pass because of fear of the blowback that it brings to us.

However, that doesn't mean that the other side of this argument doesn't have its points to make. I can think of several of them and they are worth discussing. But up front let me say that if my choice is silence or going too far, going too far is the better of the two options. But since there are many shades of gray to this argument, let's explore some of them.

The first argument is always a cautionary tale of comparing sexism to racism. I normally HATE making this comparison because sexism IS NOT racism. It is an argument with its own quirks. And I refuse to make a contest out of which is worse----racism or sexism. Let's be frank-----it's not a contest. Both racism and sexism are awful. Both must be vigilantly eradicated. One is not more important than the other. For me, I am a woman and I have chosen sexism to be my cause. SOMEONE HAS TO DO IT!!!! It doesn't mean that I am for racism. It means that I am seeing a need and working to fill it. And I might add that sexism is ubiquitous and knows no race. Sexists come in all colors and from both genders.

In fighting sexism, one of the ways to get us to stop talking about it is to throw racism at us as in "racism is more important and must be corrected first." This is a stiff argument and it can be hard to fight it because no one wants to be called a racist. In fact, many of us who supported women in the 2008 presidential election were called racists all of the time. It was done to shut us up and destroy our argument. And in many cases it succeeded.

But that brings me to the flip side of that argument, and that is that if you call everyone and everything a racist all of the time, you diminish the dignity of the racism argument. People become desensitized to it and just turn it off. I truly understand that point. If you call everything racist then it is impossible for people to respond to real racism. It is very difficult when you get into the gray area of what is sexist to find common ground in the very definition of the word. I understand it well because it can be difficult to sort out common experiences that women have to determine whether what they are feeling is the result of sexism or just a life experience that everyone has. However, just because we have a gray area in the definition of sexism, it doesn't mean we shouldn't speak up. I believe that feminism is now in a phase where we have kept silent so long (and under false pretenses that we were doing better than we were), that we have to start speaking up to the realities of what we women face once again------you know, why women run virtually nothing in this country and why it isn't getting much better.

The next argument against speaking about sexism is a more common argument from the right and that is the argument against identity politics and against quotas. This subject is a very dense subject because its historical roots go way back. My belief is that the root of this argument is so old that people have forgotten why they hold that POV and it has become a kneejerk principle without thinking about current circumstances. Identity politics became an excellent wedge issue and buzzword against the liberal political developments of the 1960's and 70's. Affirmative action, a system of door-opening laws allowing more African-Americans and women into previously closed places like universities and some jobs, had a backlash from people who were elbowed out of these opportunities to make room for more diversity.

I have some sympathy for both sides of this argument. Both sides would agree that people should be accepted and hired on their own merits. An argument can be made that there are structural defects in the system that make it impossible for this hiring utopia to exist. But I will posit that these arguments have absolutely nothing to do with speaking up about sexism. Just because we are speaking up about sexism doesn't mean that we are advocating for affirmative action, quotas, or anything else. Those are two completely different things.

I am in sales and we say that the answer to every question that you don't ask is "no." To juxtapose that idea onto our current circumstance you could say that we will never advance until we clean the thicket of sexism up a bit and to do that we need to speak up. We will never straighten things up if we don't raise people's awareness that a problem exists. People don't really know that women don't run much in this country. Sexism is still considered great sport in alot of places in the United States. People get away with being sexist because we have stopped telling them it is wrong. People know deep down inside that in our country where everyone supposedly has equal rights that we shouldn't deny ANYONE of their rights. We just need to keep reminding all that women still haven't arrived just yet.

We are reluctant to speak up because we get alot of blowback. Many times it just wearies us to the point where we just let it go by. But there is hope all around. The right is starting to haltingly speak up and say what needs to be said against sexism when it appears. What a wonderful development!!! The left is still being proprietary about sexism. By this I mean that the left thinks that they own the sexism argument and as such right now are still lobbing tomatoes at the right because they don't consider the women on the right to be, well, women. WTF???? The reality is that if the left actually listened to what the right is speaking up about, they wouldn't have any trouble recognizing the argument against sexism. I am hopeful that we will find a way for both sides to start speaking to each other again on this subject of vital importance to all of us.

I'll be writing more later about how to speak up and how to deal with the blowback. If we can conquer that fear, we can have the breakthrough we need to get women's progress moving a little faster once again. Now that's a goal everyone can agree on!!!!


  1. boy this whole subject is a real can of worms isn't it!

  2. I've been noticing a lot of dialogue around the term "gender bias." I think this may be a more acceptable phrase to some on the right. I have been using it interchangeably with "sexism" for a while now.

    There is a way to talk about it broadly. We just have to be willing to differentiate between audiences, and direct our rhetoric towards them.

  3. Yes, let's talk about sexism. Example: Why does O decide to throw the latest woman under the bus, after she does all the hard work creating the consumer credit agency? He chooses a male politician as director?? Ridiculous!

  4. you know, this subject really bothers me. Thanks for putting a little clarity into it. It is hard to speak up especially to the left because they just blow up and act crazy

  5. Talking about sexism really hits a nerve. Makes alot of otherwise calm people scream. And if one side keeps trying to shut up the other side what do we do?

  6. LOVE the pic with this article. Very appropriate!

    Speaking as a righty, I think the treatment of Palin and Bachmann has allowed us to start having a conversation about sexism in a very specific way. Because of the way we tend to prefer individualism and abhor collectivism (ie identity politics and groupings of "victims") the right has had an over-reaction at times of trying to deny the existence of sexism or minimizing the impact it has on women. I think that pointing out very specific instances and individual circumstances, like what is happening with Palin, Bachmann, and even Clinton, is really opening up discussions of sexism in a new way on the right.

    Where that will eventually take us I don't know, but I'm hearing more and more people who have a very low tolerance "card playing" of any kind using the "s" word without apology. I think the conversation about balancing awareness of real and harmful sexism vs. using "isms" as political sledgehammers is just beginning.

  7. Anna Belle----great idea to differentiate the message to the audience.

    Thia-----I think you're right that being more specific in the conversation about sexism will give us a little more control over that kneejerk reaction and give us a chance to really point out the real issues. Of course some might say "good luck with that," but what the heck. I suppose that that cynicism is just their problem........

  8. Anita-----the same old history keeps playing itself out doesn't it. It's sickening that Warren can't make it to her promised land. And if they confirm the new guy, he's really not any different than she would be. It continues to be said that Elizabeth Warren became "too polarizing." Hmph----that's just the old boy club code for "being too female." And on and on it goes. Another reason to speak up ALWAYS!!! No one will hear anything if nothing is said.

  9. Kate and Jeannie----you make me wish I was a cartoonist. What a wonderful image: someone screaming "sexism" and the whole room becoming every kind of crazy. It's SOOOOOOO true!!!!!!!

  10. After 2008 I am much braver about mentioning it, before that it seemed like a whiny thing to say. Now, I let it rip.

  11. I think you need to speak up about any wrong. I also think you need to speak out when a wrong is done to you.

    I am not one that worries much about being PC or with someone calling me the B word. I use the D word in a very gender specific way towards men quite frequently.

    I will always speak up and out when I think something is wrong. To me it's wrong not to do so. It enables and emboldens the miscreants that think they can mistreat or malign anyone for any reason not related to their actions. Maligning and demeaning because of race, gender or religion are wrong and should be called wrong whenever encountered. JMO

  12. Jennifer---good for you!!! Whiny is just another way to shut us up

    KenoshaMarge-----you are right that we should speak up whenever that kind of wrong is expressed. We can do it and be the conscience of America

  13. Exactly Cynthia! If we all speak up and do what we know to be right, we can make one hell of a difference. Separately we aren't much, together? A force to be reckoned with.