On the meaning of sexism

Well, there goes a hornet’s nest screaming to not be disturbed. But in this short post I propose to deal with it, because well, it needs to be dealt with. As we all know Feminism, the insidious movement for world domination by women, which has resulted in millions of people dying, countless wars and famines, has finally failed. (Go figure which part of that statement is made up :))

However, sexism is still alive. If you don’t believe me, go ask any woman who has been groped on public transportation, sexually harassed at work, or is payed less than men for doing the same work. While you are at it, ask persons of the transgendered community what their lived reality is like. And yes, their concerns are the concerns of feminism too. (At least the  feminism I believe in). But today’s post is not about convincing the fringe that sexism exists. It is about having a dialogue with men and women who want to introspect about their behavior. It is about pointing out a few things to those who have no desire to practice hidden or benevolent sexism, but have a hard time figuring out what they are doing wrong. But before I begin, I would like to point out that sexism is not an isolated problem, it is part of a larger network of disrespect, assumptions and unfairness that other communities face too. So if you are looking to address sexism in your attitude, also try to examine whether you stereotype people based on race, disability or other social disadvantage.

Well, here we go. When I Google sexism, Google throws me this peach. ‘Sexism :prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.’ Now of course you would think that these behaviors are easy to find and call out. Surely, they do not exist in modern institutions and workplaces anymore. And even if they do, they are isolated cases and can be handled easily right? Well, that is not really true. Firstly what do you mean by modern? (This is also relevant to those of you who think ‘modern feminism makes no sense’). We all live in the modern age. But women don’t enjoy the same level of rights in practice (or even on paper) in every country. So when you are talking about modern, you mean a very limited (North American or European context). So do not conflate the two things.

But even in the European and North American context sexism exists. Although violence against women and sexual harassment continue to be problems, sexism has taken subtler forms in these developed contexts, including the gender pay gap and racial and gender biases in academic departments of universities. This link will lead you to the feminist propaganda site NPR, also called the National Public Radio. You may point out that in the NPR study that I have linked to you,  women professors and African-american professors treat women and African-american’s as badly as the others do. Sure. But sexism is not the prerogative of men only. Women are sometimes complicit in patriarchy, as minorities are in racism. That does not detract from the larger point that these behaviors have to go. Sexism is bad, irrespective of who is doing it. The fact that these behaviors have become subtler, makes them harder to tackle. Institutional bias against women, does not create the kind of furor rape does. Of course, the latter is graver, but the former still needs to be eradicated.

Now let us examine the issue of benevolent sexism. This category of sexism does lead to a lot of thorny debates because a) We live in a society that historically prized chivalry, and some of those social norms have stuck on b) People may be genuinely confused and think that to not be sexist requires them to treat women the same way as men c) People feel threatened by the mythical feminist jumping down their throat at every small thing.

I remember when I was young, someone told me that I could either pick feminism or chivalry, but I can’t have both. To my mind, this was a no brainer. I wanted to be treated as equal to men. I honestly saw no use for chivalry. But that does not mean that I want to be treated the same as men. There is a difference. What, pray, is the difference? Imagine an old person (gender unspecified) gets into a bus. They are carrying a few bags. I have a seat in the bus. I get up, and offer them the seat. I am treating them with respect, keeping their needs in mind. I do not treat a hulking man of 25 this way. This does not mean, in any way, that he is not equal to the old person. Notice how you can think people are equal, but treat them differently?

So, when you get up to offer a seat to a pregnant woman, it isn’t sexism. She probably needs to avoid jerks (of the literal kind). I would get up to offer a seat to a man who looked like he needed it. The same goes for holding doors. I hold doors for people, and feel nice when people hold doors for me. I invented a name for such behavior. I call it common decency.

But this does not mean benevolent sexism doesn’t exist. It exists when men will insist on paying for a woman every time, despite her requesting them not to. It exists when the worth of a woman’s work is judged by how perky she looks, when the industry in question is not the perkiness industry.  It exists when someone assumes that a woman is interested in trinkets and jewelry, when she might like bird-watching better. It exists even when women are stereotyped as ‘infinitely superior’ to men. No, they aren’t. They are regular people. It exists when women are shamed about the number of sexual partners they have, when it is nobody’s god damn business. It exists when women are told? ‘What? You don’t like kids, don’t worry you will change you mind in a couple of years.’ It exists when we can come up with no better response to a woman’s cogent argument than ‘She has been divorced three times’. It exists when a scientist finds no better shirt to wear, during  a televised press conference, than one with half naked women on it.  This is not to take away from his achievements. But really, wearing a shirt with women in lingerie on it, during an internationally televised event? Just ask yourself if this is respectful to the women in science? Forget about the whole sexism issue, and just ask ‘Gee, is it possible that my women colleagues might find this shirt (worn on this occasion) hurtful?. What am I trying to achieve by wearing this, on this particular occasion’ While we are on this issue, I love freedom of speech and expression. I just don’t think everything has to be said everywhere, and every urge has to be expressed everywhere.

But, you may object. Still not convinced. Aren’t some stereotypes true? Do you like trinkets? You will ask me. And if you do, isn’t the speech you made a bit hypocritical? Sure,I like trinkets. In fact I was over the moon when my boyfriend bought be pretty gold colored year-rings on out first anniversary. Some stereotypes are definitely true. But let me tell you something Chimamada Adiche, or the wise one (as I call her), said:

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Yes, I like trinkets. But I don’t just like trinkets, and quite a few women I know don’t like them at all. And even if I was incredibly happy to get those pretty gold colored ear-rings, I was happier when he gifted me the Terry Pratchett book I was really pining for. Really, the power-saw on the third anniversary was the best gift ever. (Ok, I made up one of those three things. Go figure which one). The truth is that people are not single narratives. They are not their uterus. They are not the melanin level in their skin. They are not their disability. There aren’t any little boxes in which you can pigeonhole them, while doing justice to their person-hood.  And they deserve respect and consideration. And an essential part of respect is fairness. That radical notion that I should be treated equally, given equal circumstances.

Sometimes it may be hard. But here is a big tip:

No matter who you are dealing  with, respect and empathy goes a long way.


12 thoughts on “On the meaning of sexism”

  1. > As we all know Feminism, the insidious movement for world domination by women, which has resulted in millions of people dying, countless wars and famines, has finally failed

    Throughout history millions of MEN (as young as 18) have been slaughtered in countless wars. Treating their deaths as something to make light of is sexism. If women had been sentoff to war while men were allowed to stay at home you would view this as oppression of women by men.

    However what actually happened, as we all know, is that men had to agree to go to fight wars for the state in return for voting rights. Then about 50 years later women demanded voting right but WITHOUT any obligation to fight wars or do anything else. And the all male patriarchal government of the time said “Okay” and granted women this female privilege, which prevented millions of young women having to go and be blown up on the battlefield and die screaming for their mothers.

    Of course giving women this special privilege just for being women was also (by definition) sexism too. This kind of benevolent sexism is called ‘chivalry’ … or “women and children first” ……. or in modern feminist language “He for She”.

    The feminist movement (which is where the last remnants of patriarchy now reside) tries to define the sexism of granting women special privileges like not having to go to war as ‘gender equality’. Can you imagine if men had got the vote with no obligations whereas women had to fight wars for their right to vote!? Can you imagine if men had given women pacifists a ‘white flower’ to shame them!? And can you imagine if men today tried to convince the world that a century of women as young as 18 being forced to march into a hail of machine gun fire, while men got to stay at home, represented a triumph of ‘gender equality’!?

    Recently feminists celebrated the actions of a suffragette who tried to pin a banner on the king’s horse during a horserace. This act is (again by definition) an act of domestic terrorism, which put the lives of all the horses and all the riders at risk. As it turned out she ended up getting trampled to death (who’d have thought pinning a banner on a horse travelling at 40mph would be so hard?). The poor rider who’s horse trampled her was so traumatised by the event that he took his own life – even though none of it was his fault. In more patriarchal times men felt it was their duty to ensure women’s safety and wellbeing, and this is why the poor bloke probably felt so bad for having accidentally trampled a female terrorist to death.

    Anyway, because she was a FEMALE terrorist we still celebrate her actions today. Hurray for (female) terrorism!!!

    > But even in the European and North American context sexism exists.

    By which you mean sexism against women… as a feminist sexism against men doesn’t matter and isn’t even on your radar. … which is sexism of course.

    >Although violence against women and sexual harassment continue to be problems,…..

    But curiously not the violence and sexual harassment suffered by men. The fact that men are more likely to be assaulted in public, that men are killed at work 95% more frequently than women, that men make up almost 50% of domestic violence and rape victims doesn’t matter because they are only men.

    > ……. sexism has taken subtler forms in these developed contexts, including the gender pay gap

    The gender pay gap was disproven as far back as the 1970’s. When men and women have equal work history, equal education and qualifications etc women earn the same as men… and often a bit more on top.

    > and racial and gender biases in academic departments of universities.

    Rather than focus on a single example of male sexism, you are using example so racism and trying to redefine them as sexism…. anything to avoid acknowledging any issues of sexism against males!

    > Women are sometimes complicit in patriarchy…

    Patriarchy is a system which places women’s (and children’s) safety and wellbeing at the the centre of society and makes it men’s duty to provide resources and protection to them even at their own expense, up to and including their own lives.

    Patriarchy was / is AT LEAST as much the invention of women as it was men. That is why women (mothers) who have always had the most power and influence when it comes to raising children always raised their boys and girls to adopt traditional patriarchal gender roles.

    Feminism IS patriarchy ….. minus the concern for children’s wellbeing.

    Feminism (“He for She”) IS chivalry ….. but without giving anything back in return.

    Feminism IS sexism…… but minus the intelligence needed to realise it.

    1. Lady (or troll let us say). The number of lies in your post blew my mind. Women do fight wars. And before they were a part of the army, the things they did are in no way less important than fighting wars (having and raising kids is an essential social function, as important as later blowing them up;) ). You have provided no links to facts (gender pay being disproved) and are out-right lying in some case (about domestic abuse). Further, I have acknowledged that chivalry is wrong. But I sense a troll.. like I said, the peddlers of warped logic are not my target audience, and people can judge what we have written to see who makes more sense. Personally, I think your cogent arguments are going to win the day. 😉

      1. P.S A side note for other readers. Men facing rape and violence is a serious issue, and one that I have dealt with in previous posts. But I would not classify rape as sexism, which is a different species. It is sexual violence, and yes men are the victims of this too. Sadly, this crime in under-reported (especially when it takes place in conflict zones) or because we attach unrealistic ideals of ‘masculinity to victims’ (which by the way is sexism). So let me be very clear SEX BASED DISCRIMINATION OR VIOLENCE OF ANY KIND IS WRONG, JUST LIKE DISCRIMINATION AND VIOLENCE. I have chosen to highlight one species here. feel free to write and speak of other instances.

      2. > Lady (or troll let us say).

        Yes I know it’s annoying when other people bring facts and arguments which challenge (or outright refute) what we are saying. And trolls are also annoying. But that does not mean I am a troll because I actually stand by what I say, and I try to back up everything with reason and evidence. IOW I am not just saying contrary things to annoy you 🙂

        > Women do fight wars.

        1. What women (specifically) are you talking about here?
        2. Were these women legally required to fight wars (draft) and were their men exempt from that requirement?
        3. Were these women culturally expected to fight war, and did their male peers have less (or no) cultural expectations placed on them? Did men pressure these women into fighting wars while simultaneously claiming for themselves the right to stay at home in safety?
        4. Were men able to vote for wars and then have the women forced to go off and fight them.. and if any women refused have them put in prison or (in the field) shot for desertion?

        I agree that *some* women do fight wars. But usually this only happens when things get really desperate, or just when all the men have been slaughtered already.

        > And before they were a part of the army, the things they did are in no way less important than fighting wars

        Personally, I view caring for children as infinitely more important than running about on a battlefield shooting at people just because a bunch of politicians (on both ‘sides’) are telling you to do it. In the internet age (ability to bypass propaganda) there is no excuse for not knowing that war is a racket, and is completely immoral. Its primary purpose is to (a) make money for the banks who have always loaned money at interest to BOTH sides of every major war of the last century, (b) make money for their military industrial complex and (c) to demoralise the traumatise the masses so they will be easier to rule, and specifically get cull each generation of brave and strong young men (or turn them into PTSD’d alcoholic veterans) so they won’t care to defend their families and communities from the ruling class and their creeping socialist. fascist police state takeover of society. THAT is the purpose of wars. There is nothing ‘important’ or noble or moral about war. That’s just the cover story to convince young men to sign up to be slaughtered.

        So when it comes to the issue of SEXISM throughout history, the issue is not ‘importance’, but whether the demands we placed on women were the same as those we placed on men. If those demands were equal then logically it would have been just as fair if women had been forced to go off to fight all the wars of the last century (or the last 2000 years or whatever) while the men had stayed at home looking after the children (which we agree is a very important task).

        Somehow if 18 year old women had been the ones given a short back and sides and a scratchy uniform before being pushed ‘over the top’ into a hail of gunfire, I don’t think you would consider that equal treatment to men’s role of being expected to stay at home and look after the kids.

        It’s always rather shocking to reverse the gender roles and replay history, isn’t it?

        One reason (out of many) that I’m not a feminist and I don’t subscribe to feminism’s ‘patriarchy theory’ is that I’d much rather stay at home and do domestic chores than go off to get trench foot and then have my legs blown off in some stupid war, and I’d much rather stay at home than go and work 12 hours a day down a mine, or out at sea, or in a shipyard or doing any other job which was traditionally assigned to men in a patriarchal society…… especially in the past when the technology of the day was absolutely rubbish meaning there was no decent safety equipment, or machines or vehicles to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

        Instead I would say “Yes please, chain me to the kitchen sink and force me to do the washing up! …….. just as long as you don’t put me on a boat, down a mine or in the middle of a war zone!”

        And I think the majority of women throughout history all felt the same way, as do most women today too. And that includes feminists (if they are honest). I don’t know of ANY feminists who have CHOSEN to do manual labour jobs, or ‘rugged’ jobs of any kind, and none who have joined the army. All the feminists I come across work in my life work in comfortable offices – or comparable environments – doing jobs that could (if one chose) be done in heels, with long nails, skirts and a high maintenance hair style. So whether they choose to wear trousers and sensible shoes or not is kind of irrelevant. And feminist seem to gravitate towards government funded jobs like teaching where they are almost unifiable.

        Why do YOU think most women waited for centuries until the exact moment that new technology (electricity, cars, plastics, telephones etc) made paid work outside the home a safe, comfortable and largely indoor experience before deciding en masse that they wanted to take off their aprons and have a go at it? Might the answer be buried in the question somewhere?

        Again, I’m not judging anybody, I’m just pointing out that there has never been a time when gender roles, and social demands on genders, has been equal (ie not sexist). Presumably this has something to do with the fact that men and women are different. And throughout history sexist attitudes and traditions have benefited AND disadvantaged BOTH sexes simultaneously. Swings and roundabouts. Feminism makes out that all modern and historical sexism only ever benefitted men and disadvantaged women. But that’s utter nonsense, and incredibly offensive to men, and belittling and disempowering to women (reducing all the women of history to mere objects with little to no agency or free will).

        > You have provided no links to facts (gender pay being disproved)

        Look up economists like Thomas Sowell. who exposed the myth of the wage gap back in the 70’s.

        The myth has perpetuated because – like most feminist propaganda – it has elements of truth to it. Yes of course men occupy many of the high paid jobs in society, but they are almost certainly supporting women financially (wives, dates, girlfriends, lovers). These women benefit from ‘free money’ which someone else earned. Far more women are financially supported (in part or totally) by their husbands / bf’s than men are supported by their wives/ gf’s….. although there has been a small shift towards more equality in this area be fair.

        But the point is that feminists judge privilege by how much people EARN, rather than how much UNEARNED income a person receives. Women receive far more UNEARNED income than men, and they get it from men directly (husbands, bf’s, dates etc) as well as from the state who in turn get it from those who earn the most (that would be men again). If men and women earned the same amount of money then men would come out worse because they SPEND far more of their money supporting women than women spend supporting men.

        If feminists want to narrow the pay gap they need to start financially supporting the men in their lives more, and voting to have more state welfare and social schemes directed at helping men specifically….. then men will finally be in a similar position of women of being able to AFFORD to get themselves lower paying jobs…. typically jobs which pay in other ways like less stress, more flexible hours, more holidays, more job satisfaction, more skills transferability, less hours, less overtime, a more relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere, more job security, less performance related pay etc etc etc etc etc.

        How many women consider a 25 year old man with little qualifications, no real career prospects and an inability to financially support a family or even himself) as suitable boyfriend / husband material?

        Yet many men would happily go out with and even marry a 25 year old woman of similar status, and they would happily support her financially (and their future family) by working their asses off at work.

        So you see – in general – women have the privilege of NOT ALWAYS HAVING TO WORK quite so hard to achieve the same standard of living as men. It’s not uncommon for women to go to college and get an education as ‘backup’ while all the time looking for a decent Alpha man who’s income will allow her to be a housewife, or at least allow her to pursue a more interesting and fulfilling (but less well paid) career…. like a therapist, or a teacher, or a children’s book illustrator or whatever.

        Men don’t really have that option. If a man wants to put his own job satisfaction or personal interests ABOVE his earning potential (ie trying to make it as an actor or musician or run a home for rescued dogs) then he is going to have to accept that he won’t be able to attract a woman very easily because he simply won’t be earning enough.

        Studies show that men who give up the whole business of trying to attract a gf/ wife (MGTOW and a lot of men in Japan) find they are suddenly able to have a decent quality of life for themselves without earning half as much as they would have to to achieve the same quality of life living with a woman.

        Women are attracted to men with resources and social status, and so THAT is why so many men work their asses off to get decent careers and earn lots of money (before having a heart attack at 50 from all the stress and coffee) ….. meanwhile, men are attracted to women who are young and fertile and the best bet for providing them with healthy children and THATis why so many women work their asses off to look young and attractive (fertile) and to cling on to that youthful/ fertile image when they hit 35, 40, 50 etc.

        To say men working their asses of to earn decent money to impress women is ‘male privilege’ is a bit like saying women working their asses off to look good to impress men is ‘female privilege’.

        Do you think we need to have ‘affirmative action’ to get more men in make up departments, hair salons, fashion stores and cosmetic surgery clinics to address these ‘female dominated’ spaces?

        Or should we treat everyone like grown ups and let them decide what to do with their lives, based on what their ambitions are?

        And while men do occupy many of the most high paying jobs, it’s lso true that men also occupy a lot of the world’s most shitty jobs too (garbage collection, sewage maintenance, soldier etc). In general women tend to occupy the middle ground choosing careers that offer the best work/ life balance. I don’t see any feminists seeking ‘gender equality’ in those dirty, smell, dangerous but decidedly ‘male dominated’ jobs, do you? If you want true gender equality you can’t pick and chose!

        Feminist view the world as if that men and women live in separate bubbles and are like opposing tribes facing off against each other across a muddy battlefield. This is silly. Successful, rich, high status men are nearly always benefiting one – of not several – women in their lives (and a bunch of women they never get to see, via their taxes).

        When women feel the pressure to look good to keep their men happy this is oppression……. but when men feel the pressure to work overtime just to keep their wives wardrobes stocked up with shoes and the kids bedrooms full of ipads and gaming consoles this is viewed by feminists as ‘male privilege’. Such double standards.

        The feminist wage gap propaganda and ‘double think’ is so strong that even feminists themselves cannot seem to convince other feminists that the wage gap (as it is typically defined by feminists) is a load of made up nonsense.

        > Further, I have acknowledged that chivalry is wrong.

        I never said (or meant to imply) that chivalry is ‘wrong’. If men and women want to play those traditional roles where he is the protector and provider and she is the princess who is treated a bit like a child, then that is fine by me. Chivalry is rather like a very mild form of submissive/ dominant relationships. And playing the submissive role is NOT the same as being actually oppressed. Being submissive FORCES the other party to be assume agency and responsibility for the both of you. A lot of women like to be submissive and have men take the lead, and a lot of men like to be the dominant provider, protector and decision maker.

        It’s only a problem is when men are told by damselling, trembly voiced, rich, stuck up, my-boyfriend-is-a-rugby-payer women like Emma Watson that men have to be the protectors, providers for ALL women and that these women owe them nothing in return because in the wonderful world of feminism men serving women (he for she) is just ‘equality’ you see 😉

    1. Yeah, I have heard that people into animation and people who are not, often have different views about it. Sure would love to discuss it (Hopefully soon :)). Thank you for reading.

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