Monday, June 4, 2012

A Kick in the Shins

When I was a kid, I kicked boys in the shins if they told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl.

Yesterday, I had an equally childish response when Jeremy made a crack about my biceps being smaller than his because my arms were only needed in the kitchen. His shins were spared, but I had a direct flashback to every other time someone made a joke about women and I got a bit fiery.

If I had to pick one topic that never fails to make me angry, even since I was a little girl,
it is sexism:

1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
2. behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Now, I understand that sexism isn't always limited to men discriminating against women. Calling men "pigs" isn't fair nor kind either. Calling all men anything is limiting and nonsensical, as indeed, all men are not created equal. I want to honor and appreciate men for they are as individuals, not based on ridiculous media-educated stereotypes.

Most of the sexism I see and experience is against women. Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about what irked me so much about Jeremy's "women in the kitchen" joke. I realized that it isn't as much about the joke as it is about a culture that allows these attitudes to be laughable.

Jokes making fun of women are still sexist.
Jokes making fun of a certain race are still racist.

Why do people hide behind the word "joke" as if that makes every other horrible thing they are saying okay?
In my mind, it's never "just a joke." We only joke about things that we've learned to justify as laughable.

It's not women who are cracking rape jokes. By and large (from what I've found on entire websites dedicated to rape jokes) it's men.

It's not often minority groups who are making racist jokes, it's the majority group. It's the group who wants
to maintain their power and they do so by diminishing the value of the latter.

There's a reason we make jokes about the things we do: time and context. Nobody was making jokes about September 11th on September 12th. Why? Because it's not okay. Because any reasonable human being could feel the pain and no better than to crack a joke about such a sensitive subject. Yet, time and context are everything. If we remove ourselves from it, it's less familiar to us and easier to laugh at.

We can only justify laughing and joking about someone if we've decided that either their plight isn't important or somehow they are less important than ourselves. 

Sexist jokes bother me because they only encourage a society that says belittling women is okay. And funny. 

You can justify gang raping a woman, beating your wife, selling a six year-old girl into sex slavery, and cutting out her genitals if you have first decided that she is less valuable as a human being than you are. And what better way to encourage that sexism is okay (and laughable) than cracking jokes about the reality that women (and good men) have spent centuries trying to change and improve?

Sexist jokes are little debilitating reminders that women are only taken half-seriously. Half-valued. Half-as important.

Sometimes when I'm talking about this with men, they'll say, "Oh, you're so cute when you're angry." It feels condescending. It feels like I'm not even allowed to be angry, because anger is not an "acceptable" or "attractive" emotion for women to have (just like men are not taught how to be sad). So men can be angry and women can be sad, but rarely are they taught that it's okay to be both.

Kicking boys in the shins hasn't gained me much but a few slaps on the wrist. Raising my voice and level of frustration with sexist people hasn't helped much either. And when I get angry (even in a productive and healthy way), I'm told that it's "cute" and I feel like that helpless and frustrated eight year-old girl who wasn't allowed to play football all over again.

I haven't found a great solution yet. Sexism and, even worse, misogyny, are big problems that will take decades to revers, but a few things help to keep me from kicking people:
-I don't laugh at sexist jokes (or racist jokes, or any jokes that are belittling of other people).
-When someone makes a sexist comment (about men or women), I tell them that's not okay.
-I don't adhere to gender-stereotypes that put people in boxes and tell them what they "should" be.
-When someone says, "You guys", I tell them I'm not a guy. 
-I encourage girls to play sports, to be active, to get dirty.
-I encourage boys to feel, to cry, to be whatever they want to be.

I play sports, I cook.
I lift weights, I clean.
I get angry, I cry.
I wear tennis shoes, I wear dresses.
I'm logical, I'm emotional.
I'm a leader, I'm an observer.
I speak, I listen.
I allow myself an identity that enables a fully human experience, instead of only a gendered one.


Mindy said...

Bravo! Well said.

Shreen said...


brit said...

Great to find a fellow Adventist blogger ... I have enjoyed reading. Is there any way to follow you through blogger?

David Muth said...

I am breaking my box and enjoy being what defines me!