A friend told me recently that her boyfriend asked her if she “actually experienced sexism.” She and I laughed and laughed, never discussing what her response had been because I already knew.
Of course, the answer is yes, yes, yes, absolutely yes. All women experience it, and we each experience our very own special brand of sexism: some because they’re too pretty and others because they not pretty enough; some because they are too emotional and others because they are “cold”; some because they’re too feminine and others because they are not feminine enough. The dichotomy makes it impossible to avoid.
Right now the issue of sexism is in the forefront of society’s collective mind because of the presidential race that includes — finally — a woman. I’m not writing this piece about politics, however, but inside the current presidential cycle is where my indignation was reborn.
After the first debate I posted a Facebook comment that pointed out some blatant sexism that was on the television screen. A man responded quickly and told me to “knock off the gender crap,” and that because I am “bright,” I “shouldn’t let the gender issue define [me].”
My brain lit up like a pinball machine and all I was able to muster was, “Ignoring sexism isn’t helpful.”
Fortunately he didn’t launch into a mansplanation about how societal sexism works, or my head would have imploded. He did, however, say that he understood sexism because he has daughters. Not the first time that I’ve heard that argument.
Let me say this very clearly: knowing women/girls does not mean you understand the intricacies sexism. As a man, you might objectively know what sexism is and sometimes you might even notice it happening in the world around you. Maybe you even step in. But unless you’re in a woman’s body all day everyday, there is no way that you can fully comprehend the effect that sexism has on a woman’s life, and the labyrinth of micro-aggressions (and macro-aggressions) that we must continually navigate.
My dad has two daughters and if I bring up any instance of harassment or discrimination that I have personally experienced — I get groped at every concert I go to, for example — he is appalled. Little does he know that I have shared with him very, very few of these occurrences. He attempts to give me advice on how to respond which is always absolutely unfeasible in reality. Women have three choices: ignore and perpetuate it; react calmly and be dismissed; or react angrily and be called an overly-emotional, PC-culture, liberal-media brainwashed feminazi.
It is true that the sexism that I experience now is not the same as it was when I was 19, but it is no less significant. I have learned to raise my voice and continue to speak when I am spoken over; I have learned not to respond when a man patronizes me (which happens oh-so-frequently); I have learned that women’s angry responses are oftentimes written off. When I was younger I learned that men aren’t entitled to touch my body; I learned that other women are fighting the same fight as I am; I learned that hearing that I’m “not like other girls” is not a compliment at all.
This election cycle is doing more than just polarizing the Left and the Right: it is radicalizing women. The denial of sexism in society — or the diminishing of it — is insulting. Denying sexism is a subconscious (or not) attempt to erase every woman’s past; it is an attempt to discredit the validity of all women. So the next time someone says that, “Hillary Clinton isn’t much to look at,” or acts surprised that I am not a secretary, everyone take cover because I’m one trip wire from detonation and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one.