A number of weeks ago this post got me thinking about my time waiting tables throughout my high school and college career. Yep, there were times that it sucked because of the sexual harassment some men felt was their right as a paying customer of the restaurant. I’m delighted this particular pub owner publicly said, “enough.” I’m also delighted his rant was shared so many times; more visibility is better when it comes to these things.
However, the post also got me thinking about the less blatant sexism that is around us and tolerated (or celebrated) every day. It is time to shed some light there too; start another, possibly more complicated, conversation.
Exhibit One: Last month, on the first “shorts weather” day of the spring, I was walking away from an Earth Day celebration downtown, one kiddo holding each hand. A guy passing us in his truck slowed way down, made eye contact with me, let his eyes drop to my toes and then back up, smiled, and then picked up speed.
Exhibit Two: A few weeks ago a talented artisan presented a program at a local civic club on the gorgeous Native American flutes he carves by hand. He mentioned that originally they were used in courtship. A male voice from the back yells, “hey, can you carve one for me? I need a wife!” Another voice responds, “How much for one that will get me a pretty wife?” A third, “You can’t afford that!” General laughter.
Exhibit Three: Just days ago, sharing a picnic with a group of friends. A couple of them started talking about teenage boys they knew and how only one had a girlfriend. “How’d he get a girlfriend?” “Oh, you know [insert name of school] girls.”
Exhibit Four [Added 3/31/17]: At a large annual business organization dinner during a tribute “roast” of the outgoing female CEO, one presenter remembers the CEO’s first visit to the local youth animal market show years ago. Apparently the CEO was wearing tight jeans and a colleague of the presenter nudged him and said, “If I was a judge, I’d give the blue ribbon to THAT!” The presenter then proceeded to hand the CEO a blue ribbon.
None of these instances are earth-shattering. None of them caused me permanent psychological damage or extended grief. And I can hear the cry from a certain sector already saying that this is all ‘political correctness’ B.S. However, each and every one of them points to a bigger, foundational problem in our society. Female objectification is not just a problem of pop culture or the mass media, it is with us constantly. I used to brush these things off as generational…that’s the way “those” men were raised, the younger generations know better. My experience at the picnic, for one, shows that is not true.
The beliefs underlying these situation, unconscious as some may be, have real consequences. They affect who we hire, who we elect, how we raise our children…
I want to raise my daughter knowing to her core that she does not exist to provide an attractive resting place for the male gaze. I want to raise my son knowing to his core that the girls and women in his life are equals and should be treated as such. In order to do this fully, I (we, women & men) need to stop giving a pass on these seemingly small slights. The uncomfortable silent acknowledgements across the lunch table with other women aren’t enough.
It is not about shaming, it is about educating. It starts with individual conversations, in the moment, so that we all start to open our eyes to the effect our words have on others. I absolutely recognize how charged this approach can seem. We all want to be accepted, part of the ‘club’. And when it feels systemic, we look at it as a problem too big for any one person to conquer. A few years back I did pull a civic club President aside and suggest that, since his club included a strong contingent of women, perhaps he should not tell sexist jokes from the podium. It was challenging for me, and I know I blushed to the tips of my ears, but I did it and he changed his behavior. I’m disappointed with myself for not saying anything over these past weeks when the examples have been piling up. But, there is a new chance every day. [Added 3/31/17] I have written a letter to the president of the business organization expressing my dismay and strongly suggesting that, with a new female CEO coming in at the end of the month, we no longer sanction that kind of behavior.
I also recommend a wide distribution of the Women’s Media Center’s Name It Change It Media Guide for gender neutral coverage of women candidates and politicians. (really, this isn’t just for journalists, it highlights all sorts of sexist language that is used in and outside of the media). So much of this issue is a result of pure ignorance, not malice. But we need to shine a light on that ignorance in order to change it. One person at a time can change the tide.
Please comment below if you have found ways to shift this ignorance to wisdom and understanding.