Sexism is a woman making two-thirds the salary that a man earns for the same position. Sexism is a man getting time off to be with his family, but a single mother having to work continuous overtime to prove that she’s a team player, hoping to hell that the kids are all right. Or the troubling statistic that a woman is paid 30% less because she is too scared to ask for a pay raise.
Sexism is the fact that there aren’t nearly as many restrooms for women as there are for men. Sexism is any number of architectural sleights that don’t take into account a woman’s physiology.
Sexism is any government that would exert control over a woman’s uterus. Sexism is our society not providing for the realities of sexual intercourse, of letting a man walk away while a woman must scrape together hard-earned dollars to either raise or not have the kid. Sexism is a conservative family that will not support a pregnant teenager facing such a predicament.
Sexism is Frank Capra showing Donna Reed to be a freakish old maid in the Pottersville parallel universe. Or Sharon Stone getting $15 million for Basic Instinct 2 to take off her clothes and simulate sex and $2.5 million for Casino to deliver a performance. Or the fact that most film directors are male.
Sexism is a woman being unable to fuck whoever she wants and however she wants without being called a slut, while a man can be polymorphously perverse without reproach. Sexism is also the idea that an older woman can’t be sexy, while such dinosaurs as Jack Nicholson (and even Woody Allen) are given carte blanche. Sexism is the denied orgasm, or a woman going down on a man, but a man too lazy for cunnilingus. Sexism is a woman being considered unattractive for being at least ten pounds overweight, while a man’s prominent paunch goes unremarked upon. Sexism is a man being able to wear the same suit to two different social affairs, where a woman who wears the same dress or the same shoes is considered cheap or a tramp.
Sexism sometimes comes down to a gender chasm of maintenance. The billion-dollar makeup industry, the pressure to squeeze into a tight skirt, the unseen efforts to hide wrinkles or crow’s feet or sagging breasts.
We know all these things. Or we should know them. And yet all of the silent heartbreak that have resulted because of these mentalities could have been avoided with consideration or a few simple choices. If not through a piece of legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment, which has been in limbo now for over eighty years, then perhaps through a wholesale rejection of the consumerist and cultural forces that continue to tell women that they are second-class citizens. Those who would dismiss a women’s-centric film, even a skillfully made one, as a “chick flick” or a book “chick lit.” Those who would declare a particular talking point “too girly.” Those who would declare a reactionary like Caitlin Flanagan as the major female voice in one of our most distinguished weekly magazines or who would keep a major Sunday book review section almost the exclusive territory of white males.
It is now the 21st century. Women, in fact, outnumber male college graduates. And yet where is their presence? According to the American Association of University Professors, in 2003-2004, 38% of all faculity are women and women professors earn 80% of their male counterparts. There has never been a woman presiding over the White House, unless you count Geena Davis. Only 14 out of 100 U.S. Senators are women. Only 59 (a mere 11%) of 435 Representatives are women.
One doesn’t even have to be a feminist to pay attention to these things. And yet we allow these discrepancies to linger, hoping that some elusive force will figure this all out. But as long as we remain silent and as long as we look the other way hoping that the problem will rectify itself, we contribute to the horrible divide. We become sexists, men and women, in our own quiet and comfortable way. And isn’t that a pity. Because we can do so much better.
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.