Am I a Sexist?

This week has been one of those that was full of intense conversations, mostly regarding feminism. I constantly find it so interesting that this is still such a topic that elicits so many different opinions, even amongst seemingly like-minded people. It is commonly known that in our society there are many misconceptions about what feminism is. Many people still believe being a feminist means being anti-men, even though that is actually the opposite of the definition of the word. I will repeat it (because it needs repeating), being a feminist means believing in the equality of the sexes. To keep it in simple terms, it means being pro-man and pro-woman. However, over the course of some conversations this week, I realized that the misconception about what feminism is can often stem from the overarching sexism that is still so deeply embedded in our society, even among millennials. This means that even though so many people understand the concept of equality, we often cannot truly support the idea of it because we have so many deeply rooted stigmas about gender.

Recently, I told a good friend of mine that a (male) career coach once told a group of undergraduate students that women must act "manly" in order to be successful. His advice was that, as women, we should try to make the men in the room forget they are not amongst only other men by joining in on sports talk and even laughing at inappropriate jokes. Clearly, this is terrible advice; first, there are plenty of women who like sports and would participate in those conversations anyway, and second, no woman should have to subject herself to laughing at a sexist joke simply to fit in. The real advice should be that neither men nor women should make sexist jokes in the workplace at all because that is wrong, unprofessional, and disrespectful. However, I told a good friend of mine this story, and she told me that she thought the advice made sense. I asked her why she thought so and she responded that she believes the workforce is set up for men so we must adjust ourselves to fit in; while I completely agree that in most industries, this is the case, that does not mean it always will be the situation. We do not have to accept it as it is simply because past generations have done so, but rather, if we really want to change the current landscape, we have to not accept it as it is.

Change is slow, difficult, strenuous, and so incredibly frustrating to achieve, but it is attainable. That is something that we cannot afford to forget if we truly believe that equality is worth fighting for. I am not saying one person has the power to change society's entire construct, but I am saying that collectively, we can achieve change. Remember that there was once a time when women could not even vote. That did not change because the women of the 19th and 20th centuries decided that since only men had voting rights at the time, there was no point in trying to obtain them. Instead, they recognized a wrong and fought for their rights — and ours as present-day women — for nearly a century before winning that one battle. The mentality that the workplace cannot change is simply false. Societies are changing constantly, and I have no doubt that one day, the women of the future will not have to fight twice as hard to obtain their place at the table, but we cannot forget that currently, that is exactly what women need to do. And we most certainly cannot resign ourselves to this workplace culture as if there is no possibility of changing it. Change starts with recognizing the disparities and pointing them out. We cannot change something that we are constantly denying even exists.

Furthermore, someone else (a woman) told me that I was being judgmental for calling out people on their sexist comments. That was the first time someone had ever told me anything of that nature and I was taken aback. I realized that if someone told me that, there are probably many women out there, who are more vocal than I, who are getting told the same thing. This goes for both men and women: saying this to someone is dangerous. Saying this implies that what that person is saying is wrong and when the content of what they are saying is actually correct, you are playing into the effort to silence them. Pointing out sexism or racism is not judgmental, it is IMPORTANT. It is particularly important because I know that I have to make a constant effort to not be sexist myself. The society I grew up in has a sexist nature that is so engrained in me that I often catch myself having a sexist perspective or even making a sexist comment. However, I want people to call me out, just as I will point out when those around me make these kinds of remarks. Again, we cannot achieve change without recognizing that something needs changing, and no one has ever progressed a situation by accepting it as it is.

Yes, I have my sexist moments. Yes, I have told my girlfriends that they are being "such girls" when gushing about a new crush. Yes, I have said "I am being such a girl," when overthinking a situation. Yes, I have even criticized other women for the way they are dressed. This is wrong. These are mistakes I have made and will continue to make because achieving a feminist frame of thought is a conscious choice that I have to strive for each and every day despite knowing that there are men who overthink situations and overreact to crushes, too. Because even though I grew up with supportive parents who told me I could achieve anything I wanted to, the entirety of society is set up to give men a sense of belonging while women are made to feel as if being accepted is a favor being done for them. Men are made to feel that it is their right to participate in the workforce, while women are made to feel that it is a privilege to be in the office alongside these men. I cannot pretend that fighting this battle is anything short of exhausting, but it is one that is necessary to fight. 

I love being a woman. I think it is fun and fabulous, and I would never want to be anything else, but I cannot deny that I have had experiences my male counterparts have not. I cannot pretend that I was not grateful when my nephew was born and worried when my niece was. I was grateful because I know that he will not have to deal with the obstacles I have dealt with and that his life will be significantly easier. Then, I was worried because I know that she will still have to deal with some of these obstacles; I can only hope that I fight for change hard enough and loud enough so that the obstacles she faces are minimal in comparison to those women my age have faced. I know that my obstacles are few compared to the ones the women of the Woman Suffrage Association faced. However, I hope we can all strive for a society in which these obstacles for women are non-existent entirely. The first step toward achieving this reality, though, is to recognize the problem. Don't let yourself be fooled that it doesn't exist and also, remember that it likely even exists within you.