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Allison Lantagne Headshot

Sexism Through the Years

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It's no secret that gender equality hasn't been achieved. Women have taken big steps, certainly, such as gaining the ability to vote and join the workforce, but until we are walking side-by-side with men, our job is not done. There are obvious, big problems to be solved, such as the glass ceiling, but there are also seemingly insignificant details that have snuck their way into our culture. They, however small, are important. Through these cultural signs, we are, whether we know it or not, showing girls that they are deferential to men from such a young age.

Consider your elementary-school aged nieces, cousins or even children. Some day, she may come home from school with scraped knees and red eyes, and when you ask her who could have possibly injured your precious little girl, she answers through tears, "a boy in her class."

Calming down a little, you pull her into her lap and stroke her hair, and then you tell her one of the worst possible things you could tell her: "It just means that he likes you." What are we trying to tell our daughters and nieces by saying this? Because he may or may not feel strongly about you, it is okay for him to push you to the ground and berate you? If I publicly said that I was in a relationship with a young man who hit me as a way of showing affection, any sane person would be outraged. That's not affection, that's abuse. So why do we tell elementary school girls who are being bullied on the playground that their tormentors are pulling their hair, calling them names and shoving them off swing sets as an act of endearment? We are setting young women up to end up in situations that compromise their worth as people.

Now, the scraped knee has healed, and perhaps the young lady in your life has taken an interest in sports. Baseball is her thing right now, and because there's no junior-high softball team, she plays with the boys. Good for her. She watches the game eagerly from the dugout as her team members take to the plate with their bats, and sees a not-exactly-excellent throw from the pitcher of the other team. "Come on, you're throwing like a girl!" The opposing coach might yell.

The thing is, no one throws like a girl, at least not in this sense. This is because, as people, and not just carbon copies of one model, all girls are different. Therefore, all girls throw differently. Some girls throw really, really well, because some girls excel athletically, and enjoy sports like softball, which require throwing. Some girls really suck at throwing, and that's okay too. It frustrates her to hear that, certainly, because now she has to work even harder for this coach to see her as a worthy player, but it's not like this is the first time she's been shown sexism in sport. In gym class that day, she hadn't been picked last for dodge ball, because she has a good arm, but all of the boys were on teams before she was. As is the nature of the game, she was hit on the hip, and went to the side of the court. As she walked there, she heard the hollers of protest. "Come on, man. You can't hit the girls." Why is she not a part of the game because of the locker room she gets changed in?

Also, why is it so important what she gets changed into? A look at her school handbook reveals that a majority of the rules that pertain to the actual garments a student can wear are specific to covering up her body. Some of these rules are reasonable, but the fact stands that every morning when she changes out of her pajamas, her school is sending her the message that she is responsible for covering up so that others aren't distracted, where the real responsibility should lie with those ridiculous enough to be distracted by a few inches of skin.

As much as every proud papa bear would like to avoid it, his daughters are going to start dating, and dating culture hugely promotes sexism, possibly without even realizing it. It's unlikely that the young lady you're picturing while reading this article is going to marry her first boyfriend. It's likely, however, that she will have a lot in common with him and some of his friends. So when she is told she can't date her ex-boyfriend's friend because of some sort of unspoken code, she should be outraged. This kind of attitude reduces her to "property" of her ex. This sounds absurd, because we're all past the point of consciously thinking of women in this way, but it is still a generally accepted part of our culture to tell a woman that she is "his," and that friends of the ex have to accept that she is off-limits. The decision of who any person is to date lies only on the two people in the relationship, and women do not owe an ex-lover anything, especially not her future happiness.

After a long day of fighting senioritis, a young lady walks back to her car in the school parking lot to see two classmates egging it. Frustrated, she storms back to the school building to find the principal, but he or she has bigger fish to fry at the moment, and shrugs it off, offering only the phrase "boys will be boys" as consolation. Ah, yes. The saying "boys will be boys." It doesn't sound anything but innocent, but it is probably the most blunt way we subconsciously promote sexism in our day-to-day lives. This phrase is almost too mind-bogglingly sexist to even break down. What are we trying to say with this statement? When you look at it closer, what we are saying is that boys have more leeway in their actions, and can be more wild and crazy than girls, because it is natural for them to do so. Boys, as people, should be held responsible for their actions. As a transverse of this elevating young boys, it teaches girls that it is expected of them to be quieter and resigned, while boys can live recklessly with lesser consequences. If you think "boys will be boys" is an acceptable response to something, take a minute and replace it with "Well, because of the gender of the person who is inconveniencing you, your complaint is not valid." It sounds pretty different when you translate it from its cryptic meaning.

The glass ceiling will not break if we still believe that women are men's property. The wage gap will not be filled if we believe that women are meant to be more resigned and subservient to their male co-workers. Big steps are being taken in the fight towards gender equality, but until we change our attitudes, we will never change our larger actions.