Last Tuesday on International Women’s Day, I saw this video on a friend’s Facebook:
I immediately loved it. Voiced by Dame Judi Dench, the video turns so many double-standards and misconceptions about gender equality on their heads with candor and wit. I think many people, both men and women, think that the equality divide is much less than it truly is, but when you’re presented with such statistics, it’s difficult not to be shocked and not to rethink your conception of equality altogether. The tone of the video is strong and self-assured, and doesn’t whine, but rather presents the facts and invites discussion; which, in my opinion, is the best tack a marginalized group can take. I felt empowered when I watched this, and I felt like it was a very good day for women.
And then a few days later, in the time it took me to read an email, my Women’s Day elation was utterly deflated.
Brief tangent: I can’t help but think that to be a woman is to be constantly teetering between pits and peaks. There are huge moments where it seems like anything is possible for women, where it seems like we are one giant step closer to true equality with our male counterparts; and then there are moments where the entire face of womanhood is slapped mercilessly, and it feels like everything that women have worked for takes several huge steps backwards. Equality for women is a slippery slope.
I read an article on Jezebel about a repulsive email circulating around USC from the leader of one of the university’s most distinguished fraternities, in which the author bases a woman’s value on her reproductive organs, encourages sexual assault, and asserts that women “aren’t actual people like us men.” The article reproduces the entire email, word for word, and it’s truly one of the most terrible things I’ve ever read. It put my stomach in knots. Obviously I know that not all frats are like this, but it seems that sexism and the objectification of women are a long-standing tenet of fraternity culture that aren’t going to go away anytime soon. The thing that really disturbs me is that the whole thing is trying to be passed off as a joke. Oh, so it’s okay to say vile, sexist things about women as long as you’re kidding? No. Not okay. So much of this kind of behavior seems to be overlooked by university administrations because they adopt a laissez faire “boys will be boys” attitude, and it’s only when someone from the outside gets hold of it and publicizes it that the boys are punished. If a sorority had written this email, the girls would not only be chastised for their sexist comments, but they would probably also be called sluts.
I read recently that statistically there are more women than men who attend college in the U.S. (peak), but it’s a depressing thought to know that even women who are seizing the opportunity for higher education can be so cut down and degraded and thought of as mere “targets” by their male peers (pit). It undermines everything that women are capable of when their essential humanity can’t even be acknowledged.
I am terrified to have children for this very reason: I’m terrified that I will bring a daughter into the world and be unsuccessful in protecting her from the sexist frat guys of the world, and from thinking of herself like a frat guy does; and I’m terrified that I will bring a son into the world and be unsuccessful in keeping him from becoming a sexist frat guy. I want children who are kind and who have egalitarian hearts. I want a girl who will grow up to be tough and opinionated and not afraid, and I want a boy who will grow up to be a tender-hearted feminist who will love women for their minds and support them in exercising them. But I can’t even call out my co-workers for dated sexist jokes and innappropriate remarks about women, so how can I be confident that I’ll be able to raise children who will?
I’m not really sure how to conclude this post, except to say that I feel personally slighted in many ways by this email, that degrading comments about women aren’t funny in any context and shouldn’t be passed off as a joke, and that, as Dame Judi says, until men and women are equal we should never stop questioning.