Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sexism is Alive and Well and Living in America

And it's not in the form you might think.

As a male who came of age in California in the '70s and '80s and who had strong females in my life, I never questioned the issue of gender equality.  I had been raised in an ERA-conscious environment, with women demanding things like equal pay and equal social treatment, and I completely agreed with them.  Then I turned 18, and had to obey the federal Selective Service law, from which my female friends were exempt.  That was really my first experience with our American double-standard, and it just got more prevalent once the scope of my perspective was widened.  By then, the genie was out of the bottle, and would not be put back.

The statistics are out there for all to see, but I'm not so interested in the percentage of SIDS and infant mortality cases, the percentage of workplace deaths and war dead of which males bear the majority as I am in the attitudes about males I still see in society at large.

This is not about Justin Timberlake getting repeatedly bashed in the crotch in a television commercial, although everyone loves a good crotch shot, right?  And it's not about the fact that it's acceptable to portray a female striking a male in a sitcom and people laugh, but to show the reverse would have sponsors under siege.  It's about this casual attitude that somehow males are inferior, that we need some kind of training just to become civilized.

Although that's a pretty extreme blanket statement, two things happened recently that made me really examine this issue.  Case in point:

1. The media conglomerate that publishes Parenting and Babytalk magazines recently published an advisory on cleaning your newborn (April 2010), which included downright dangerous advice about retracting an intact boy's foreskin to cleanse underneath, quoting a doctor who is a member of the AAP and should know her own professional organization's instructions on the matter (even if they are incorrect as well).  Anyone who knows me will know that genital integrity for BOTH genders is a subject about which I am both educated and passionate.  I followed the story as the outcry from parents of intact children became a deafening roar, and posted a "clarification" which only confused the matter, going back to the original source of the erroneous information.  I visited the link to the posting and found on the same page one of those cute little polls that people can take to feel like they're weighing in on something.  The poll was (I kid you not): WHO IS THE BEST-TRAINED MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?  And the options were: My Child / My Husband / My Pet.

Wow.  I'm sure it was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but I found it pretty insulting to be equated with a pet or a child in terms of "training".  Think of how a woman might feel if the poll on a men's magazine website said: WHO IS THE BEST-TRAINED MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?  My Child / My Wife / My Pet.**

At that point it really dawned on me how prevalent this concept is among women I know that men have need of "training", that they are not good enough just by virtue of being themselves, but that they must be changed to fit an external standard.  In checking the editorial staff of Parenting and Babytalk, I found all women.  It was a surreal moment, and I imagined the set of Mad Men, but with the genders reversed.

2. As I was standing in line at Safeway buying the food for our Saturday Rock Band birthday gathering, I noticed one of the blurbs on the cover of Woman's Day magazine.  This declared itself to be "The Man Issue" and promised to teach women how to "get him to do dishes, stay healthy & much more".  Let me repeat for effect: Get him to do dishes.  Really?  Like it might not be a job he does anyway?  Or might it simply be a case of asking for help?  I showed Raechelle the magazine with a perplexed smile.  She winced at the blurb.  The female checker said, "I need to get that issue.  Mine needs to be trained better." Yep, she said "mine".  Her what?  Her man?  Needs to be trained better?  There was a speech boiling up in me but I held it together well.  Raechelle offered a defense for boys whose mothers had done everything for them when they were young, and had been programmed that things like washing dishes were "women's work".  I still couldn't believe this woman was chuckling and joking about training her man.  I just stood there with a quizzical look, saying, "really?"

She finally caught on that I was somewhat perturbed by the magazine cover indicating that men in general were not capable of washing dishes without female intervention, and waved us off.  "Awww, get out of my line," she only semi-joked.  A man displaying her attitude would easily be labeled a pig.

I know this is a rant, and I know that rants can often come off as wildly strident.  I'm not trying to be.  What I do hope is that some of the women who are guilty of this mode of thought will realize that most men are good, and that by and large my generation and those following had nothing to do with the gender power structure of ages past.  Many of us have been good fathers, single parents, sole breadwinners, and have done remarkably well after being dealt a shitty hand.  I am totally in support of gender equity, but that means exactly what it says.  I support a woman earning equal salary to that of her male counterpart for the same job done, but I also support a female Selective Service requirement.  Equal pay, equal work, equal risk.  It mans there cannot be a double-standard, and true equality cannot exist when sexist thinking is still very much ingrained in our culture, on either side.  For instance, I would not buy a magazine which had this blurb on the cover: "The Woman Issue - get her to take out the garbage, stay healthy and much more."**  It implies she's deficient and in need of training, as well as being incompetent to take care of her own health.  And that's a pretty negative statement to make about 51% of the population.

**I've found that simply reversing the gender language of any advertising, television programming or federal law will instantly reveal the presence of a double-standard where it exists.


Jess said...

I completely agree and I know Chris would as well. I would even extend it to include kids. They are one of the few groups of people left where it's okay to talk disrespectfully to, ignore, manhandle and subject to many other indignities.

As soon as we can all begin treating one another as people all in life together, just trying to get along, the better off we will be.

Robert Pace said...

Women's work? Birthing babies and the subsequent breast feeding thereof notwithstanding, there is only work. Things that need to be done. Getting from an un-done to a done condition is not a gender thing, its a practical thing.\

Nice post, son. It's so huMANly of you!

Gavin said...

I've had this exact debate countless times with a number of people. Thank you.