Generally when questioned about how sexism could POSSIBLY EXIST in this MODERN DAY AND AGE when ladies are allowed to wear PANTS and have abortions (MAYBE IF YOU’RE LUCKY) and HAVE SEX ALL THE TIME, LIKE, WHENEVER, I respond by saying that the thing about sexism today is that much of it is less overt than it perhaps once was. Less measurable. Things like objectification, the male gaze, compulsory sexuality, and silencing are not necessarily the kinds of things you can prove via statistics or math (also, my feelings towards math generally exist somewhere along the “I’m confused” to “fuck math” spectrum. I have a calculator in my phone that I use to figure out important things like how much to tip my hairdresser. AMIRIGHT LADIES?).
But lo! A study! Researchers found that “when a group collaborates to solve a problem…the time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation – amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke.”
So while this study was specifically looking at group decision making in work/organization-type settings, I think the dynamic they found is applicable to a number of other settings wherein the menz and the women commingle.
People often ask me when I first began to identify as a feminist. And honestly I can’t remember. What I do remember is when I started to notice and get pissed off about sexism. And one of the primary places I began to notice the phenomenon we now know to be patriarchal fuckery, was in the classroom.
My mom is a professor of education and is a feminist. So when I was in elementary school we talked about gendered dynamics in the classroom. As such, one of the first things I began to notice was the ways in which boys spoke up while girls remained silent. One of the reasons this happens is because of the ways girls and boys are socialized. Girls are taught to be polite, to wait their turn, and to be passive and obedient whereas boys are taught to be sure of themselves and that being a loud, obnoxious, dick will be excused with a “boys will be boys” type of response. I’m oversimplifying a little, but there’s also a ton of research that shows the how socialization in the classroom is super gendered.
How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAWU Report (published back in 1992, though there is more current research that shows that these dynamics persist) showed exactly what my mom was talking about and what I was noticing as an angry little 11 year old:
A large body of research indicates that teachers give more classroom attention and more esteem-building encouragement to boys. In a study conducted by Myra and David Sadker, boys in elementary and middle school called out answers eight times more often than girls. When boys called out, teachers listened. But when girls called out, they were told to “raise your hand if you want to speak.” Even when boys do not volunteer, teachers are more likely to encourage them to give an answer or an opinion than they are to encourage girls.
When I talk about sexism and socialization in the classroom, I’m not talking about success or achievement in terms of grades. I’m talking about teaching femininity and masculinity. I’m talking about teaching people gendered behaviour and teaching people whose voices matter.
Fast-forward to 2012. Now I’m a less-little, more-angry, 32 year old.
This shutting up of women with their dumb thoughts and ideas and their trying to say things all the time with their mouths totally happened to me last weekend (as well as for, basically, all twelve years I spent in public school. I was only really relieved of this experience in the classroom when I started taking Women’s Studies in college — Feminism in academia! It’s good!) when I ended up at a friend’s apartment after the bar and there were several dudes already there who had come from a strip club. Because every once in a while (sometimes at what may seem to the naked eye to be an inappropriate time, for example while drunk at 3am) I decide that it is my responsibility to have conversations about such things with people who might have otherwise never considered the possibility that they could be sexist pigs, I decided to try to engage one of the dudes (as noted earlier, I’m the most fun at parties). Because hey! Having conversations never hurt anyone, right? LIES. They hurt dudes who love strip clubs and want to continue on believing that they can be simultaneously nice and fine and good while frequenting strip clubs.
The first dude I was talking to seemed relatively open (albeit a little frightened) to having this conversation like civil people who may or may not share differing (yet still potentially valid and informed!) opinions and experiences and so things went ok for a little while. Alas, the other dudes got wind of our anti-boob conversation and felt obligated to explain to me very loudly how I was wrong because ACTUALLY if you go to strip clubs YOU WILL REALIZE how very, very happy and empowered and liberated all of the sex-loving ladies who work there really are. STUPID GIRL, you are so wrong about our boners, they said. Their boners were justified boners because of girl power.
Now, I’ve heard this argument once or twice or one thousand times before and have also had this argument once or twice or one thousand times before. It isn’t a particularly interesting argument to have, particularly not with the 101 types. But I know the argument. There is nothing that a dude who loves strip clubs can say to me that is going to BLOW MY MIND. What’s that? You’re lonely? Aww. Sad. Misogyny will comfort your penis. Ohhh, you’re helping out some poor girl with her tuition and diaper bills? Generous! Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, socialism. Really? Stripping is feminist because the internet/postmodernism/Slutwalk told you so? Well I never. I’m the new sexist. Now is when we thank the dudebros for their enlightenment. Free blow jobs for everyone!
Like I said. I’ve had these conversations once or twice before. Excuse my lack of interest in your justifications for misogyny.
What was so funny and interesting (read: not at all interesting or amusing or even tolerable) about the way the ‘conversation’ went was that there was an instant assumption that I had no clue what I was talking about regardless of what I said (“Why, yes! I have been to many strip clubs!” “Why, yes! I have heard your dumbass argument before!” “Why, yes! I have thought about these things once or twice before in my life!” “Feminism is what I do for a living, asshole!”). All three of these dudes took it upon themselves to educate me all together and all at once about how feminist and awesome and empowering and PERFECTLY FINE AND NORMAL AND NATURAL AND GOOD strip clubs are. Yelling and interrupting and talking-over ensued. Assumptions that I simply did not understand their side of the argument (“But, Meghannnnn, we have boners. BONERS.”) and/or that I had not educated myself enough on the topic abounded.
So I gave up. Silencing successful!
Now, I don’t see myself as a particularly passive or silenceable person. I have a voice and I use it often. I’m not going to spend a lot of time whining about how my voice is always being silenced because that really isn’t true. I write about things I think and feel and believe on the internet all the time and often I am given the opportunity to say things out loud. Empowered voice is intact. And yet often I give up. And often I don’t even try.
Lindy West wrote about feeling something similar in reference to this study:
I (and, I suspect, pretty much any woman) can access that feeling really quickly and vividly—when you find yourself in conversation with a circle of men and, against your better judgment and all your feminist impulses, you just turtle up. You retire. You forfeit, because their lungs are bigger, they’re groomed for assertiveness since birth, and you’re groomed to assume that nobody will take you seriously anyway. You wait for a pause in a room of interruptors. Sigh. I do it like crazy, and I am a fucking loudmouth feminist yelling machine.
I love to hear myself talk, sure. But in a room full of dudes who love to hear themselves talk more, often they are the ones who win out and I leave feeling like a feminist failure. I let them go on and on and though I may have had oh-so-many things to say, I said nothing. Knowing that I’m going to have to deal with getting talked over, shouted down, interrupted, and mansplained until I want to stab something definitely encourages me to sit and stew, quietly glaring until my entire night is ruined. I go home angry, wondering why I didn’t just yell at them: “YOU GUYS ARE SO STUPID THAT I’M EMBARRASSED TO SHARE THIS EARTH WITH YOU! AND YET YOU ARE ENTIRELY CONVINCED THAT YOU ARE ONE MILLION TIMES SMARTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE! AND THAT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON THIS EARTH THAT YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT!”
Man I hate dudes (Jokes! There are about ten of you that I genuinely like *fist bumps*).
Sexism is a real-life thing. We can change laws till we die (and yes, let’s continue to do that), but the kind of sexism that happens on a day-to-day basis – the sexual harassment, the silencing, the gaze, the fear, the intimidation – will continue so long as masculinity continues to be a thing that’s encouraged and rewarded. My suggestion to dudes? Every once in a while consider shutting up. Consider how your behaviour impacts other people (quick recap: women count as people now). Oh oh! And don’t explain to feminists that strip clubs are the new female empowerment. I know this is the first time you’ve heard this, but you’re wrong.