Confession: I am a reformed sexist.
For a long time I held the view that on average, women are not as capable as men. This view was based on my experience; it was what I saw around me. So many vapid women with as much substance as the reality TV stars they watched each night. But a relatively recent realization brought this view crashing to the ground: possession of two X chromosomes does not render a person less capable, but our culture does an excellent job of it.
Last year I was conversing with a gender issues expert who opened my eyes to the world from a woman’s perspective. She explained what is was like to be constantly objectified, to be treated differently because you are a woman, and what is was like to grow up with different expectations and values thanks to cultural conditioning.
This realization led me down the rabbit hole of gender (in)equality. Suddenly evidence of the ‘oversexification’ and devaluing of women was everywhere. It became no wonder so many of my female peers acted this way. What was ‘normal’ became nauseating.
As a man, I know that I can never fully comprehend this reality, but I wish to share as much as I can grasp to you, here and now.
A False Sense of Gender Equality
I’ll start off by letting Google do the talking about the cultural consensus on men and women:
Shocked? I wasn’t.
The first thing that needs to be understood is the importance of role models in a young person’s life. The most primary role models are, of course, immediate family, but beyond that lie popular culture icons. Books, TV and movies provide bigger-than-life characters whom we consciously and unconsciously mirror.
Men need not look very far to find an abundance of strong role models. Female role models of the same caliber, however, are few and far between. Most prominent female figures are worshiped for their looks, not their character or accomplishments. Even those women revered for their achievements have a strange knack for being very easy on the eyes.
Consider the plot of the vast majority of Hollywood films produced today. The male protagonist is the superhero, the brilliant writer, the CEO, the President, the secret agent. Meanwhile the female protagonist more often that not serves as eye-candy for the audience and the prize needing to be rescued for the male hero.
What This Means
The implications of this divide are ubiquitous.
Women have equally few leadership roles in the real world. As of 2011, women made up only 9 of 190 heads of state, 13% of parliamentary positions and 15% of top-level business positions internationally.
To make matters worse, we subconsciously harbor antagonism towards strong women. A recent Stanford study presented students with the biography of a successful Silicon valley investor. 50% of students were told the investor’s name was Heidi, and 50% were told it was Howard.
The results showed that students were much harsher on Heidi than on Howard across the board. Although they think she’s just as competent and effective as Howard, they don’t like her, they wouldn’t hire her, and they wouldn’t want to work with her. As gender researchers would predict, this seems to be driven by how much they disliked Heidi’s aggressive personality. The more assertive they thought Heidi was, the more harshly they judged her (but the same was not true for those who rated Howard).
Women are even lacking a voice in the media. The following infographic shows how little major news channels value the opinion of women, even concerning women’s issues:
But Things Are Changing…
Women’s rights and empowerment have certainly come a long way in the past century. The evidence is everywhere, even in the plots of Disney movies…
If you want to see this big jump firsthand, watch the trailer for Snow White (For Christ’s sake, the entire plot hinges on the line, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the fairest one of all?’) followed by the trailer for Brave.
To the Women of the World…
You are doing a fantastic job of living out your potential in spite of this bullshit. Our culture has told you that you are ‘equal’ while slamming you from every direction with reason to believe that you are not.
But the world needs more from you now than ever. Centuries of patriarchal domination has left this world on the brink of destruction. At the very least we need a balance between the masculine and the feminine.
To my (and Layar’s) opinion, modern leadership has a lot of feminine elements. It is not so much about power, control, top-down thinking and ego, but much more about inclusiveness, intuition, the will to move ahead, looking for win-win (for both parties) rather than ‘I win, you lose’.
So my message to you is, KEEP GOING!!! Men don’t like to admit they need directions, let alone a surge in feminine leadership, so don’t look to us for to call for change. Be that change.
If we have the courage to accept that our current crises afford us the opportunity to do things differently, if we recognize the value of women’s leadership power and enlist women as partners in the redesign and reconstruction of broken systems, we can activate a global reset that accrues to the benefit of our shared global community.
I’m not a woman, so I feel somewhat strange handing out advice here. However I do feel these steps would be helpful in overcoming the social conditioning already discussed:
1) Become aware and share
The first step to any change is become aware of the need for it. Beyond reading this article, look out for evidence of this epidemic in TV, movies, and your real life interactions with both men and women. Go a step further and share this realization with those around you.
2) Drop unhealthy role models and adopt new ones
Stop taking in media that gives the spotlight to poor role models. Instead, spend that building up what should have always been yours: a healthy sense of self-worth. Watch TED talks from badass women, research those who are pioneers in their fields. Do anything and everything find new role models to emulate.
3) Stand up in situations where gender inequality is occurring
This one goes without saying. Be a beacon of the change you wish to see in the world. Don’t be afraid to be vocal with friends, family and strangers. Awareness starts with you.
4) Figure out what you can do to help the world
Think about what you can do for others as a strong woman. What issues could benefit from your feminine touch? The world needs you now more than ever.
To The Men of the World…
This issue goes both ways. We are taught from day one what it is to be masculine, and how women should be viewed and treated. Thus we must play an equal role in reversing that conditioning.
1) Take a walk in someone else’s high-heels (metaphorically!)
Read #2 of this experiment in empathy.
2) Be Conscious of Your Interactions with Women
Notice the subtleties of the way you talk and treat women, while also noticing how they interact with you. If you see something you don’t agree with, be vocal about it — whether it’s your action or that of a female friend. Call attention to the bullshit.
3) Become a Loud Advocate for Women
Other men are far more likely to take your words into consideration than a woman’s. Make feminism cool. One thing is for sure: this certainly won’t hurt your chances with the ladies.
Thank you for reading this article. This is not an easy topic to broach for men or women because it calls into question so many basic assumptions. You’re awesome just for considering it, let alone following the steps laid out above. Keep fighting the good fight 🙂 Much love.
I actually wrote a whole term paper on this exact topic last year. The rec center at my school had a section of cardio machines (treadmills, stairclimbers, etc.) and all the diagrams showing how to use those machines were women, while the diagrams on the machines in the weight room were men. On top of that, about 95% of the people using the cardio machines were women and about 95% of people in the weight room were men. Basically the thesis of my paper was that men and women are socialized to strive for different body types: men should be big and muscular, while women should be fit, but not too bulky.
This also reminded me of a situation a few months ago when I went to play ping pong at a local gym with my friend (a guy). When I walked in I realized not only was I the only girl there, but that my friend and I were the only ones under 50. I decided to shrug it off and try to enjoy myself anyway. However, as soon as I started playing, one of the men thought he would do me a favor by explaining to me how to play the game correctly. Ok….I’ll admit I’m not a table tennis prodigy, but I’ve played the game more than a few times in my life. And also, it’s fucking ping pong. Get over yourself.
So this guy proceeded to talk his head off to me about all the rules and how I was holding the paddle wrong bla bla bla, and I was just trying to play but he wouldn’t let me. Then that guy had to leave, so I got to play with my friend who I had come with. No more than 2 minutes go by when ANOTHER guy comes up to me, gives me a disapproving look and says “you look like you need help.” I literally did not know how to react and didn’t want to be rude so I said “um….sure.” And he proceeded to explain to me everything I was doing wrong. In the end I had a pretty lame time, didn’t get to play any ping pong and left early. These dudes clearly all thought I was a delicate little lady who’d never played a sport in her life. That whole situation just made it more clear to me how laughable gender stereotypes can be sometimes when it comes sports. Even in a sport like ping pong (sorry, table tennis. They were very clear about there being a huge difference) a sport which has very little to do with muscle mass, I wasn’t taken seriously because I’m a girl. Oh, and my guy friend who I came with didn’t receive any “pointers” like I did, which he was actually kind of miffed about.
Possibly my favorite scene from any movie, ever. Wish it was better quality but it gets the point across
“Members of ‘Throttle Queens’ put last touches to their pride and joy, club coupe which will compete against male-driven car at the San Fernando Drag Strip. From left are Wilma Brown, Pat Marian, Pat Field, the driver, and June Minnich. Car hit 97 miles per hour and won trophy in its division.”
Dated October 9, 1956
[Source: Cool Chicks From History]
The Flipside is an awesome youtube series by Soul Pancake (created by none other than Dwight Schrute himself, Rainn Wilson). Each video has some kind of twist in it, and a question for the viewer at the end. I love this series and these two have an interesting take on gender roles. Enjoy.
Click here for more Flip Side videos.
“I am assertive – I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive – he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind bossed up. But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”