July 6, 2012 / Sexism

Sexism Is A Two-Sided Coin

by

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

The coin spins.

Heads or tails? Male or Female? It shouldn’t matter. We are equal sides of the same coin of Life. There is no his side, without her side. We are forged together and bonded forever — valuable, compatible and inseparable.

Pretending otherwise is a futile exercise because as any coin collector will tell you, both sides determine the value of the coin. Yes, a distinguishing mark or characteristic on one side of a coin can add value to the whole coin, but if one side is defaced and devalued then the other side loses its value as well.

And so it holds for the coin of life. We can’t positively change the life of women and girls if we don’t positively change the life of men and boys. And we automatically devalue the life of both, when we devalue the life of one. And yet, somehow, we seem to think that sexism against males and females come in two separate coins. It doesn’t. And the examples are big and small and seemingly endless…

In a mock campaign to “rebrand girls” and promote them as a birth choice in countries (including the US) where boys are preferred by expectant parents, a series of “humorous” ads were created that demeaned boys and in the process portrayed girls less than they are.

The “Born to Rule” ad showed a group of tiny male sperms swarming toward the single, large female egg above them. You can all but hear the whip crack. Take that you males. Ruling is dominance. It requires obedience. It implies force. It cares nothing for equality. So why did the creators of the ad say “Born to Rule” instead of “Born to Lead?” Imagine how much more empowering it would be for women and girls if that ad was turn on its side and we saw sperms of equal size as and on equal footing with the egg and yet the sperm still followed the egg…

Leadership draws its power from its followers precisely because they do so voluntarily. And the bigger and brighter the followers the bigger and brighter the leader… And isn’t that really the kind of empowerment we want for women? For everyone? And sadly this ad was presented by an organization of 3,000 ad women.

Another group presented an ad called “Hope It’s A Girl” explaining that “Boys are 76% more likely to set something you love on fire.” I don’t dispute that it is probably fact. What I do dispute is how women and girls gain value when men and boys are demeaned as mentally and/or morally defective goods? By default? Doesn’t that just lower both? Why not point out that a daughter would be 40% more likely to be the caregiver for a parent in their old age and spend 50% more time doing it than a son (from NOW)?

A third ad promoted “Girls. The Smart Choice” for, apparently, the investment driven parents by comparing boys shorter life span with girls loyalty and compassion. Why can’t both males and females be promoted as necessary. “What is strength (male symbol) without loyalty and compassion (female symbol)?”

Is devaluing humor the way we want to change society? What do men and boys take away from it? Wouldn’t it be the same kind of devalued self-worth, self-confidence and lower expectations that we abhor when it is directed at women and girls?

And so the coin spins — male, female, male, female…

In a video presented in conjunction with MissRepresentation’s Keep It Real challenge, Roy Cui confesses his shame at contributing to the digital distortions of female images and explains his growing discomfort with his career as a “digital retoucher” in which he alters the images of everything and everyone we see — particularly women. From Roy Cui’s website:

It’s standard for me to thin and elongate legs, thin down the waist and arms, remove any bulging flesh, remove wrinkles, bags under the eyes, blemishes, freckles, tattoos, fix a lazy eye, remove or minimize creases where there should be creases, like the underarm or the neck. As more and more has been asked of me technology made it easier to do more in less time, I never questioned the ethics of what I was being asked to manipulate.

After Mr. Cui recognized that the lies he creates of women could negatively affect his daughter’s self-image and self-confidence, he showed her what he does and explained how the images aren’t real. It is empowering to see him step forward to help create change. And I so applaud his willingness to accept personal responsibility and tell his story. But I also noted that he mentions in the video that he is the father of two boys as well.

He never says that his man-made digitized figurines of female beauty could also affect his boys. He never mentions that he explained to his boys what he does and that these unachievable standards of impossibly proportioned, unblemished beauties are not what they should expect in the girls and women around them.

And yet those images must affect male expectations, or businesses wouldn’t waste the time and money to achieve it.

I’m also willing to bet Mr. Cui’s retouching wand has help create unachievable standards of impossibly muscled, hyper masculine images of sports players and celebrities that along with the “I can, so I will” and don’t get in my way or I’ll mow you down attitude of aggression, would negatively affect the self-image and self-confidence of his two boys. Has he explain those distorts to his boys?

And did he warn his daughter about these manly falsehoods also, so she wouldn’t have unreasonable expectations of the boys and men around her and feel the need to become the mythological hyper-sexualized compliant female mate that is worthy of the mythological hyper-sexualized aggressive male…

And so the coin spins — male, female, male, female…

What coins of sexism do you see spinning?

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  • Bes

    The thing is there are real differences between male and female and discussing them isn’t sexist. Human eggs are thousands of times bigger than human sperm and they contain all the cell organs necessary for life where sperm are just little chromosome packs. Also female X chromosomes are many times larger than male Y chromosomes. In many species males are few and very short lived and exist only long enough to mate. In many species females are larger than males. Noticing these realities isn’t sexist it is just observation.

    I do agree that muscled up images of males are just as much of a problem as the minimized images of women. Distorted images are more of a problem for girls because altered images are the only images there are. In media women are only presented trussed up in fashion or posed for sex. Men are presented doing all different things and rarely trussed in fashion or ready for sex. Also the the major genre of male magazines adopts the attitude that “you are just fine, sit there on your average sweat panted ass and check out these perfect women” where that attitude is taboo for women’s magazines. Girls and women’s mags take the attitude that “we are here to point out your many shortcomings and sell you the solutions to them”. That attitude is negative but it is devastating since it is the only genre of magazine there is for girls.

  • I agree Bess. Facts are facts, but how we present them does make a difference. Imagery matters. Ruling is provocative. So is having the lone egg lord it over all the sperm. But what is our goal? Leadership. As we know, women in leadership is still provocative to too many. We need to stay focused on empowering to women and girls and repeat it ad nauseam. Women are leaders. Women are leaders. We can’t afford to get side tracked by our frustration and anger.

    And yes. Women’s and girls’ magazines have not served us well on almost any front.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Linda,

    Excellent post in pointing out the fact that there shouldn’t be sexism towards men either. I agree, there shouldn’t

    However, what immediately struck me when reading your fair and objective explanation that it is wrong to demean men in order to raise the value of women; nonetheless, I also couldn’t help but see the irony of your post. Historically, women are inherently more fair to men and are willing to point out any wrongs they perpetrate against men and will go so far as to stand up and speak out against it publicly. Sadly, I concluded that that I absolutely have no confidence that men will return us the “favor.” They haven’t so far, despite all the evidence that they should. After all, they were able to finally come to terms that racism is totally wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated, but they don’t see the “other side of the coin” that sexism is just as wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated either!

    Another ironic twist to my point is that black men are now being given a public forum (such as the growing number of black male pundits in the MSM) and they are allowed to openly express their outrage and contempt towards any hint of racism. They also are not only being taken seriously, but they are gaining the respect of white men and women in the process. Yet, inexplicable, they NEVER express the same outrage, much less point out, the rampant sexism that’s played out everyday against women. Why not?

    I don’t understand this “blind spot” they have when it’s sexism. After all, surely one would think black men would become women of all colors greatest ally in fighting against sexism, but you don’t see it happening. Black men have all but forgotten when their only ally was the women in the suffrage movement who couragesly fought for their right to vote when they were fighting for that right for women! The ultimate slap in the face to women for their great effort was that black men were given that right but the women weren’t!

    I think it’s good to do the right thing and stand up against sexism towards men, but I just don’t think they really appreciate those efforts. As long as they still have the lion’s share of power in society, such bouts of sexism against men will not affect them in the same negative way as with women. Therein the great divide exists and makes the issue of sexism’s ill effects on men a far cry from the effects on women. I don’t see myself putting any real effort towards fighting against sexism towards men. I, first, will give all of my energy and passion towards figuring out how we can persuade women to stop fighting against each other and start supporting each other instead.

    Sexism notwithstanding, most male insecurity stems from their own definition of what it means to be a man. Men have created this insecurity by their own definition of “manhood”, which is primarily why, I believe, they are constantly trying to force THEIR definition of what it means to be a woman upon us, because the woman’s definition makes their definition irrelevant!

    Sadly, instead of recognizing the need to change that definition and realizing they are not only hurting women, but themselves, they will continue continue to discriminate against us, continue to be violent towards us and believe they are somehow superior as some kind of male right or entitlement, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

    The negative issues that continue to exist between men and women is always been about how men view themselves. Women aren’t the problem and men will be a lot better off when they can accept that truth. And as corny as it sounds, “it will set them and us free.”

  • ryan

    Kathleen
    “Yet, inexplicable, they NEVER express the same outrage, much less point out, the rampant sexism that’s played out everyday against women. Why not?”

    I found the opposite when i looked into the opinions of minority commentators. first, I couldn’t find many in the industry (probably due to my lack of online search skills) but of the famous ones I did find, they all had multiple comments about sexism. Some examples:

    CNN piece 11/23/2011
    Roland Martin
    It’s wrong to bar altar girls

    Melissa Harris-Perry about sexism in politics
    By Maya | Published: July 3, 2012

    Al Sharpton: Racist, Sexist Rush Limbaugh Should Be Canned by FCC

    Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/t.....z1zxYUcSLq

    Athletes Clad In Nothing But Sexism
    September 30, 1990|By Clarence Page.

    Dr. Boyce: How Racism, Sexism and Homophobia Can Turn You Into a Dinosaur
    Added by bowatkin on March 13, 2012.
    Saved under Commentary, News, Politics
    Tags: cnn, game, GLAAD, White House

    These came up in the first three minutes of searching; there were many more.

    I do find this comparisons of victim status among oppressed people to be among the biggest hindrances to progress for all oppressed folks. There should be a better way to address white male oppression other than focusing most of our writing on a given article on the failings of other oppressed groups.

    thats just what the power brokers like to hear.
    Just a thought.

  • Bes

    I have been thinking about this for a day now and I really don’t care if men are offended by entertainment or advertising aimed at women. I am offended by most media and advertising aimed at women and clearly no one in media or advertising give a rats ass about my feelings. I do see the point that more could be accomplished if men and women worked together for a more equal world but I have zero confidence that men will work in that direction although they might go in for some self righteous lip service if they thought there was anything to gain from it. So I think it is safe to say that I care about as much about sexism towards males and they care about the pervasive sexism aimed at me. I also am aware that this is a sad state of affairs while most men completely oblivious to there being any problem.

  • Anna

    I tend to think that it is dangerous to assume that there were an equal playing field between men and women. the male power broker network is based on shutting out women. that is the common denominator. just as hundreds of years ago there are ample fields and places where women are still not having access. and idealistic thinking, assuming fairness between men and women could exist, is a distraction. every little step that was achieved was under extreme pressure, violence, martyrs and single minded people who gave up anything to achieve their goals. and I do not only think of the suffragists who fought for the vote, but also seemingly smaller goals like the swimsuit battle (article by Annabelle like that women had to fight to wear these suits. or think of the type of clothing women were supposed to wear and the ridicule they got with the Bloomer pants. there were always a few exceptions of men who let women into the male circles, but these were few and the exceptions. the rule is still for most men, that they see women as their servants, assistants or playthings, but not as equals and not as leaders. wishful thing is not a strategy.

  • Hey Kathleen. Good to “see” you!

    You make great points. There are sure to be men (and women) that disappoint us and try to sabotage the advancement of women. And it’s unfortunate that civil rights didn’t live up to its billing for women. But we loose valuable allies when we ASSUME all men are against women leaders or women succeeding.

    There are many men who have encouraged, enabled and mentored women every step of the way at work and at home. We need to cultivate these allies not beat them over the head for the deeds of others. Women leaders need more than just women followers. That’s not to say I don’t totally agree with you that women need to be more supportive of each other. But men aren’t just going to disappear off the face of the earth.

    I 100% agree, too many men suffer from an absurd “masculine” ideal that they perpetuate to our and their own detriment. But too many women also buy into these myths of men and women. And they feed that distortion to their daughters. We need to educate the boys as well as the girls from infancy in order to change this.

    Putting aside men for a minute, I do think we agree, boys don’t deserve sexism.

  • Bess– I understand your anger. I feel it too. I fight back with dollars. I don’t buy things when I know they advertised in that manner. The problem isn’t ALL men. The vast majority of men are not “in positions of real power” they are muddling through life, unthinkingly doing what comes easiest not best. And some of the problem is women accepting the standards set by men.

  • Anna —

    I don’t think for a minute that there is a level playing field. And it is not wishful thinking, but fact. Leaders can’t lead without followers. Women cannot lead a nation or a corporation or even most departments by only leading other women. Men are a fact of life in all facets of life. We will not be perceived as leaders of men (as well as women), if we don’t act like leaders of men as well as women.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Linda,

    Thanks for your comments (and it’s always good to see you!)

    I hear what you are saying and I do agree we should not impose sexism on men/boys and, yes, “many men have encouraged, enabled and mentored women”, but obviously, it’s not been enough. Otherwise, women would not still be at the unbelievable low 17% of representation in Congress and even worse representation in other sectors of our society. If it was making a real difference, I don’t see how we would have witnessed the kind of vitriol and hatred spewed at Hillary, Sarah and Michelle because they dared run for the presidency. I NEVER heard any of those men who want equality with women speaking out publicly and loudly against that over-the-top sexism. If they were, it wasn’t enough to be heard through the overt sexism the rest of the boyz were spouting on a daily basis!

    I am simply following Dr. King’s lead when he admonished the white establishment when he said:

    “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights: “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can not be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied so long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

    The same indignation belongs to women. We should be shouting “we will not be satisfied” until women are no longer attacked for running for the presidency or vying for the CEO position of a company or being recognized for extraodinary work in medicine or any other field, where women rarely get the same recognition and praise as men do for far less achievements.

    Ryan’s comments above are in the same context as those who believed Dr. King and the AA community should be “satisfied” with the progress that they had already made and to basically, shut up. To his credit, Dr. King would not allow them to dictate or decide when “real progress” had occurred. He reserved that right for the AA community, and rightfully so.

    Those men who have been true allies for women’s equality are smart enough to know that we are not disrepecting them by focusing on the rampant, overwhelming sexism which is clearly still the dominant force expressed by men in how they view women, no matter how accomplished they may be. I believe as Dr. King did when it comes to being “satisfied.”

    The ultimate victory for equality will come from women uniting and speaking in one voice. It will not come from men whose support has been intermittant, affecting small pockets of women throughout the country. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for those men who are enlightened enough to do the right thing, but their support for us would carry a heck of a lot more weight if they would publicly and consistently admonish those men who still view women as second class. I rarely see the same passion expressed by men when speaking out against racism, which BTW Ryan, is no where near the passion AA men and even some white men (and women) have expressed when speaking about racism. When Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson are as quick to speak out against sexism as loudly as they do when it’s sexism (and not just give an honorable mention to it), then I’ll believe they understand the injustice of sexism the same as racism.

    Until that happens on a more frequent basis, women must follow Dr. King’s example in his fight for civil rights if we expect to ever win this seemingly never-ending battle for equality in the truest sense of the word. Any man who truly loves women will understand the reasons for this approach and will be inspired to support us even more for doing so.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Sorry about this mistake. I meant to say:

    “When Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson are as quick to speak out against sexism as loudly as they do when it’s racism…”

  • ryan

    Kathleen
    My only point was in the use of words like “they NEVER express” or “they NEVER point out…” Sometimes we don’t here it or it just isn’t in the media enough to be see by enough people. No one ever said for you to be silent or be satisfied. No such words or suggestions were made. I was only pointing out the there are minority allies that should be acknowledged. Since you mention civil rights; I would suggest that if white allies were pushed away and ridiculed by MLK and his allies instead of embraced at the lunch counters of the south or in the bus terminals in Montgomery we might still have segregation.

    From what writings i could find, if you look at feminism in the 70s, 80s, and 90s well up into the 2000s, their discussions are almost exclusively devoted to womens issues (again based on what writings I’ve been able to find). Very little in the published writings of feminists does civil rights for other groups get much discussion; nor should they. Women need to fight for women first which is what they did in those decades as AA’s did for themselves during that same period.

    I don’t doubt that minorities considered the issues affecting them to be of primary importance; human nature being what it is, that’s to be expected and the evidence of recent history suggests that all organized groups for oppressed people have done this; including feminists. But any struggle for rights should include a word of support for allies and an acknowledgement of their contributions to the effort. That’s hard to do when words like never are used.

  • Bes

    From my perspective NOW (THE women’s org) has only talked about gay and racial issues for the last 20 years. They define women’s issues as only abortion and reproductive rights (which Obama has not supported) and they supported Obama when his campaign used sexism to attack Hillary and Palin. The Democrats did not speak out to stop sexism and misogyny and in fact continue to say “sexism? what sexism! I didn’t see any sexism in 2008, you must have imagined it because you are unbalanced.” I want to see a woman President and parity in political representation at the Federal level (we in Washington state have parity at the state level). In 2008 the most qualified Presidential candidate, a woman, was shoved out of the way and sexism was used against her in order to move a black candidate with no relevant experience to the front of the line. Women don’t need this sort of “help” from their “allies” in the Gay and racial politics communities to gain political parity. But rest assured I care as much about gay rights and racial politics as gay and racial movement leaders care about women’s rights.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Ryan,

    I appreciate your interest in how a woman feels when it comes to being discriminated against. THat somehow splitting hairs with the infrequency that men ever speak up on behalf of women publicly and to other men. Obviously, it’s so rare that it’s hard to catch the “honorable mentions” that are expressed, which leave one with the impression that sexism is really not that big a deal and shouldn’t be taken as seriously as racism (just ask Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson).

    In the end, I really don’t think you can possibly understand the depth and breadth of the rampant discrimination against women by men has on her self-image, dealing with her inability to live her life to the fullest measure and how offensive it is that men think they have a right to define, control and literally rule over women without any accountability for their actions (which is a result of their holding all of the power).

    If the shoe were on the other foot, I bet your responses would be similar to mine and the other women who post here. Far too many men still believe “there’s not a problem” when it comes to discrimination against women or they believe it’s insignificant and doesn’t deserve the kind of attention it truly deserves. Facting the injustice of sexism would mean men would actually have to address the issue and stop avoiding, minimizing or trying to explain to a woman the degree and severity of any event of sexism.

    That ability men have to ignore the elephant in the room when it comes to women being deprived of their inalienable rights, endowed upon them by their maker (not MEN) is breath taking and indicative of the male’s dillusional state when an issue doesn’t directly affect them, but predominately women.

    It’s that self-indulgent attitude which has been the thorn of women’s side since the beginning of time. Otherwise, men would have recognized the error of their ways and gladly changed this attitude and accepted women as their equals.

  • ryan

    Bes
    I would agree with you on NOW but prior to 2008, i can find a single instance; no writings or publications from any feminist organization or feminist leader (excluding black feminist) where racial issues were at the forefront of discussion for any length of time – even a short time. If it’s been happening in the last 20 years, or even 30 or 40 years, I sure can’t find any evidence of it.

    Kathleen:
    I agree with everything you said. No arguments from me on anything. I just suggested remembering allies who are not women. They do exist even if somewhat rare. As far as not possibly understanding the depth and breadth of the rampant discrimination against women because of my gender, your absolutely right; because I’m not a female I will never truly understand. but I can certainly try and that’s what I do.

    Of course black women that I know often say the same thing your saying about me but in reference to white women; Hispanic women say it regarding black women; AA folks say it often with regards to EA folks (European American). There’s probably truth in all of them but we have to keep trying to understand how those who suffer differently feel and that might go a long way towards all people understanding each other.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Ryan,

    I only wish that there were more men like you who were interested enough to try to understand how it feels, from a woman’s perspective, to be discriminated against.

    As I stated previously, I do recognize that there are men who support and consider women equals. Unfortunately, they have not begun to show the same bold, passion by publicly speaking out against sexism to OTHER men (and not just to women — preaching to the choir), like they do now when it relates to racism.

    In being able to understand why we react to the misogyny with such passion and, yes, anger, men need only to imagine how they would feel if women held 83% of the power in Congress, passed laws that controlled their bodies or impacted negatively on their ability to get equal pay for equal work, or just being taken seriously. The list goes on and on. I simply don’t undertand why they cannot (or refuse) to see the rampant sexism and violence against women and immediately recognize that it must be stopped. Why do so many men still believe women don’t have it so bad and that in many cases believe they have it worse than the women do? The best way to answer that viewpoint is to ask any man if he would willingly change places with a woman and accept the present inequality and discrimination?

    I think, like with housework, most men are just playing dumb in order to avoid dealing with the issue and having to take responsibility for the injustices they impose on women with such abandon and for no other reason other than they are simply being selfish and NOT because that’s the way God/Mohammed/Allah planned it!