We live in a time where equality is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can see it, reach for it, but never quite know what it feels like. We’re so close that it will only take a few more steps to get there, but we aren’t sure which direction we should be walking, and everyone is yelling at us to go a different way.
Our place as women is confusing. I’m not saying that isn’t true for men as well, but their issues are best left for a different post. Today, I want to think about the subtle nuances of sexism that alter how most women in North America act, and why we can’t even see it most days.
See, there are the big things that distract us. Rape culture, victim blaming, and misogyny, just to name a few. With attention-grabbing headlines dominating all of our media – from facebook and twitter to MSNBC and Fox News – the simple things are so often missed. Mainly, that we’re all sexists – even me – because we don’t know any other way.
Because right now, women don’t get a “right answer” to choose from. Our culture is set up to judge others, but we’ve made it impossible for women to win. This is a power struggle, and one that even the people using it aren’t aware of. They say women shouldn’t but how often are we told what we SHOULD?
Like sex and you’re a slut. Don’t like it and you’re a prude. Tolerate it and you’re being unfair to your husband. Refuse it and you’re being manipulative. Seek it out and you’re promiscuous. There’s no right answer except to never talk about it ever. That’s kinda unfair, don’t you think?
It gets worse. When a woman gets pregnant, she’s judged – regardless of if it’s an expected pregnancy or not. If she can’t make enough money, she’s failing her child. If she focuses on her job to pay the bills, she’s failing her child. If she isn’t ready for kids, she should still raise the baby because those are the consequences. If she gives it up, she’s heartless and uncaring. Seek out financial help to care for your kid, and you don’t deserve to have kids. Get pregnant unexpectedly and consider abortion and you should have thought about the consequences of your actions. There’s no way to win!
And it’s not even just reproductive issues. Women are judged on their appearance. For a beautiful woman, this is easy to miss but try being ugly. Try being fat. We’re so used to this that we don’t even see it until someone points it out (like Blake Lively recently when asked about her fashion). And when a woman does say something, people are repulsed that she made it an issue. It’s not the time or place, they say but tell me. When is?
And no, I don’t blame anyone for this. I don’t think men are responsible. Hell, truth be told, much of this my husband brings to my attention. Rather, I have to face the hard truths when designing a new world. How can I have equality in a science fiction novel if I’m unaware of the inequality we have now? How can I justify culture continuing on for hundreds of years without evolving? Even fifty years ago, our gender perceptions were so different. If I want to write a convincing society, I need to dwell on these things – and then try to imagine how they will change, and what those changes will destroy.
Sadly, I believe there will always be discrimination. The what will change, but we’re humans. We survived because we fear that which is different. We thrive because we convince ourselves we are better than some other group. We marginalize others to keep depression and negativity away. We rise up on the backs of those who brought us here, and we gladly use them for our own gain. In the abstract, we feel guilty for it, but in the moment? That’s when we feel justified, but our justification is all wrong.