There’s this joke I used to tell as a kid that got me huge laughs every time I performed it. For the record, seven-year-old me rated “huge laughs at my joke” right up there with ice cream and ponies. For that matter, forty-four year old me feels much the same. Anyway, the joke was horrifically racist. I know that now but seven-year-old me used to eat at Sambo’s restaurant and had a black dog named Toby.
Thinking on this stuff makes me vaguely vomit-y, but those were the times. I don’t know how many people it took saying “Hey, this stuff is wrong!” over and over to make those sorts of jokes and names go away but I’m guessing lots. I’m also guessing an equal amount of people would say, “What’s your problem? It’s just a joke!” or “Sambo’s is funny because it has cartoon characters, that’s not racism.”
It’s super easy to believe discrimination and oppression doesn’t exist when you’re not the one being discriminated against or oppressed.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about things that are culturally acceptable today and yet blatantly sexist. Things that I have overlooked, things that I have said, or things I’ve validated by my silence. More and more, I realize how deeply ingrained the gender bias is and how it’s the littlest things that shape our views.
Prez likes to tease his fishing charter clients in a fun, good-natured way. They’re almost all men. When one of them starts to whine about how heavy the fish is or how hard it is to reel, Prez will say, “Oh, would you like me to call my wife and ask her to reel it in for you?”
The guests always laugh at this. I laughed, when he told me. After all, I know I’m a kick ass angler and I’ve reeled in fish half my weight and almost the same length as me. I know it often shocks men when they see what I can do.
But then Prez and I stopped to think about what that statement means beneath the surface. It wasn’t so funny after that.
What makes, “Oh, would you like me to call my wife and ask her to reel it in for you?” so not funny? Well, “wife” is a woman and women are weak. In other words, the angler is question is SO weak that even a woman could do a better job reeling in the fish…and women are super weak, amirite?
Yay, thanks for reinforcing that stereotype!
As soon as Prez realized what he was really saying, he swore he would find a better funny, non-sexist jab. Not at my insistence, by the way. It was his idea, for which I love him dearly.
But how many times are men compared to women, usually by other men, as a means to insult them, whether seriously or in jest? Perhaps one of the worst insults out there is any one that compares a heterosexual man to a woman. What does that say about what we think of women?
The next thing that got me thinking is an innocent bit of casual conversation, and one which I am 100% guilty of myself.
It happens when parents have an attractive young daughter. You’ve heard some variation of this conversation before:
Me: “Oh boy, you’re in trouble when she grows up!”
Parent: “I know! I’ll just make sure I’m cleaning the shotgun whenever a boy comes to the house to take her on a date!”
Ha ha! Right?
Just yesterday it hit me why this is such a bad statement to make.
First of all, the assumption here is that an attractive young female will attract a lot of male attention, which will possibly lead to groping and/or sexy time in the teen years. Fair enough, teen boys do not lack hormones, however, I have never, not in forty-four years, heard the same comment made about a good looking boy child.
So, it’s okay if your handsome teen boy scores but your pretty teen girl should be virginal until marriage?
What the what?
Parents, let me tell you something, I was a teen girl once. Shocking, I know. You know what else? I was as hormonal and horny as any boy my age. Maybe more than some. Well, definitely more than some. This is not me advocating for teen sex—though let’s get real, it happens—this is me saying take a close look at this accepted double standard.
Second problem with the above dialogue in its many forms is that it paints girls as stupid, weak (again), and incapable of making good choices. Only dad with a shotgun can fend off the bad horny teen boys, because there’s no way a pretty teen girl will have the guts, self esteem, or intelligence to either fend them off herself, choose boys that won’t maul her on the first date, or put to use the sex-ed lessons her parents and others have been giving her over the years.
Oh, and let’s not forget that we’re painting all teen boys as potential rapists.
Third, young kids hear us say this crap. So, from an early age we start hammering home the stereotypes.
There’s nothing at all wrong with raising kids to respect themselves and make informed sexual choices, there is something very wrong with continuing to feed the idea of pretty girls as helpless creatures with brains made of cotton candy and virtue in need of saving.
Yes, I know we project a lot of weird gender stuff onto boys, too, and we need to watch that, but boys don’t face the gender discrimination that girls do. So, I’m shining the spotlight on the females right now.
Dads, I get it. You remember yourself as a teen boy and the thought of someone like teen-you cozying up to your baby terrifies you. But if you want your daughter to grow up strong and confident, if you want her to be the kind of teen girl that would tell teen you to keep his hands to himself and “Back off now, Mister!”, you have to make her believe that she is that girl. You have to start young and constantly reaffirm your faith in her ability to take care of herself.
Because it’s those little words, those little jokes, that drill holes in our foundation. They reinforce, in an everyday way, that we girls are not equal to the boys. They, the boys, don’t need protection but we do.
So, I’m not going to start or participate in those kinds of conversations anymore and if you catch me doing so please feel free to smack me upside the head with a dead salmon.
The final thing that I’ve been thinking about is the pressure for girls to be “nice”. I know I got this as a child and I still struggle to overcome those “nice” demons as an adult. I could rant for a few more pages about that but Catherine Newman says it best with: I Do Not Want My Daughter To Be Nice.
If it seems as if I’ve suddenly become a lot more feminist lately it’s only because I’ve become a lot more feminist lately. I’ve taken a hard look at the world around me, at the sexism that I’ve dealt with all my life that I’ve just accepted because, hey, that’s the world, and I’ve realized I’m about done with it all. I’m done with being “nice”. If I can do one thing to help create a more equal and fair world for the generations to come after me, I’m going to damn well do it.
And I’m going to start at home. With the little things.
Until next week,
I hope this finds you healthy, happy, and lovin’ life!