Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Dangerous Subtleties Of Sexism

When I turned 36 I was told that I could officially be a cougar since the definition of "cougar" was a woman who dated a man who could be at least half her age and have it still be legal. 

I didn't like that. I'm the first to admit that I joke around with the word "cougar" all the time but I do understand the inherent insult. When a man dates someone who is half his age he's being a man. When a woman does it she's being a predatory animal. 

Double standards in regards to women and sexism are frequently pooh-poohed. Jennifer Weiner has frequently pointed out how so called "women's fiction" is ignored and scorned by critics while fiction written by men, even escapist fiction, is more likely to at least merit a review. Some supported her but many lambasted her, telling her the only reason people weren't reviewing her work is because the quality wasn't good enough, her subject matter wasn't compelling enough, her entire genre just wasn't up to par. The people who make those kinds of statements understandably look to the Hillary Clintons and Nikki Haleys of the world and think sexism just isn't an issue anymore. If women aren't getting the same opportunities that their male counterparts are getting then they must be doing something wrong.

To test this theory a professor at Harvard Business school recently did a little experiment. He examined the real life work experience/career path of successful Silicon Valley types. He gave the information for one guy's career to one class and gave the information of a women's career to another. Then he asked each class if they would hire the person they were studying. The guy did very well. According to the students, the guy seemed very likable. He was a person they felt they could work with and, most importantly, trust. But the class that studied the woman didn't like her much at all. They felt she was too aggressive, self-agrandizing and perhaps not all that trustworthy. 

The kicker is that the guy and the woman were the same person. All the professor did was change the name from Heidi to Howard. 
That's an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it?

I doubt that the students in the class that scored Heidi so poorly consider themselves to be sexist and I know that many of the students who said Heidi was too aggressive were women. That last point's important because frequently when a woman defends supposedly sexist behavior (particularly on a societal level) many seem to believe it's proof that the behavior she's defending must not be sexist after all. But the truth is that maybe the woman doing the defending has had certain sexist concepts so fully ingrained in her from such a young age that she doesn't even recognize them as being sexist. 

I'm not one of those people who thinks both sexes are the same and the only difference is upbringing and societal norms. I do think women and men are very different from one another in the way they think, act and prioritize. I believe that's more nature than nurture. I also think that when a woman does the things that a man does she's often judged for it. Society doesn't like those kinds of anomalies.  And I think that while society is more accepting of women who embrace what they consider to be more traditional femininity they still rank that femininity as being somehow inferior to masculinity. Books about family and relationships are less important than books about battles. Newscasters and political pundits love to tell us that we're falling behind in math and science (both consider masculine pursuits) and must catch up but we never hear about how we're not as well read as we once were or that less and less students are versed in humanities (considered to be feminine pursuits). Music programs are always cut before sports programs, and escapist fiction written by men is much more likely to be reviewed by the New York Times.

The problem with sexism these days is that, like much modern racism, it's subtle. There are so many women accomplishing so much we fail to see that there's a problem anymore...which is the quickest way to losing progress already made. 

1 comment:

catslady said...

I think it's very hard to get over prejudices that you've learned very young. And I agree most people don't even know they still have them. A close relative said something that was definitely racist imo but when I said something to him, he got enraged because he denied he was.
That test result does not surprise me. I think some women are the hardest against other women.