Girls Get It, Boys Fret It

January 7, 2008
By
While many high school history students get glassy eyed when learning about Constitutional Amendments, every young woman should thank her lucky stars for Amendment number nineteen. This amendment officially marked the first recognition of women’s equality in the United States. However, females have been fighting for parity since the dawn of time (Linder). From Cleopatra’s reign, to the suffrage movements of the 1800’s, to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which made it illegal for employers to "discriminate against any individual… because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."), women have made tremendous strides in claiming equality in a primarily male-run society (“Teaching With Documents”). As a result, opinions among males and females concerning gender-based inequalities have changed dramatically since the days of Susan B. Anthony. In the last two hundred years, educated men and women have traded attitudes about gender equality such that today men are often more concerned about the negative aspects of gender discrimination towards women, a formerly female outlook, while women are able to identify the benefits of sexism, an attitude once held by men.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries educated women were far more distraught by sexism than they are today. For example, in her essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes, “But by no possible means could middle-class women with nothing but brains and character at their command have taken part in any one of the great movements which, brought together, constitute the historian’s view of the past.” (Woolf 45) According to Woolf women are considered second class citizens who, unlike men, are incapable of being successful using only their intelligence. Woolf’s view of women up until 1928 (when the essay was published) shows her clear concern about sexism as well as her belief that females are held back by it. Female author Isabel Allende makes a similar conclusion in her novel Daughter of Fortune, which tells the story of a young Chilean woman living in the 1800’s. In the book, the main character’s adoptive mother makes a statement about women at the time, “…a wife was the husband’s property, with fewer rights than those of a servant or child; on the other hand, a woman alone and without a fortune was at the mercy of the worst abuses.” (Allende 51) Allende effectively conveys the commonly held female opinion of women’s rights in the 1800’s; they were essentially nonexistent. In the early 1900’s female suffragettes in both the United States and Britain were so enraged by the lack of women’s rights that they began chaining themselves to railings and smashing windows out of protest (Casciani). Educated women were clearly aware of gender discrimination during this time period, and they were angered by it.
While nineteenth and twentieth century women were quite dismayed by sexism, many educated men at the time thought that it was compulsory and even constructive for females. Men were the benefactors and perpetrators of female-aimed sexism, so their approval of its existence was not surprising. Stephen Leacock, an acclaimed early twentieth century writer and economist once stated, “In point of morals, the average woman is, even for business, too crooked.” From his statement one can assume that Leacock would have declared sexism a necessary aspect of life. He makes it clear that women are not nearly as respectable as men, and therefore places them below males as an entire gender. Leacock viewed sexism as a good thing because it kept “crooked” women out of influential positions in the workplace as well as society. Late nineteenth century author Otto Weininger held a similar opinion, writing, “As children, imbeciles and criminals would be justly prevented from taking any part in public affairs even if they were numerically equal or in the majority; women must in the same way be kept from having a share in anything which concerns the public welfare.” (Weininger, 339) Weininger’s blunt statement that women need to be kept out of public affairs suggests his low opinion of females. Like Leacock, he considers women inferior to men, and therefore finds gender discrimination just and beneficial to society because it keeps substandard women in their rightful place. Leacock and Weininger’s opinions were undoubtedly similar to those held by many men during the 1800’s and 1900’s. Men not only approved of sexism, but they deemed it an indispensable policy.

In contrast, today many men are highly attuned to the negative aspects of female-aimed sexism. In a 2007 interview, Bert Sandell, an industrial engineer who studied at the University of California Berkeley, stated, “…total gender equality and pay is not entirely where it should be …” He went on to explain that, “Monetarily, men are in a better position.” His perception of sexism today is quite apparent as he considers it detrimental to women. When asked whether there were any positive features of sexism, Sandell felt that “anybody who’s enlightened understands that sexism is a drain on society.” Sandell added that after growing up with three sisters, a mother and no father, he understood the significance of “girl power.” To Sandell, sexism is an outdated and incredulous policy, that does nothing more than blight humanity. Rob Okun, an author and journalist for Men’s Resource Center for Change, feels that men need to make an effort to end sexism, stating, “If we are not challenging other men, if we are not interrupting the degrading joke or the sexist comment, we are doing nothing to extinguish the burning control some men try and exercise over women.” Okun serves as a perfect example of an educated man who has developed a sensitivity to the negative aspects of sexism. His blunt approach and call to action demonstrates his disapproval of female-aimed gender discrimination, and reveals how men have become key members of the fight against sexism. Werner Haas, an acclaimed male author and journalist, gets to the heart of sexism today, stating, “Some women are oppressed by the expressed thoughts of others, by the way they look to others, rather than how they actually feel, or how bright they are.” (Haas) Both Okun and Haas see the negative aspects of sexism, and view it as an impairment of society. In further commentary, both men fail to recognize what benefits gender discrimination offers to women, focusing only on the negative aspects of sexism and reasserting its harm. These cases of men perceiving sexism as detrimental to females are answered by a positive approach to sexism by women.
Females are often able to identify the positive aspects of sexism, and at times even disregard its harm. Ginny Sandell, an industrial engineer from the University of California Berkeley, takes a different spin on sexism than that employed by men, saying, “I grew up the days of affirmative action, so I got things because I was female.” The perceived impact of sexism according to Mrs. Sandell characterizes a common trend among women today; they are capable of seeing the silver lining of female-aimed gender discrimination. Gwen Burke, a 16-year-old junior at Redwood High School, agrees, saying, “I think teachers are more likely to think of girls as hard workers. It’s kind of a stereotype that works in our favor.” While women don’t approve of sexism, they are able to identify the positive aspects of its presence; something that men often can’t do. As a woman myself, I can honestly say that I see some of the benefits of sexism. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sexism can be defined as both “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women” or “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.” (“Sexism”) This second definition classifies almost any practice that makes a distinction between men and women as sexism, many of which are beneficial to women. For example, affirmative action can improve prospects for women working in corporations, and at one time it enhanced their chances of getting into many universities. Title IX, a law that mandates schools to have an equivalent female sports team for every male sports team, has created an atmosphere in which schools are practically begging women to come out for sports simply so they can keep the corresponding male athletic programs. Teachers and employers often hold a stereotype for girls to have better handwriting, get better grades, and be more polite. While many aspects of sexism do upset me (like getting whistled at on the street or being given a handicap when playing sports against men), I have to admit that I, like numerous other women today, can see the benefits.

Males, on the other hand, see only the negative aspects of sexism due to a stereotype that men are the only perpetrators of female-aimed discrimination. In a 2002 study conducted by the American Association of University Women, 83% of female students in the eighth through eleventh grade said they’d been sexually harassed by males at school. In the AAUW’s 2006 study on sexual harassment at colleges and universities, 62% of female college students reported that they’d been sexually harassed by a male at their university, and 51% of male college students admited to sexually harassing a female at their university ("Harassment-Free Hallways"). According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 12,205 charges of sexual harassment were received in 2006, 84.6 percent of which were submitted by females citing a male as the offender. $48.8 million was paid to these female charging parties and other aggrieved individuals by the male offenders ("Sexual Harassment"). To put things plainly, men are seen as the wrongdoers when it comes to sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and society doesn’t let them forget it. By constantly being portrayed as the reprobates in sexual harassment education, including the assumption that rapists are always male, men learn to view sexism as a debauched vice with no affirmative qualities. For this reason, men become blind to the positive aspects of sexism that many women, having never had a finger wagged at them during a sexual harassment prevention seminar, are able to recognize. Men are smothered by the stigma that society has forced upon them over the last two hundred years; completely transforming their opinion of sexism in a way similar to how an puppy learns to obey his owner’s commands. Women, having been repeatedly glorified as the damsels in distress, have come to appreciate sexism for its benefits, though most females still regard gender discrimination as a bad thing. Furthermore, men and women have swapped opinions about sexism. Men, who once thought that sexism was positive and necessary, now believe that gender discrimination towards women can only be harmful. In contrast, women, who once broke windows and chained themselves to inanimate objects in protest of sexism have come full circle and see its benefits. Society has a funny way of overcompensating for its faults.



Bibliography

1. Casciani, Dominic. "The History of the Suffragettes." BBC News. 2 October 2003. BBC. 4 Dec 2007 .

2. Haas, Werner. "American Literature View of Oppressed Women." The People's Media Company 19 March 2007 4 December 2007 .

3. "Harassment-Free Hallways." AAUW Educational Foundation. January 2004. American Association of University Women. 4 December 2007 .

4. Linder, Doug. "Women's Fight for the Vote: the Nineteenth Amendment." Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. 2007. University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. 4 Dec. 2007 .

5. "Sexism.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Online. 2007.

6. "Sexual Harassment." 17 May 2007. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 10 Dec 2007 .

7. "Teaching With Documents: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." The National Archives. 2007. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 4 Dec 2007 .

8. Weininger, Otto. Sex and Character. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 1997.





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