sexism: the everyday, intersectionality and some questions

(dis is long)



This post began as a project to document the recognisable moments of casual sexism I came across in a week. As I began to think about the actions, their effect and my response, my brain started to hurt with conflicting questions and ideas about feminism. So, instead of slating (perhaps harmful, perhaps not) cases of daily sexism this is just some of the thoughts and questions I came up with.
I have had so many arguments about whether gender inequality still exists and have been accused, so many times, of ignoring the real problems in society. I did silence this one voice when I retorted that just the night before I had been groped by a stranger in a club as I was leaving. I suppose this isn't casual sexism, but its neither a surprise nor an irregular occurrence. Feminist remains an insult ("ugh, you're a feminist") and patriarchal values do remain engrained into our society.

In my original 'project', these were the cases of everyday sexism I came across (which initially angered me profusely)

1. Strength. Being told "not to lift heavy boxes", "tell" other male volunteers "what  I need", that I "can't carry that" and having my hands forcibly prised off heavy items and pushed away whilst being told "you shouldn't", despite managing with ease for the 8 months before they joined. Its embarrassing, especially when you try and confront it, and makes me eel inferior, incapable and weak (adjectives that can be synonymous with femininity)

2. Royal Wedding coverage. The BBC obsessing over the lime green silk of the Queen's dress or the suspense surrounding Meghan's or who each woman was wearing, with no similar reference to any of the men. As if they were worth no more than their appearance, despite immense achievement of both key women. Perhaps fundamentally harmless but also reinforces the importance of female appearance, places aesthetic on a pedestal above intelligence/character and differentiates between male and female and the values associated.

3. Royal Wedding 'giving away'. In fact, 'giving away' as a whole concept.
Perhaps an opportunity to break the mould??? But no. Also, in my opinion, 'giving away' kind of reinforces the engrained and archaic belief that women belong to their male relatives and that, through this ownership, the men of the household have to agree to and initiate their 'release'. Yes its tradition but its (imo) outdated and reinforces subordination.

4. Royal Wedding 'feminism'
I saw this tweet and it pissed me off
"I do sincerely hope the #RoyalWedding encourages girls to strive for more than dickheads who won't text them back, or who think it's okay to play games. You can have your prince, too, when you stop wasting your time on guys like that"
I do sincerely hope that we can teach girls that marrying a prince is not the pinnacle of their achievement, that they are so much more than their partners, that they can achieve without anyone by their side and that life is worth so much more. Its also heteronormative.

5. Clothing
The recent sun has ensued both swarms of men walking around topless, blissfully unaware and confident and comments about girls in shorts. "That's too much", "oh dear", "she shouldn't be wearing that".
These double standards reinforce objectification and sexualisation.

6. What's sexism?
I had this exact conversation in a pub last week. I was drunk and preaching about the inequalities inherent in our society (I'm so fun to be drunk with!) when I was faced with the question "eh, what's sexism?". Fuck. Okay, this isn't actually sexist but its very shocking.

From these examples, I concluded:
  • sexism remains prevalent in 2018, no matter how 'covert' and 'subtle
  • women remain objectified in mainstream media
  • we are still perceived as weak and innocent, despite proving otherwise
  • we are often considered entirely in terms of our sexuality 
  • symbolically we remain under the ownership of our male relatives
  • even those who seek empowerment still see our key role as marriage 
  • people (educated, millennial, liberal) still don't know what sexism is 
So I drafted those ideas and thought about the consequences and thought some more then re-wrote and then I was like "fuck". Do these, on a grand scale of global society, matter, when some women have nothing, when some women are experiencing sexism tied up with wider discrimination (for their race, ethnicity, ability, class etc.)? do I have much voice or reason to complain that someone won't let me carry a box? It feels like a sickening display of my privilege, because the above are the only problems I (thankfully) ever face. But,  these also still remain issues. Its problematic that women and girls are judged sexually on their clothing, its an issue that there is a subtext that we are only whole as a duo (and that that duo is most likely male+female), that we are still told we can't do things that we can, that we have to be ceremonially given away by our fathers to our husbands.
But maybe they aren't the most important issues (there's no maybe lol, they aren't).

There are societies far more divided, far more patriarchal, with far fewer legal regulations and protections. Where women are not granted even the most basic human rights.
Globally, in 2017 the average Gender Gap (which measures economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment) was at 68% and its going to take 217 years to close this gap. That is fundamentally wrong. But it also highlights that there are issues SO much worse than the ones I noticed. E.g. in Mauritiana it is not required that women and men are paid the same for comparable work and they do not have the same divorce and marriage rights. In June this year, Saudi Arabia only just lifts its ban on women driving. Globally, 19% of all girls are out of school and 15 million girls will never enter a classroom.

Shocking stuff, eh?

SO then I was like shit. The marginal disadvantages or underminings I've experienced/become aware of this week are nothing compared to the global (or even national) struggle.
I come from a position of (pretty much) ultimate privilege. I am white, (relatively) wealthy, educated, middle-class, cis-gendered, non-disabled etc. and therefore haven't really experienced shit.
I started reading about intersectionality (this article) that really made my think about my voice and the issues I complain about/advocate for. It said that the feminist argument is "overly white, middle-class, cis-gendered and able-bodied" and fails to recognise the multi-faceted issues experienced by other women (e.g. race, class, ability, ethnicity) and that they have a layered battle to fight. It also said the 'white feminism' movement (e.g. Women's Hour (*vom*)) "tokenises" others and "usurps" their voice. Which, upon reflection, I understand and can totally see in (some strands) of the movement. I suppose intersectionality is the recognition that the campaign for gender equality is so multi-layered and people experience difference battles for different reasons.

Idk. This post is just a ramble about my thoughts about feminism, sexism, the realisations I've had and some questions about the campaign and way forward.
I did find it interesting how many times I felt undermined or weak or objectified (subtly or not) because of my gender. It made me think about how people who face challenges because of other factors must feel, when its on a larger and far more destructive scale.

So idkkk. I don't want to perpetuate the non-intersectionality present in forms of western feminism by complaining about my (arguably minor–apart from having my vagina groped in a club, thats not minor) experiences but then also want to raise awareness that gender equality still remains a problem.

So tell me, all.
What do you think about advocating for 'smaller' issues when 'larger' ones exist?
Are they worthy of time?
Should we focus on the wider sexist and patriarchal issues instead of the causal experiences?
Does the 'western feminist' movement do good?
How can it be more intersectional?
Should we challenge causal sexism? How? What are your experiences of it, multi-faceted or not?
Are the above issues essentially harmless and just a benign aspect of our society? Am I complaining about nothing?
Do I need to look out for examples where genuine inequality exists? (yes)
Or, do I need to stop being so apologetic and be confident in my assertion that this still isn't good enough?
What solutions do you have for everyday sexism?
Are the above (especially the 'giving away') just benign traditions that are totally harmless or perhaps actually important?

Please tell me your opinions!!! All this has been very interesting but hurt my head a bit because there are so many factors and debates and ideas. All good and important though!

9 comments

  1. Your posts are so passionately well written, I feel like I learn so much when I read them and it's so interesting to hear your perspective. I should think activism and looking into helping third-world countries tackle sexism is something you should think about! There are loads of campaigns aimed to change the mindsets of generations. I wish I knew some specific organisations, but you should defo do some research on it if you haven't already. As for the situations you've experienced I can certainly relate. Esp. On nights out dancing men will assume you are their for them appose to being with friends or just to dance. Grinds me up..

    Keep writing!
    Louise :)

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    1. Ah, thanks Louise!!! I've thought about it a lot over the past few days and its for sure something I'm going to look into, I feel like I've already learned a lot!! Ugh, doesnt it just???? Thank you!! <3

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  2. Reading this post made me both ready to argue with some conservatives AND really pissed off with society. On one hand, I really want to work to change it and on the other hand I'm like "nothing will ever change so what's the point?" That's why I won't address racism/sexism/gay rights with people I don't know -- but if a relative or a friend says something I don't agree with then I 100% say something. Because with those people I might actually be able to change their mind.

    As for your bit at the bottom, I think there are a million issues in the world, and they're all existing at the same time. I know a lot of people on the internet will say "oh people only care when it happens to a white person or in a Western country, then go back to not caring," but all these issues are happening together and just because you connect more to one particular issue, it doesnt make you a bad person for not addressing the other issues??? do you get what I mean?

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    1. I totally get that sense of helplessness like "there's no point in me advocating or challenging this because my voice won't do anything" but I suppose if everyone in the world thought like that, nothing would ever happen. YES! I totally get what you mean and I suppose part of recognising your privilege is seeing the problems around you. And maybe its easier to focus on issues you think you have more power in changing?? Ahh x

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  3. Advocating for smaller issues is paramount in eventually crumbling the larger ones. Microaggressions (like being told not to lift heavy boxes etc) exist because of social constructs and societal paradigms - there is ample room for them to exist without repercussion due to the system that allows them into existence. Fighting them and creating repercussions helps destabilise the whole paradigm, it trickles up and shakes things up for real. It also gives voice to others who were silenced in their separateness, and with more voices comes more power for change. That’s what I think anyway! Thanks for sharing this, your questions at the end are thoughtful and everyone should take the time to consider them <3

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    1. YES! That's such an interesting and empowering way of looking at it and the build up of small issues into larger societal problems. Its so true that even the small things are all a part of the bigger patriarchal problem. Thanks Kitty, I'm glad they offered some food for thought!!! <3

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  4. I feel like I've learned so much from this post! I think I shut myself away from any problems (and a bunch of other things) that occur round the world, but I'm definitely going to have to spend more time reading over these sort of subjects. I also think that no matter issue big or small it's still an issue and should be faced.

    Sophie | www.sophiesspot.co.uk

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    1. It can become so overwhelmingly depressing when you consume all the world's shit via the media and I am constantly toying with myself as to whether I should expose myself to it when there is fundamentally very little I can do...its so difficult! I definitely agree with that and I guess like Kitty said above, all these little things culminate and build to form the wider issue. I'm glad it was helpful!x

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  5. This post was so interesting Katie!!

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Katie