Sexism (specifically oppositional sexism)

a-to-z-letters-sInspired by blogging about feminism and femmephobia inspired my to go back and re-read Julia Serano’s book, Whipping Girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. She writes in an engaging way that actually contextualises a lot of feminist issues in relation to being a trans woman. One of the items she highlights is the different forms of sexism, such as
Oppositional sexism which she describes as “the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique, non overlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities and desires”.
This I think is one of the worst forms of sexism, because it seems innocuous, it seems to say that it’s normal for men and women to be different, they have different interests, they should be treated differently. Which in turn, leads to a number of things:
1. If you don’t conform you are marginalised. I don’t conform to the gender stereotypes, but in small ways, I don’t prefer to go to the ladies room in a group, I don’t have a problem being assertive and facing confrontation, I lack the intense need to have babies that some women have, I don’t go gaga over little children. And because of these non-conformist views, I am seen differently, sometimes good (a strong woman) but more often bad (a bitch). It’s something that really affected me, especially in my twenties when I was trying to carve my niche in the world.
2. It assumes that men and women are opposites. Now I realise that this may be stating the obvious, but think about what it actually means in practice. Men are strong, therefore women are weak. Men are ambitious therefore women are not. It forces assumptions about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Men can’t be sensitive, nurturing, caring or artistic because those are seen as womanly (or worse as girly) traits.
3. It assumes that there are specific roles that men need to fulfil, and others that women fulfil. Think about how we view men who are stay at home parents. If a man stays at home to raise the children, he’s seen as lacking ambition, a sponger and not a real man. That’s a woman’s work. Think about the argument about having more women on the boards of big companies, the argument is that women are more caring and therefore will bring a more risk averse and socially responsible direction for the company. Maybe they will, but not by virtue of the fact that they are women.
4. It assumes that anything that doesn’t fall into the two polar opposites of male and female is wrong. This leads to all sorts of wrongs, such as homophobia (men who love men are somehow inherently wrong) and transphobia (you are a man or a women, you’re not supposed to change).
The alternative to oppositional sexism is to see people as individuals who may or may not have any number of traits, men can be nurturing, women can be ambitious, and none of these traits should have any different value based on the gender that is exhibiting them. People exist on a spectrum, we can be strong, powerful, nurturing, risky, loveable, cuddly and any number of things without our gender making a difference, and it starts with all of us. Every single one of us. The next time you hear someone making a value judgement based on someone operating outside of the gender norms, I challenge you to speak up and say that the person’s gender doesn’t matter. He’s not an amazing dad for staying at home and looking after the kids unless she’s an amazing mom for doing the same.

3 responses to “Sexism (specifically oppositional sexism)

  1. Totally agree – we are all a mix. But we are all also, very, very habituated to these views by society. nothing makes me crosser than books which are blue for boys with action figures on the front and muscles, and pink books for girls with pearls etc – but of course boys loathe the thought of being see reading something remotely feminine and publishers want to sell books. Luckily girls are more adventurous in choosing books by covers… but there you see, I have divided boys and girls myself. And it is done so often as a shortcut because what is so for the many is taken as read for all until it is challenged. i did my very best to make sure my own children were given both types of toy – my son loved his doll! My daughter is a feminist and a green campaigner and author, my son cooks, washes and cleans hisstudent flat and doesn’t expect his girlfriend to… the best i could do, i did. Uphill struggle sometimes though isn’t t? but is IS improving.

  2. Sorry about the errors in that post ! Forgo to say, good luck with the rest of the A-Z! I’m doing animal poems and facts and often a drawing as well, I like to make things hard for myself.

    Liz http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com

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