TW: gendered slurs
I know a feminist dictionary might seem like a weird choice for my first Feminism 101 post. But everyone has to start somewhere, and I really wanted my readers to understand the difference between two easily confused words.
Misogyny and sexism are not exactly the same thing.
Misogyny is intentional. It is deliberate and often malicious.
Sexism, however, is often unintentional. Benevolent sexism, in fact, is often mistakenly considered to be a good thing.
This difference is important to understand when discussing feminism. I think that some people feel personally attacked, like their motives are being questioned, when feminists point out sexism. Trust me, unless I’m accusing you of misogyny, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you have good intentions, even when you’re kind of being really sexist and ignorant.
So how does everyday sexism affect me?
In my own life, everyday sexism primarily falls under one of two categories. Language and expected gender roles.
I don’t really give a flying fuck how egalitarian you think you are, but if you are using gendered insults, like slut or cunt, you are a sexist asshole. Even if you are using those insults against men. I seriously don’t understand how, in 2014, a person could still be so ignorant as to think that gendered slurs don’t ever hurt women or perpetuate the sexist attitudes against women.
I have to deal with this shit all the time, and it frustrates me to no end. Men who otherwise seem to respect women and treat women as equals and accept me as a feminist remain completely oblivious to why gendered slurs are a problem.
When these words are used against women, the intention is to shut them up. To reduce them to a body part. To hold their sexuality against them. To perpetuate a double standard. When these words are used against men, the intention is to insult their manhood. The implication is that they are women, thus they are lesser.
By the time I graduated high school, I had already lost count of the number of times I had been called a slut. It was fairly common knowledge that I hadn’t even kissed a guy yet, but I had committed the unforgivable sin of having breasts, and thus I had to be punished.
American society has more or less agreed that racial slurs are wrong. And yet even otherwise progressive men continue to use gendered slurs.
Racial slurs would not be tolerated or defended, but the use of sexist language was acceptable. Which, by my calculations, means that if you’re lambasting a black male public figure, calling him a stupid n—-r is out of bounds, but calling him a stupid cunt is totally cool.
I’d like to point out it’s a trade-off which insulates other black men against collateral debasement, but just debases black women in a different way, along with their sisters of all colors. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. Ahem…
What I am is more sensitive to how misogynist language affects women, because I am one. People of color are more sensitive to racist language (particularly racist dog whistles, for example) than I am; that doesn’t mean they’re too sensitive.
Read the entire post “On Bitch and Other Misogynist Language” at Shakesville. Seriously. It explains the problem with gendered slurs so much more articulately than I can.
I have to deal with this kind of language online and in person on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. It is frustratingly the most common and frequent form of everyday sexism that I experience.
The other type of everyday sexism I often experience is the sexist expectations other people have of me because I’m a woman. This has only gotten worse since getting engaged and then getting married. It’s like all the progress I made with my circle of friends, family, and acquaintances in seeing me as an independent, intelligent, feminist woman halfway disappeared when I became romantically involved with Dan.
It is sexist when you…
- Assume Dan had nothing to do with our wedding or wedding receptions (and blame me alone for any decision you didn’t like). My parents, my in-laws, my husband, and I all worked together to plan our wedding in San Antonio, reception in Greenwood, and two receptions in Findlay.
- Call me Mrs. Fleck, or worse, address a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Fleck. My name is Brita Long. My name did not change on the happiest day of my life. As I mentioned above, you can have the best of intentions when calling me Mrs. Fleck–or just straight up be rude and dismissive to my oft-repeated wishes–but it is still sexist to assume I changed my name when I got married.
- Ask me when Dan and I are having kids. Both our timeline and our fertility are no one’s damn business except ours. I would like to take this time to remind everyone that I have Crohn’s Disease, an incurable, lifelong illness that can affect childbearing. So maybe you should think about the fact that whenever Dan and I decide we want kids, I have to clear that with my gastroenterologist first. Remember that in a few years if we’re still childless–think twice before potentially rubbing salt in the wound of being too sick to bear children.
- Treat my husband like he is my child. Dan is an adult. Mary Kay is his mother, not me. He doesn’t need my permission to leave the house. As a courtesy, we keep each other informed of our day-to-day plans, and we check in with each other before committing to anything big. But Dan confirming that we don’t already have plans on a certain date before agreeing to go out with his friends is not me “letting him” or “allowing him” or “giving him permission” to go out.
I won’t apologize for using strong language in this post. When I face these forms of sexism in person, I smile sweetly while politely explaining the problem. I usually want to swear in response to gendered slurs and sexist remarks, but I hold my tongue. This is my blog, however, my little space on the Internet to be 100% honest about how incredibly offensive and inappropriate way too many people in my life have been and continue to be.
How do you experience sexism? How do you respond to it? Let me know in the comments.