Once upon a time, I didn’t notice sexism except as occasionally something being unfair. In fact, I would say that my strongest understanding of sexism came from the books I’d read, where for some reason or other, a girl would not be given the same rights as boys, and, usually, this would cause some uproar. I always remember reading Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small quartets, fantasy novels which feature (respectively), a girl pretending to be her twin brother so that she can become a knight, and a different girl, a generation later, being the first girl in the land to become a knight openly, without hiding her sex. Each, of course, suffers greatly for the great crime of being a girl (the setting is somewhat comparable to real-life medieval times).
When, as a 10 year old, I read those books (and others like them) I remember being absolutely outraged, offended that my sex wouldn’t be allowed to pick up a sword if they chose to. So, obviously I was aware of this strange prejudice, but my knowledge of it was simple and easy: women should be allowed to do whatever they want, if guys are allowed to do it. Anything else is simply unfair.
That was my childhood philosophy – in my early (OK, earlier) teens, I changed it up a little: women and men should be allowed to do exactly the same things, and women shouldn’t be allowed to do any thing that men can’t do, OR vice versa. The key difference there being that women (in my ideal world) are given the same rights as men, whereas previously they would possibly have more.
The reason I felt the need to redefine my ideology is that I’d noticed a number of times when women were given preference over men, which sounds a little strange, but bear with me here. I refer to the times when women are allowed to insult men but still be considered politically correct - things like the now-common ‘Husband Creche‘ which suggests that men are basically useless when it comes to certain pastimes like, oh god, shopping. These signs usually elicit a laugh, perhaps a comment on the cleverness of the idea – but just imagine the backlash if someone dared make a sign saying ‘Girl Creche’ outside, say, a comic shop?
I was so proud of myself, for not going along with the general public’s opinions and actually using my own brain to deduce what I thought was right and wrong. And I do still genuinely believe that women are sometimes given a free pass to be less sexist than men because they are the (traditionally) victimised group. Still, I genuinely thought I was just a little brighter than those just mindlessly saying that women were the only ones being oppressed.
(Ah, the follies of youth. And our willingness to believe that we’re special in some way, though I’m fairly certain that carries over into adulthood.)
Now, a few years and much reading later, I’m slowly beginning to realise that sexism isn’t such a cut-and-dried topic as I always believed it to be. It’s actually rather a shock, to be honest, because I always thought that sexism was just equal rights for each sex – I never even dreamed of having to take into account things like transgendered individuals and their experiences, or whether we should be eschewing all the traditional gender roles and all the other gender-based things ingrained in our culture like pink and dolls for girls, and blue and cars for boys.
It’s not just that women aren’t given the same rights as men – it’s that they don’t get the same treatment, and are subject to so many double standards it hurts my brain to think about it. Men aren’t just the oppressors, they’re the victims, because they always have to be manly and masculine. And in fact, women are also helping to perpetuate some aspects of sexism.
Gender equality isn’t just about girls and guys anymore, either – there’s also the sexuality and gender-identification aspects to worry about, that is, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, genderqueers, transsexuals, and every other label I’ve forgotten (if you’re interested in the definitions, this is really useful).
I really, honestly, do not have objections to these people being included in gender equality, I believe it’s only right – but shoot, way to confuse me! For whatever reason, I’ve had very little exposure (read as: none whatsoever) to anyone who doesn’t identify as purely female or male, or anyone whose physical sex doesn’t match their mental gender. (I sincerely hope I didn’t exclude a group or mess up the definitions there.) As such, I’m not used to them existing, and being acknowledged – that’s obviously a failing of our society, however, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know much about this whole section of gender equality and what they go through, and the correct terms to use.
Finally, just to confuse my brain a little more, there’s all these things flying in the face of what I’ve been taught by society (yet again), but this time, by polite, pro-gender-equality society. Note the descriptor “polite”. I’ve always been taught to be modest and, you know, not run around with no shirt on, so I’ve always stuck by that rule, because hey, public nudity is impolite and a big no-no. But apparently that’s yet another aspect of non-equality in our society and we should be embracing and encouraging comfort with naked bodies. While in principle I think I agree, it’s really hard to reconcile that ideology with the constantly enforced idea that it’s, quite simply, rude to show certain parts of your body to anyone (but especially to those who are sexually attracted to whichever gender you happen to be).
Overall, sexism and gender equality has become such a complicated, convoluted, confusing topic that I can no longer have the same views as I did just three years ago. So, for now, I’m working with a new philosophy – everyone is equal and should be treated equally in all ways, and in general all harm and offence to any group or individual should be kept to an absolute minimum. That’s very broad, and very hard to do in real life, though, so I also like to add: People should try and understand issues before complaining about them, and should always be prepared to learn something new about, well, any issue, and finally, people should most certainly not be vilified for being products of our non-gender-equal society if they’re trying to understand issues, but finding it difficult because our modern Western society has ‘brainwashed’ us. By which I mean, hey, I’m trying my hardest to not insult you for being genderqueer but I’ve never met a genderqeer person before and I don’t necessarily know that being called genderqueer might be hugely insulting to you, because our society teaches me social etiquette like the correct term to address my elders (use their last name, unless they invite you to call them something else, or you are introduced with a different name) and not the correct term to address people who don’t identify as female or male.
Look, guys, it’s all really very simple. Try and treat absolutely everyone you ever meet with total equality, be nice, and try your best not to insult people.