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Struggles with sexism: why we must be specific

21 Oct

Eradicating sexism is difficult because when men and women do the same things, they are interpreted differently – often to the detriment of women. Changing attitudes or portraying women as similar to men doesn’t always solve things. Here are a few examples:

When men are portrayed as dominating, that traditionally meant that women were passive and submissive. But getting more dominant women on TV might not make things much better because when women are dominant they’re seen as bitchy, crazy, mean and agressive.

When men are seen as having an insatiable sex drive, women are meant to be the civilizing influence on them, turning men to the family by witholding sex until marriage. Yet, for some regions the answer may not lie in portraying women as having equal sexual desire – because when female sex drive is acknowledged, it’s used as yet another excuse to control women (not allowing them free movement/driving) and seen as another inherent weakness in women (unable to resist temptation).

When women are percieved as more capable than men, this usually only extends to being better at parenting, organising, personal hygiene and tidiness. This portrayal of womens’ strength only serves to perpetuate the strict gender roles of women’s domesticity and motherhood-as-destiny. It further marginalizes women who are messy, disorganized or uncertain about being mothers. It’s fine for a man to be worried about loss of freedom when the baby arrives or worry about his capability as a father. Likewise, men are expected to be messy and oblivious to skin/hair products, even those for their gender. Thus, portraying women as superior to men may, in some instances, backfire completely as we inadvertently unearth the tired old Victorian ideal.

Therefore, solutions to sexism aren’t always as clear-cut as they seem. I am not advocating that we refrain from certain courses of action, nor that we do certain actions; I am just pointing out that the politics surrounding sexism are complex and that solutions cannot be too generalised. Solutions which work well in the west may backfire in other regions if the message is not more specific and tailored. Marketing images of women as superior to men may also backfire.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Feminism

 

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