It’s time for this country to rise above sexism

Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sexism is pervasive. Sexism is powerful.  Sexism comes in all forms and fashions. Sexism sometimes excludes outright. Sexism sometimes includes but limits. Sexism gives privileges with one hand and takes away with the other hand. Sexism pervades our thoughts, our actions, our language. Sexism comes in men and women, boys and girls. Sexism is so pervasive I don’t know where to start.  However, since March is Women’s History Month, I will explore several things that raised the specter of sexism during the last week of the month.

I was watching television coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primary Election.  A male host said, “Why doesn’t Hillary smile?” Another said, “Why is Hillary so loud?” I never heard anyone say, “Why doesn’t Bernie smile?’ I never heard anyone say, “Why is Bernie so loud?” I never heard anyone ask either question about republican presidential candidates Trump or Cruz or Kasich. There is a very different standard for women in nearly every arena, especially the political. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

During a meeting in the Alabama Black Belt last week, the chair of the meeting said, “Let the women speak first.” One woman objected forcefully saying:  “We are not having that here!” She simply wanted all to be equal in the meeting. A male deciding that the women should speak first has various implications. That simple act separates women from men without good reason. It reduces the value of women’s contribution. It puts a different weight on whoever speaks first or last. The male chair meant no harm; he was just being a gentleman. Most folk practicing sexism do not mean any harm. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

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This week, a female friend asked me, “What is it that Hillary has done that invites so many negatives?” I had to admit that if she were a male with the same accomplishments and qualifications, it would be a different political landscape. Donald Trump and other male candidates say all kinds of crazy things that slide right off their Teflon shields.  On the other hand, every little thing Hillary does or does not do sticks like Velcro. If Hillary were male, the whole email and Benghazi messes would be straws in the wind. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

Last week, Barbara Streisand, the famous singer and actress, published an article entitled, The Sexism in American Politics. In it she asked, “Why is it that even a woman as impressive as Hillary Clinton is judged not by her merits and extensive resume but held to a pernicious double standard?’ I see the double standard all the time. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

I am struck by the degree which some women practice sexist double standards with other women.  I perceive it in tone of voice. I see it in facial expressions. I observe it in body language. I hear it in the words they choose. I understand that women often suffer from the psychology of the oppressed. All my life I have observed the same psychology in African Americans. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

Language is a medium for sexism. Just observe the language used to describe the very same characteristics in males and females. Again, Barbara Streisand captures it so clearly: A man is commanding; a woman is demanding. A man is assertive; a woman is aggressive. A man strategizes; a woman manipulates. A man is forceful; a woman is pushy. A man shows leadership; a woman is controlling. A man is a perfectionist; a woman is a pain in the a–. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

I don’t claim to be free of sexism. It reveals itself in various ways. I recall traveling on the continent of Asia in the country of India with a delegation of Alabama leaders. My knees were so painful I was often pushed in a wheelchair. It was embarrassing but bearable as long as men were pushing me. However, I grew extremely uncomfortable when women willingly took turns pushing me. I decided then and there that I was going to have both knees replaced when I returned to the United States. It was pure sexism. Yes, I have my share of sexism, but I recognize it and work on it. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

So often I hear a woman saying something meaningful that is completely ignored. It’s like she did not even say it. Then a man says the very same thing and suddenly it becomes gospel. It is not what is said, but the gender of who says it. Sexism is so pervasive and so powerful.

It has been 227 years since the founding of this country. It has been 96 years since the 19th Amendment established the right to vote for women.  Women have been the majority of voters for decades.  There have been 44 presidents of these United States of America. However, not one president has been female.

Other countries have elected female leaders including India, the second largest country in the world; Great Britain; Israel; Brazil; Argentina; Germany; and so on. Would it not be grand to celebrate the election of the first female president of these United States of America during Women’s History Month in 2017? Isn’t it about time? What do you think?

All isms are powerful. (Racism, classism, sexism, etc.) All isms are pervasive. However, no ism is more powerful and/or pervasive than sexism. We face a great challenge in rising above the ism of sex.