Recently I read this, it was an emailed version of this hypothetical conversation between a man and a woman:
“Right now she playing hard to get and think that she is some kind of trophy wife… She doh realise that she is ah black woman.”
The implication that a black woman should know her (inferior) place, that she could never be a trophy wife, could never be pursued and that that knowledge was universal, is nauseating. The fact that a black man and possibly a light skinned black woman said these words – even more nauseating.
I could opt to rant and compare and pretend that only black women experience this level of prejudice but that would be naive. It would be wonderful to live in a world where that was true, that only black women experience this prejudice. Then that would mean that we the world had a smaller problem, one solely based on race – the reality though is completely different. In addition to race issues, the age old sexist bias still exists. Unfortunately all women – white, brown, ‘high colour’, ‘darkies’, blonde, brunette, slim, short, tall – face discrimination at some point or another. And this has been an issue which has existed for centuries. It has always been an acceptable norm to treat women as inferior.*
In fact if you return to some famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice and even new movies such as Belle – the heroines were always concerned with inheritance and how they would live. Jane Austen highlighted that a man’s property would pass from father to son and in the case of the absence of a son, as with Pride and prejudice, the property will pass to the nearest male relative. Leaving the woman i.e. wife or daughters with nothing to survive on. The laws of the land during that time period made it impossible for a woman to be employed or own property. A woman was completely and utterly dependent on a man. Pride and Prejudice was set in the 18th century in which a woman was defined as either a wife or daughter. The right to own property, the right to make a decision and have a female voice heard, was one which was fought for and earned. It was not given. It came at a price. Read about the suffragettes if you have no idea what I am talking about.
In our current society degradation occurs more frequently in mostly subtle, passive ways. It isn’t blatant statements such as a woman’s place is in the home or what does she know she’s a woman. It’s subtle and passive. Let’s have a look at an experiment conducted by Always. Individuals were asked to do specific actions like a girl – throw like a girl, fight like a girl, run like a girl. Each individual ran ridiculously, threw ridiculously, fought ridiculously. Note that both male and female persons expressed similar ludicrous ways of running. Currently the expression like a girl means to lose, to be weak, to be soft, inferior, incapable. It is an insult. Hmm… I wonder if Laila Ali fights like a girl.
Shall we compare language use:
An individual who is promiscuous:
Female Labels: Slut, whore, bitch, skank
Male Labels: the man, stud (outdated)
One group of labels is degrading and one is rewarding, in fact it was a struggle to find labels for promiscuous men. A man is supposed to demonstrate his virility while a woman is supposed to be pure and virginal. You do see the juxtapose contradiction which occurs here. How can a man gain a positive label through a negative action. If a man becomes cool after being sir shagalot – why is it the woman he shags becomes a whore? Why didn’t he stay with her? Why did he go looking for another conquest shortly after engaging in sexual activity with her? Why is it that for the same action, he glorified and she is shamed? The double standards continue.
How does this stop? How can a society in which women are no longer degraded, for a biological factor that they can not control, emerge? When will little babies stop being killed because they were born a girl? When will women stop being degraded and stop degrading each other?
It’s a huge dynamic and there are so many grey areas. There are many answers and none of them are clear cut solutions.
If a woman wears tight, short, revealing clothing in the work place – it works against her. She will be viewed as unprofessional and possibly using her figure to gain favouritism. But isn’t this degrading? Isn’t assuming that a woman is dumb based on her body type supporting sexism. However if she tries to fight against the stereotype she may face even more discrimination. So what should be done? Does she then play strategy and cover up? Or should she be herself and wear what she wants?
In a society in which passive aggressive sexism is at it highest, how do we as women get past it and alleviate it? Goodness knows women will have to take the lead on this one.
*I recognise that the use of the phrase acceptable norm may result in some discord, but think of the last time you called another woman slut or said she’s pretty but stupid.
For a simple analysis of Pride and Prejudice see:
Always like a girl experiment.
Some degrading songs about women.