Can you be an accidental sexist, an accidental racist, an accidental homophobe? Not unless it’s already inside you. Almost everyone harbors some prejudice which grows out of fear. We fear that which we do not understand. Sexism comes from an underlying fear that women might know more than you know, might be better than you. Psychologists talk about hostile sexism versus what they call “benevolent sexism.”
Benevolent sexism is when a man says something like, Women shouldn’t have more than one more drink. They get sloppy.
Do they now? As soon as you have us and them, you’re in a sexist world. Them defines prejudice.
You need to change your name. My name will do for both of us.
A name isn’t a gift. We all have a name that we were born with. We get that name right in the hospital, and there is no reason for us to give that name up just because some guy came along.
When a man says, Don’t worry about your achievements, you have wonderful children, that’s sexist.
Don’t worry about writing poetry, that child of yours is a poem.
Casual sexism is when you make decisions about your family without consulting your wife. It’s when you walk around the house and you can’t really see any signs that your wife made any of the decisions about the place.
When you say, I wish she would be quiet, that’s casually sexist.
When you say, “Is that buzzing an idea in your head?” that’s sexist.
Benevolent sexism is still sexism and we’re just talking about actual comments. What you see much more often is the kind of casual sexism where men just don’t give women room in the world. My favorite book on this subject is still Deborah Tannen’s Men and Women You Just Don’t Understand. Tannen shows throughout the book that in public men simply out talk women and we women have been conditioned to expect it. We listen, we cock our heads back, and we listen and then we smile. We smile up into their faces and drink their words down like vodka.
The main point Tannen makes is this:
For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships … For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.
When you have a conversation with a man at home, you can get words in but in public, women listen to men. Women talk to create connective tissue between them, we exchange stories, we create threaded reasons to be part of each others’ lives. What men mostly do when they talk at you in public is they try to establish how important they are. And if they’re so much more important than we are, then we are not connected at all. We’re other.
We have to do a better job of moving toward real communication. Men need to listen. Think before you speak. Why are you saying this? Is this a way of establishing dominance or creating a connection? Must you dominate? Casual sexism is still sexism. In a future world, more men will want to live with women as equals, one hopes.