I’m not like most girls. I’d rather catch a game with the guys and down a few beers in the process. I feel most comfortable in my tattered sweats with the little hole in the rear. Don’t even think about putting me in a dress. Hell no. I’m not like most girls, the kind who have to be all dolled up just to go to the mailbox. Those girls are so high-maintenance. I can’t even stand the feeling of makeup on my face. Puhlease. It’s just so unnatural! All I need is some Chapstick and I am out the door. Not like those other girls, who need hours to get ready every day. And the drama that comes with girls? Count me out! I refuse to surround myself with that cattiness. My best friends are all guys and we laugh at those girls who live for constant attention. It’s just so much more relaxed and carefree– hanging with the guys. Sure, they call girls “bitches” and “cunts”, but they mean those girls, not me. They say party girls have nothing going on in their brain but they aren’t talking about me. I’d rather stay in and watch Netflix on a Saturday night.
I could go on forever but I think you get my point. I want to make it clear I am separate from other girls. I’m different. Why are you looking at me like that?
Purity balls are dances where fathers pledge to protect their daughters’ pure hearts and daughters vow to remain virgins until marriage. It is a formal affair with elegant gowns, dancing and the aforementioned vow. Girls as young as 5 are encouraged to attend because there is no better time than early childhood to shape how a young girl views sex. A close father-daughter relationship is considered unequivocally critical because otherwise girls will turn to men to seek out approval or acknowledgment they aren’t receiving from their father. When you put all of the emphasis on the fathers and call them the “protectors of virgin hearts”, you are disempowering girls and taking away their autonomy. They say you are giving pieces of yourself away if you are promiscuous before marriage, that you aren’t a whole person if you can’t give your whole (virgin) self to your husband on your wedding day. This concept of being “less than” or “dirty” because you choose to have sex before marriage is just another form of slut shaming and a way to try to keep girls a commodity. The idea that a woman’s worth lies in how virginal she is is absurd. It erases all the other components of her personhood and reduces her to her sexuality. If she succumbs to temptation after all the social grooming that has taken place in her life, the guilt will eat her alive. What is virginity, anyway? Does the penis have to enter the vagina? Does the hymen have to break? What if it doesn’t break? What if it broke due to exercise? Does that mean I lost my virginity to an exercise routine? The whole thing comes off very heteronormative. Are gay people forever virgins? What about rape victims? It is a social construct that keeps the same tired patriarchal views in place. You can’t “give it away” because it doesn’t really exist. It only exists in a social context that is meant to rob girls and women of autonomy over their own bodies and feel guilt, shame and remorse over personal choices. Men do not face the same stigma that women do over this concept of virginity and do not parade around attending purity balls. Men are not expected to maintain a “pure heart, body and soul”. Virginity is sexist and homophobic and we need to stop placing such a significance on it. You are more than your body. You and you alone are in control of your body and your sexuality and what you choose to do with it is nobody’s business but your own.
Since I am fairly new to feminism and have to do my fair share of unlearning subconscious sexist ways of thinking and have to reassess everything (Hint: Shaving your legs is okay. So is wearing make-up. It’s okay to like to do these things as well. The important thing is to realize WHY we do the things we do and how our society lambasts women who do not conform to “normal” beauty standards).
One of the things I’ve been rethinking is how society defaults to “male” in limitless categories. He, him, and all things related to “male” are considered the norm which can be extremely exclusionary towards women. It’s not as if men make up most of the population, as if the constant reference to “him” is because there are simply more of “him”. We are almost evenly split in the USA, with women leading a bit at 51%. It is considered an insult to be called a girl and it is a common phrase to tell women who want to get ahead in the workplace to “man up” or that they need to work as hard as the fellas. Women who are at the top are referred to by their gender, IE “woman CEO” or “woman doctor”. It is unheard of to speak of a “man CEO”. It is simply assumed that a man is in the position of power. When a woman is in a position of power, she is often asked: “How do you balance home and work?” The media has been scrutinizing Hillary and her potential run for presidency because she is a grandmother. A grandmother! How will she ever manage running a country and being a grandmother?! If you want to learn about how women contributed to history, you will be hardpressed to find anything in schoolbooks. History glazes over the topic and only a few colleges offer classes distinctly titled “Women’s Studies”. There is no “Men’s Studies” because everything taught is about men by default. Likewise, there’s no “Men’s Literature” section, “Men Flicks” or “Men’s Sports”.
This is devaluing to women and inherently sexist. We are not manic pixie dream girls. We are not here as supporting roles. Women are just as much a lead character as men are and yet are rarely given the chance. By using male as default, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and continues to value men more than women. It also costs you more because why not charge twice as much for the same product only with a coat of putrid pink paint slapped on top? We have a long way to go to fully realize inclusivity. But recognizing sexism and calling it out wherever you can will help us move ever so slightly forward and at the very least, open up discussions that are important.
Bonus: Check out a compilation put together by The Society Pages of some examples of male as the norm.
Sexism is sometimes so subtle you may not even notice it is there. But it is there, ever so subtly. Subtle, the way a group of friends gesture towards a teenage girl walking by, whispering amongst each other, ridiculing the way her “dress is too tight and skanky- looking.” Subtle, the way your eyes sweep over a woman you walk by on the street as you pass judgment on her “stripper heels” and the way her cleavage is overflowing; you dismiss her. It is in the way women who lunch together enjoy a dessert and then afterwards, speak of regret, guilt and talk of going on a diet pronto. It is in the way a middle school aged child says, knowingly, “Girls just aren’t good at math.” It is in the way you read school dress code policy which should be titled ‘Dress Code Policy for Girls’ because the rules only apply to them. There is no male equivalent.
So why is this sexism internalized? When we are constantly bombarded with messages in the media and in our culture about sexist stereotypes, whether we would like to admit it or not, they subconsciously have an effect on us. We take the messages we hear and we start to believe them. And then we pass them down to future generations. We live in a patriarchy; in a society that blatantly values a man’s opinion and perspective over a woman’s so what is a woman to do? In many cases, we resort to sexism (that is, against women) to feel empowered and validated in this “man’s world”.
People have a tendency to laugh these things off. ‘It’s not a big deal!’ or worse, ‘Get over it.’ But working to combat sexism in any form should be recognized as intrinsically important. Women are made to feel as though they are less of a person. We are told our sense of self-worth comes from how we look (just look at women’s magazines and advertisements aimed at women!) and little else. I think the first step to take towards improvement is to stop the consumption of harmful media. Anything that makes you feel bad about yourself or makes you feel like you need to improve something about yourself, physically speaking, isn’t worth the damage it will cause. When you feel yourself casting judgment on a woman or “slut-shaming” (the term used to describe making a woman feel guilty for her sexual behavior or her clothing choices), put a pause on those feelings. Where are they coming from? Be conscious of those feelings and try to replace them with something positive. Instead of rolling your eyes at her ridiculously short skirt, maybe you could think she was incredibly brave for wearing it. Maybe you could admit to yourself that she looks great in it. We only have ourselves to stick up for each other. We are sisters and let us all come together and recognize this.