I promise my next post I’ll change it up and focus on pseudoscience or religion, or maybe a bit of both. But I saw something on social media today that reminded me how badly I’ve wanted to write this post, and how important I think it is.
With one simple exercise, you can find out whether something you’ve just heard/read/witnessed is sexist: flip it over.
To use my experience from earlier today as an example, I saw a post on social media that roughly* said this:
“Two Asian women in the 50s-60s are walking around Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden, wearing t-shirts that say ‘I ❤ Swedish Boys’. 😀 :)”
Did I think about this? Nope. Did I look at it twice before I scrolled by? Uh-uh. But a moment later, another person’s comment made me stop and stare.
“I was about to like on this, and then I thought: if this had said “I just saw two Swedish men in the 50s-60s walking around Bangkok wearing t-shirts that said ‘I ❤ Asian Girls’,” would I have liked on it? :)”
I kicked myself a bit: why didn’t I think of that? So I agreed, and the original poster responded saying that would have been entirely different, as one example would have been oppression, and the other was just two female tourists having a good time. But I disagree, wholeheartedly. If this behaviour is perceived as creepy and sexist when a man does it, why is it fine for a woman to do it?
It made me relate an anecdote that stuck in my brain: a few years back, Måns Zelmerlöv, who won the Eurovision Song Contest two years ago, but back then was but a Swedish Idol participant who’d ended up performing on cruise-ships, spoke in an article about how common it was for middle-aged women to come up to him on the cruises and squeeze his butt. He said how awkward and uncomfortable it was. Now, if we flipped it over here, we would immediately see how sexist and creepy this is. But when we excuse women for this behaviour, we do two things:
- We create a double standard. We say that while some behaviour is unacceptable from a man, it’s perfectly fine if a woman does it. Say, hitting someone else. Or grabbing their behind. Or criticising the looks of someone of the opposite sex. These are things that, when women do them, get shrugged off, but when men do them are horrendous and unbelievably sexist. These are double standards that would perhaps be expected in the outdated world where men were allowed to behave like d*cks and women weren’t. But if we’re actually attempting to create a world where men and women are treated equally, we should not allow one sex to get away with the behaviour that we don’t allow the other sex to get away with.
- We are derogatory toward women. We say that when women do something it’s cute, it’s funny, it’s not to be taken seriously. “They’re probably kidding. They don’t mean it. They’re harmless. It’s not as if they could do anything anyway.” We say that we don’t think women are capable of violence, of sexual dominance or abuse, or of inappropriate and insulting behaviour toward the opposite sex. We dismiss women. And I am a woman who never wants to be dismissed as “harmless” or “not to be taken seriously”. I get really angry when people disregard my opinions or actions because of my gender. So why do so many women seem to enjoy this form of positive discrimination when it comes to women behaving like d*icks?
A few years ago, my husband had his behind grabbed by a lady who was chatting to him in the post-office queue. In England, the land of politeness. It’s not the first time he’s had his behind pinched by a woman, but he remembers it better than the others as it’s the most recent one. I happen to be lucky enough that no stranger has ever grabbed my ass, or touched me inappropriately at all. Not on the street, or in a bar, or a night-club, and certainly not in the post-office. But where my husband’s only action against this was to tell me about it years later, and tell facebook about it at the time, a woman in the same situation might have screamed, she could probably have called for security, she could at least have stepped away from the man, slapped him, even been defended by other men or women in the queue. What does a man do in this situation? It was only a woman. It’s not like a big strong man can’t defend himself. Of course, men aren’t allowed to hit women, but you know, it was harmless fun, come on, he should just let it go.
I would have been appalled, disgusted, outraged, if some man tried to grab my ass in the post-office queue, or anywhere else for that matter. But that’s the difference, that’s what we’re perpetuating.
I was reminded today of just how often we let these things pass us by, how often we don’t see what’s wrong before someone goes “There. Look. Right there.” The important thing to remember is: next time you read/hear/witness an event, whether it pertains to race or gender, hit the pause button and ask yourself
Would this be okay if I flipped it over?
*The original social media post and comments were in Swedish, and so this is a translation of my recollection of the post. It has the same content and wording, but in a different language, and not verbatim.