What I hate most about sexism is how insidious it is. How, in the tiniest, most unobvious ways, the men and women in my life try to put me in my place.
Of course, relationships are not void of misogyny because people don’t exist in a vacuum. Individuals are cut from the same fabric woven by society, which sometimes makes sexism hard to recognize.
When I began looking at sexist matters in my relationships, I almost doubted what I saw. I gave my friend the benefit of the doubt when she assumed I’d watch her child for free because I work from home. I would brush my husband’s tendency to mansplain under the rug as nothing more than a nuisance. After a while, I found that I was dismissing the problem rather than engaging with it to find solutions. If I kept letting every little offense slide, I was justifying a system designed to make me a second-class citizen. Like Roxane Gay wrote in her book, Bad Feminist, “We remain silent because silence is easier.”
In an effort to stop trading my dignity for the ease of remaining silent, I am speaking out on how sexism affects me. Here are six situations where I confront sexism in my intimate relationships:
According to Anne-Marie Slaughter in her article, “Women Still Can’t Have It All“, I am the lead parent in my home. That means I have agreed to take on more childcare and housework responsibilities. But – and this is a huge but – I still do paid work, which means some chores should be shared equally. In reality however, I end up doing all the things my husband either conveniently overlooks or doesn’t want to do. This includes vacuuming the stairs, cleaning the bathroom, scrubbing the kitchen sink, and scouring the stovetop. And no matter how much I reiterate that each of us is responsible for putting our own things away, I alone replace shoes, socks and jackets strewn about. If I don’t pick up after everyone, it will reflect badly on me as the lead parent
My husband’s film-industry-hours don’t allow him to take part in our children’s daily routine. That usually leaves me to do drop-offs, pickups, homework, feeding and bedtime responsibilities alone. What he can participate in are things that don’t fall on a specific timeline, like packing my daughter’s lunch, clipping their nails and planning their birthday parties. But he won’t. Instead, he’ll make an excuse like, “You’re better at those things”, leaving me to take on the extra work. My husband is not alone. Professor and researcher Arlie Hochschild, believes this is a strategy most married men rely on to protect the “leisure gap” only they enjoy. Women who work full time, spend two weeks per year more than men do on childcare and chores.
My spouse is not the only one assuming I should perform certain duties based on my being a woman. Friends, employers and co-workers have some pretty sexist expectations of me as well. For example, I should be ready to divulge any information at any given time, no matter how loaded or personal the question may be. I should smile, ask how they are doing and always answer than I am well (even if I’m not). This is because ‘nice’ women are supposed to be equal parts concerned and pleasant. People aren’t exactly forcing me to behave this way, but if I don’t, I run the risk of being called a bitch. That’s just one consequence of not conforming.
Another form of sexism I can’t stand is that I may not get promoted if I wish to climb the corporate ladder. As researcher Linda Babcock suggests, women have to be “tough as nails and warm as toast” when negotiating salaries and promotions. Having to be overly nice might be one of the biggest double standards women face. And it doesn’t stop there.
Women don’t give themselves credit either. They thank others profusely for what they have earned, which is fine, but men are not equally as ready to give up their stake in an accomplishment. So what accounts for this Credit Gap? The patriarchy. It has instilled in women (over thousands of years) that men are the true achievers, and those who are entitled to success (men), don’t have anyone to thank but themselves. In Mika Berzinski’s book, Knowing Your Value she found that women are less likely to pin their success on personal skills and hard work and more on ‘luck’ and ‘teamwork’.
The same people in our lives who expect women to be nice also want them to be endlessly warm and agreeable. Have you ever noticed how much more women laugh? Or how women tend to agree rather than disagree and accept unsolicited advice as if they couldn’t move forward in life without it? Well I’ll be the first to admit that I take part in all of these placating behaviors, but I am slowly weeding them out like the bad habits they are. Spending more time being agreeable denies me the opportunity to showcase my authentic self, which is infinitely more interesting. I want to know what my friends truly believe just as well, because it’s boring to be constantly agreed with.
While I’m making promises to myself, I will also stop apologizing for not being perfect. Apologizing profusely for every little mistake is just another way of being agreeable. Amy Schumer’s “I’m Sorry” skit sends a hilarious but poignant message. She highlights how over apologizing makes women appear unworthy of attention or recognition.
The other side of the same coin is saying yes too much. When asked for something, many women say yes even when they don’t have the time or desire to give. Sound familiar? It does to me. I have spent years trying to become more aware of how much I apologize and say yes. Sometimes I say both in the same sentence. “Yes I would love to help you with your essay, but I’m sorry I can’t do it right now. How about tomorrow?” How about I type it if for you too and hold your hand when you turn it in?
This is a tired category. I am too exhausted by all these other expectations to rip hair off my body, gas myself with perfume, slave over my hair, mask my face with makeup, wear shoes that are uncomfortable and stress about my weight. But when my family members make comments like, “you should smooth your hair, it looks really frizzy,” or, “I’ll let you borrow my spanx so your gut doesn’t bulge in that dress,” I feel down right hurt. Can no one, not even the ones I love most, accept that I am beautiful without modifying my body? Perhaps not, so I have to believe for myself that I am fine just the way I am. I refuse to waste any energy beyond good personal hygiene because I have more important things to accomplish than adhering to impossible beauty standards.
There is no sexist expectation that drains me more than when friends and family feel entitled to my skills or time. Just because we are close, doesn’t mean I will drop everything to make myself available. If I don’t however, I’m considered ‘selfish’ because I lack a certain level of generosity women are expected to offer. As a Jane-of-all-trades, I have many skills that include sewing, cooking, tutoring, gardening and I’m handy with power tools too. But this does not mean that I will finish my family member’s unfinished projects just because I can. Nor does having these skills imply that I will automatically fulfill the chores that fall in those categories. My time as a working mom of two is limited and very precious. If I don’t establish firm boundaries by saying “no” more (which I haven’t in the past), I will end up spending even less time on reaching my personal goals.
When I take a step back and look at this long list of infractions against my gender, I feel overwhelmed and defeated. Even more so when those closest to me measure how much I care for them based on how well I meet their expectations. At times, it feel like who I am as a wife, friend, mother, co-worker and employee falls squarely on how much I am willing to give and do for others.
So, I’m calling it what it is. Social “duties” and expectations that besiege women are sexist. Though sexism between partners and friends doesn’t necessarily account for the wage gap, it does relegate women to a subservient class of givers and shames them for being takers.
Consenting is so much easier than confronting, but silence is a big part of the problem. I would rather hang with ‘bitchy’, opinionated and honest women (and be one myself) and be part of the solution.
This is an anonymous submission.