Why It's OK to Get Upset by the "Little Things" When it Comes to Sexism

5 years ago

Every morning I start my day by blearily stumbling into the kitchen and prodding the power button on my kitchen radio (yes, I still have a radio). I catch some news and weather on the CBC before I start my walk to work, and switch to a local pop station to put a spring in my step while I stroll.

It is extremely challenging to find my beloved catchy, singalong pop, (yes, I have a radio AND terrible taste in music -judge away) especially in the morning, without having to suffer through at best insipid, and at worst, completely offensive banter between songs.

I landed on KISS 92.5, where the morning show seemed to be a little less vapid than most. The banter was funnier, wittier and less mean-spirited than most, and the hosts actually had me laughing out loud on my walk on more than one occasion.

Lately though, I’m noticing a pattern on the show that I find disturbing. I can’t remember what exactly first sent my spidey senses tingling, but I can think of three things that rubbed me very much the wrong way on the show recently.

The first was when the two hosts made fun of the show’s whipping boy “Damnit Maury” for once asking to be set up with a woman who models for Guess. They thought it was just hilarious that he thought he might have a chance with a model. A chance at what, exactly, I’m not sure, as I don’t think it was ever specified, but the whole thing just grossed me out. I don’t recall them saying anything along the lines of, “She’s so much smarter and funnier and kinder than you.” All that was clear was that she was a model and therefore some kind of prize to be won. It was all clearly said in fun, but definitely reinforced some disturbing ideas about a woman’s worth.

The second strike for me was when Damnit Maurie used the opportunity he was given to speak with Ontario’s new Premier Kathleen Wynne after her swearing-in ceremony to ask her about her penchant for pantsuits and how she is planning to “win us over in the fashion department.” Wynne graciously answered his question with humour, while pointing out that he probably wouldn’t have asked the question if she were a male politician.

Even if Damnit Maurie lives under a rock large enough to shield him from realizing that the focus on the appearance of women in positions of power is a common tactic used to undermine that power, and discourage other women from striving for those positions, you would think that once it was pointed out to him or the station why many people would find this question offensive he or the station might show a little grace of their own and apologize. Instead, morning host Roz lamented the population’s missing sense of humour and I lamented his and others inability to understand why it’s offensive to insinuate that this politician has to “win us over with her fashion choices” rather than with her ability to represent the interests of Ontario citizens, to think, to speak, to lead. When, as Wynne herself pointed out, you would not ask that question of a man.

Yesterday I tuned in just in time to hear Roz’ opinion on the “uproar” surrounding a photo of 17-year-old figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond run on the front page of the Globe and Mail. The photo is a close-up of Osmond, mid high-kick, the red gusset of her costume in full view. It’s an awkward and potentially embarrassing in-your-face kind of angle that takes away from the confident smile on her face. Unsurprisingly, the KISS morning host didn’t see what might be problematic about the image, saying that if anyone sees something sexual in it, then there is something wrong with them and that people are just looking for things to be offended by. (Yes, because barely-covered crotches have no connection whatsoever to sex).

What offends and exasperates me about the photo is actually how seldom female athletes make it on to the front page of a newspaper like this, and how, when they finally do, the shot that’s chosen is not only of a sport where the outfits are flimsy and skintight but the photo is taken from an upskirt angle. A couple of years ago my mom actually conducted a little experiment and collected all of the sports pages in a couple of papers for a year to see if this was really the case, and the comparison between men and women’s media coverage was even more stark than we’d understood it to be (this, despite our National Women’s Soccer team kicking every butt that came their way that year). The full page, colour photos inevitably went to the men or to the women in sexier outfits.

Kaetlyn Osmond certainly deserves congratulations and attention for her athletic achievement, but that could be better illustrated with a million different photo angles or just some thoughtful cropping, thanks (The Globe’s editor has since admitted as much in an apology on their website).

I’m not looking for things to be offended by. I don’t have to.

Yes, on their own, these could all be considered minor transgressions, but they don’t exist in a vacuum and each one contributes just a little bit to a culture of misogyny . That’s why it’s ok to be offended by seemingly small things, and important to say something about them.

To be clear, I don’t think that either of these radio personalities hate women, and I know there are probably zillions of people who share their opinions and who refuse to acknowledge sexism that is not as obvious as someone saying that men are smarter than women. However, they are a great example of how you don’t have to actively hate women to contribute to a society where misogyny is free to flourish.

Misogyny is sneaky. It doesn’t always come along out of nowhere in the form of one easily identifiable old white man screaming that women should be kitchen slaves and exist only to fulfill men’s desires and nurture their children.

It comes in little slivers that work their way inside our psyches, it wears away at us over time, it subtly slithers into our culture in bits and pieces until one day we look around and realize it has become the status quo.

I wish we didn’t have to be vigilant. I wish I could just laugh these things off, but I can’t. Because the more we let slide, the closer we are to an avalanche. And an avalanche is so much harder to stop than a couple of seemingly harmless pebbles.

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