What if women took some responsibility for sexism?
Over 2,000 years ago, the wealthy women of Ancient Egypt proved to the masses that women could overcome inequality.
Cleopatra, for example, ruled alone for over 21 years, classifying herself as a king. She was also surrounded by powerful female role models — the Macedonian Queens before her controlled armies, and her great-grandmother sparked a civil war. The women wielded tremendous power against their male counterparts… and showed the world that women were born to lead.
Alas, we have moved away from the ideologies of Cleopatra and the powerful women of ancient times, and now embrace a more harmful system. Why have we let this happen? How have we let ourselves be degraded from queens to second-class citizens?
I have been tossing and turning for years over the origins of the imbalance of genders. As a godmother of three boys, and observing those around me, I constantly notice the difference in the treatment young boys receive compared to girls.
Girls are expected to be better at following rules and "working out problems verbally." Boys are expected to, well… "be boys," and many studies find they're better treated overall. The coddling of young boys, and the different expectations we have of them, might be part of the source of the male privilege and misogyny that we as women complain about every day.
Surely, a good argument could be made that the pampering of boyhood leads to the entitlement and overpowering behavior that we witness in the boardrooms, the coffee shops, and on the streets? I can only ask why. Why is there this constant cycle of imbalance, and why are we so surprised when men act a certain way? Especially since that is how they have been treated since birth.
For years, I've wanted to write about how to pinpoint at least some of the roots of inequality. Visually, I imagine it started like a horse race: gates bursting open in hurried chaos. Men fighting to lead the pack. Women, oppressed and stripped of resources, pushed to the back.
Those squeezing out the gate are not merely women, though. They are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters, and of different backgrounds. And we women—myself included—might want to turn to the mirror a little, and look at ourselves when looking for someone to blame for the imbalances in society.
Of course, we have made huge strides in combatting this social construct. For example, by 2012, there were 2.8 million more women than men in college. But, it seems to me, too many women seem to still embrace the ideology of boys vs. girls, comforted by its apparent normalcy. Too many of us are still, somewhere, convinced that we want the prince to save us, and we still hope it's our sons, brothers, uncles, or fathers who come to the rescue.
Shouldn’t we share the blame of our own shortcomings? What are we doing to help create the "monsters" we are so appalled by?
By conforming to the norms and agreeing to the terms, we feed the “monster” that is inequality and watch it grow with silenced voices. Who wants to see a potential bully, rapist, terrorist or dictator in their male relation? I don't want to even consider the idea that my father, grandfather, great-grandfathers, uncles, brothers, nephews and godsons are even remotely responsible of any kind of crime against a girl or a woman.
And yet, can I own up to any reinforcement of sexism? Of course I can. I've definitely said things like, “Gosh, you are so strong. Thank you for helping me." Or even, "Oh, I am so happy to have a man in the house right now"—I am absolutely that person. Yet deep in my bones, I am an activist and a believer in equal, human rights. I struggle with the disparity between this and what literally comes out of my mouth.
Do I make the men in my life feel they ought to show up, lead, be the man, take control? I don't fully know, but I am interested in identifying and challenging myself to lose any stereotyping. I feel we all need to take the time to reflect on our own identity, how we might be "promoting" sexism, and how we can better the world we live in through our own thoughts and actions. Surely this would bring about more balance, or what we term "equality."
To simplify it, let's also look at our actions, versus only our words and intentions. Do we have to determine a man’s worth by his height or his math ability? Do we need to give the other half of our sandwich to our brother because he is a "growing boy?" Do we have to laugh when a man tells a joke, even though it isn’t funny? I mean, can’t all those very basic things simply fall away, for starters?
I, for one, promise to stop using typical boy clichés like, "Oh, he's a man, after all."
And yes, I am a proud feminist and happy to say many men in my life are also feminists. Progress and consciousness are happening. Yes, and I also do feel we women can all help one word and action at a time.