Near-equality makes inequality less visible.
American women largely have access to the same things as men: education, employment, the vote, etc. They live independently, making their own decisions without society judging them as radical. And when people commit egregious amounts of sexism (I’m looking at you, Rep. “Legitimate-Rape” Akin), society notices and, overall, condemns.
That doesn’t mean our culture has been purged of sexism, as highlighted by #YesAllWomen, a counterpoint to the “not all men” reaction to feminist arguments. No, all men are not misogynists, but, yes, all women are familiar with it and, thus, act accordingly.
Dating and Marriage
Today, it’s still more expected that a man will ask a woman out on a date and that he will pay for it, rather than the reverse. If you ask a man why he does it, he will probably say something like he’s being respectful and courteous, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Go, respect and courtesy.
But not expecting women to do the same harks back to the days when women didn’t work and, thus, had no money. A man paying for dinner is “respectful,” while a woman paying for dinner is “modern” and “independent.” She’s defined by going against what society expects, not by an expression of courtesy.
Marriages are still commonly paid for by the bride’s family (or by the couple themselves). Most people don’t even blink at that division of financial responsibility between the families of the bride and groom.
You know what we used to call wealth given by the bride’s family? A dowry.
And most women continue to take their husband’s family name (myself included, although Jerry and I discussed a variety of options on the matter). In many cultures, women are partially or entirely under the authority of a male relative, and that is reflected in the passing and exchange of names. A girl was under the authority of her father. Thus, she carried his name. When she married, authority and responsibility transferred to her husband. She left one family to join another; she lost one name and gained another.
Today, some women choose to keep their family name, or they hyphenate their name. A very few couples have both bride and groom take the same hyphenated name. But I’ve never, ever heard of a man taking a woman’s name.
I’m not saying a man should. I’m not saying these practices are necessarily derogatory today. I am saying we should be aware of why we do it and from where the traditions come.
The Uptight Woman
A woman who refuses the advances of men might be accused of being uptight (sometimes with the suggested solution of getting laid to correct the problem). A man in the same situation might be called…well, actually, we don’t really have a term for that. There’s something wrong with a discerning woman, and, thus, it should be fixed. Says one satirical commenter on the #YesForWomen trend:
Men might be hesitant because they’ve gotten out of an unpleasant relationship. Women might be hesitant because of the reality that poisonous cookies exist, and many of us even know one.
Also, maybe we just don’t want a fucking cookie today.
Nature of Sex and Rape
When women claim to have been raped, there are always those who question whether it was really rape or just “buyers’ remorse” or even petty vindictiveness.
Now, imagine a man being raped. Do you think he’d go through the same scrutiny? I doubt it. And if you for an explanation of the lack of suspicion, they might say rape is just too shameful for a man to make up.
Do people really believe women are not deeply ashamed about rape? It’s unfortunate enough that women are embarrassed about being the victim of a crime. But for us to ignore that shame slithers back to historical stereotypes of women being creatures whose base needs include an endless desire for sex, including illicit sex.
While women have much more control over their sex lives today than in many periods of history, society still makes judgements about those who have had or currently has numerous partners. We call them sluts and whores.
Men who have had many partners are playas. We don’t have male terms that equate with “slut”, and we don’t accuse men of being gigolos, which is the male version of a whore i.e. a prostitute. Men brag about their conquests…and in this context we’re still calling them “conquests.”
When’s the last time you’ve heard of a woman and her “conquests”?
Teaching Boys that No Means No
Lately, there’s been a campaign to teach boys “no means no,” that consent is not automatic, and that when a woman says no, she’s means it rather than “playing hard to get” or any of the other excuses offered.
Yes, people (men and women) need to understand that none of us have rights over other people. But tailoring the campaign to boys highlights an ugly divide between the sexes. We excuse bad behavior as “boys will be boys,” but no one says “girls will be girls.” Clearly, society has been telling boys that consent is something to be presumed and that “no” doesn’t really mean no: if it hasn’t, there would be no need to address it.
A high school teacher one day warned our class about boys not understanding “no” because boys will be boys. Sexual behavior is like cookies, so the analogy went. Boys are surrounded by cookies but are constantly told they can’t have any. So, if you give them permission to have one cookie, that’s going their break their avoid-cookie willpower, and they’ll want to demand all the other cookies.
So, basically, if your date gets overly sexually aggressive, you were kind of asking for it. This was the message delivered to 15-year-olds in a public school in 1990. (My friends and I responded by anonymously leaving a bag of homemade cookies on his desk. We might have even put messages like “kiss” and “hug” on them…you know, those things that will apparently tell your date it’s OK to take all the cookies.)
Chew on that cookie for a while.