Saturday, January 3, 2015

Social Justice Saturday: Power and Sexism

Spiral Staircase
This is a hard post to write. Maybe because it makes me sound like a baby. Or maybe because it makes me vulnerable. But I think the new year is a time to put it out there. Without going into detail, I this past year I have been extremely aware of how I'm repeatedly the victim of sexism. It makes me feel hurt, angry, and confused. One of the worst things about it is that it is sometimes members of the younger generation, males and females, who are guilty. I thought (hoped) that sexism was a thing of the past for young men and women. Not so.

I grew up in a family, actually an era, where sexism was a daily occurrence. I remember when women finally broke into news casting. Two of our network affiliates in Los Angeles hired women as local news anchors - Connie Chung (who went on to fame) and Sandy Hill (who did not). Each and every time one of them faltered in their presentation, I clearly remember my father exclaiming, "That's why women shouldn't be doing the news!" As if the men never made a mistake. As if their jobs were a threat to him personally. Any area where women were finally given a more level playing field, I heard harsh criticism or nay-saying from people around me. Title IX, giving female students equal access to sports in school? The response was "Why would any woman want to participate in [fill in the blank activity]? Fast forward and you'll see how many - plus sports is often a way for low income women to go to college on scholarship. Yet somehow these advances were viewed as "wrong." The fact that females were treated differently bothered me, even as a child. It spoke to my sense of fairness (or lack thereof).

This post from Elizabeth Hall Magill (who writes the Yo Mamma blog) really resonates with me. Magill writes about the difficulties of being female in a male-dominated society, about the struggle between our inner and the outer worlds and how the power of the outer world affects the inner world of the other, the female. She writes:
A sexist society—a patriarchy—relies on the manipulation of both kinds of power, so that those who are said to be inferior will not believe otherwise, and will not try to change the external conditions of their lives. Living the spiral as a woman in a patriarchy means you are constantly attempting to bring your best self into the world while fighting a barrage of messages that tell you it is futile, as your best self doesn’t measure up.  Now that’s a mind game, my friends.  One with both personal and political consequences.
That is why it's difficult to have this conversation - and to bring one's best self into the world. (And that is why, much to my shame, I find myself behaving in sexist ways at times.) Since society tells women that we're less than, we believe it. We believe that our feelings are trivial, that we blow things out of proportion, that we're too sensitive - all because we're told to believe these lies. So if we remain silent, we suffer internal turmoil. But if we speak truth to power, we're a b*tch. But that's not true. We are being marginalized and we should feel hurt and angry.

So what to do with this Catch-22 - we're damned if we do, damned if we don't? Although I'm not sure how I will resolve my situation, I just know I'm tired of the mind games. And I know that, as a start, I will hold Magill's words close to my heart:
Living the spiral—owning our internal power while working to bring our best selves into the external world despite the barriers against it—requires balance, awareness, and sensitivity. I’ve come to think of navigating the spiral as a dance. Sometimes, I stumble: I believe the messages of patriarchy and seek validation outside myself, or allow doubt to define my internal perspective. But I’ve gotten pretty good at catching myself and beginning again, this time while standing in my own power. Each time I do so, I remember [Gloria] Steinem’s assertion about navigating our power:  “Progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”
When we remember this, we make choices that allow our internal power to serve as our compass, creating a true revolution from within—a shift in perspective in which external power is a manifestation of internal power, rather than the other way around.  Now that is progress indeed. 
Although I'm happy to see the progress that has been made over my lifetime, there's much more work to be done.


Aimee said...

Fantastic post and you should write more of this! That's why that Steinem quote I put up this weekend really spoke to me - getting madder as we get older rather than more subdued, and that's a good thing!! For me it's interesting looking at having a child in my 40's for the first time as when I was younger I wouldn't have thought about this nearly as much, and like you, I find myself so utterly frustrated. The "rape culture" poetry video I posted up on Tuesday kind of said it all as to what is being tolerated in pop culture these days and really, the more we post this stuff and how we see it, the more self-aware we become and can inform others.

I remember when Katie Couric got the evening news and she felt obligated to change who she was to adapt to the format because god forbid she be herself - they wanted her to assume the male newscaster type of role rather than forge her own way. I liked seeing a woman in the role, and liked seeing Diane Sawyer up there for her short time as well. It's unnerving to think about how 2015-2016 will be in men trying to destroy Hillary Clinton because of her gender. Everything is about how she dresses or how "old" she is or what her latest hairstyle is like. Whether we vote for her or not is irrelevant, as women we have to stick up for each other and demand respect because if we don't, no one else will. We're told our whole lives to not speak up, to not stand out, to be "good girls" and "collaborate" rather than be big and loud and awesomely ourselves.

Your post is a great step in pushing those societal norms to the side and saying THIS is who I am, THIS is what I stand for, THIS is my legacy.

Thank you for your words!!

Cherie said...

Aimee, thanks for your encouragement. It's really a struggle to balance what we want to be and are as women and what the "world" says is acceptable. It was Magill's post in Yo Mama that made me say "Yes - THIS!"

I just read an article about job performance reviews that you might find interesting: