I knew sexism was a part of the American fabric. I grew up in it, I’ve adapted to it, I was totally accepting of that fact. However, upon visiting some countries in which gender isn’t valued the same, I was so willing to accept sexism in all its extremes out of concern I was unwittingly throwing shades of foreign judgement.
I maintained that criticism of a country was a criticism of another culture, which was not my place as a foreigner. I will accept the lower social status as a female, tolerate the sexual harassments, and respectively try to assert myself, and move on at the end. It’s not like I would have to tolerate this “extreme” sexism when I leave. And mind you, this position was quite hard to sustain. I’ve got my butt glazed over then immediately witnessed the assailant full on cup my friend’s cheek in front of me. I have been harassed on my way to the airport at 5am by a kid on a bike who wouldn’t leave me alone until I told him my age. I’ve been cat-called and whistled at in languages I couldn’t even identify. My hair has been grabbed by a drunk bystander, and I’ve been groped on a plane by my seat neighbor. But at the end of the day, I was returning to America. I could leave.
My run-ins with sexual harassment do not pale in comparison to the forms of gender oppression that local women can receive. Complete lack of participation in workforces which makes them completely financially dependent on males, arranged marriages by their parents (not uncommonly to much older men), no access to birth control not to mention basic sanitary products like pads or tampons, increased incidences and general acceptance of domestic violence–I am very privileged to be able to return to these rights that many of my sisters don’t have.
When I returned, I was grateful for an extra thick layer to my security jackets (although I still shiver at night). But then I went to Minnesota to visit family and was bombarded with body manipulation commercial after body mutilation commercial. Liposuction, extreme dieting fads, weight loss pills–everything that expresses: (mostly targeted at females’) bodies can’t just be accepted. I then went down to Los Angeles for a month and was introduced to the gender discrepancy and forms of sexism that the film industry upholds. I see the credits scroll by dozens of men’s name before the first female name is listed in the credits. I scroll through Netflix dodging male protagonist after male protagonist (there are even fewer women of color or members of the queer community that threaten to disrupt the sea of peen).
Yes, it has been getting better over the years. But to stumble across a movie on Netflix in which Seth Rogan playing the protagonist rapes his drunk colleague, Emma Stone, during the movie, and I’m guessing suffers no repercussions as he pursues his dream of becoming a cop (couldn’t finish the movie so now I’m assuming) illustrates that rape culture is still being promoted by the film and media industry. Yes, the movie is old, but it shouldn’t be up improperly educating young men how to treat drunk women.
Now, I’m not just crying over women. The sexism and gender oppression are deeply tied in with toxic masculinity that hurts men too. Jake Nevins, a columnist for The Guardian, writes: “on-screen examinations of men and masculinity have tended toward hagiography, subtly and not-so-subtly reinforcing patriarchal notions about how to be a man.” These notions often include assumptions that men have to be the breadwinner of the household, values that physical strength is the best measure of human quality, and interactions with phrases like “men don’t cry”. This is harmful to men who don’t fit the presented male mold and who are shunned from properly expressing their emotions due to societal judgement.
I returned from extreme gender oppression to America to find sexism pouring into the top of our funnel of culture while we graciously swallow its message.
Despite my grapplings over my acceptance of sexism and gender oppression [what a fucking sentence], two things stuck in my mind: 1) I am (and likely others are) willing to accept forms of gender oppression because its foreign; and 2) as long as sexism exists someplace, it will exist every place. We might not be suffering the atrocities that a significant portion of women face around the world, but we shouldn’t be complacent with the sexism funnel or structural gender discrimination either.