Sexism, Bullying, and Devaluation of Women by Women
February 1st, 2014
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Senator Rand Paul argued against the so-called “War on Women” and Hillary Clinton’s qualifications to become the next president of the United States by attacking Bill Clinton’s infidelities.
Women know these arguments all too well; the fight against laws denying women recognition of existence separate and different from fathers, husbands, even sons form the core of women’s movements around the world and across centuries. From the dawn of American history and stretching back centuries before, thousands of pages of women’s history tell the tale of women’s efforts to be recognized as full and equal human beings, history rarely even taught in our schools.
One of the most damaging arguments in western cultures argues that a woman’s value as a person, her character, and her professional abilities are defined by her appearance. We see this music, television, and films when female performers (including “extras” in music videos) feel compelled to wear as little as possible and behave as sexually suggestive as possible in order to attain “success.” We see this in the way we evaluate athletes like British gymnast Beth Tweddle are labelled as “ugly” or criticized for not being sexy enough.
I’ve recently experienced this same sexism in remarks made to a recent article I wrote about the inner transformation I’ve found by making some small changes to my looks.
The consensus: the quality of my writing, professional success, and personal worthiness as a human being has everything to do with my looks (hair, makeup, clothing) and little if anything to do with my education, my talent, and my personal accomplishments.
None of these scathing remarks bother to look at the underlying message of the piece: that the smallest change to your appearance affords the opportunity to change how you look at the world. Instead, the focus sits on which cosmetic changes I made. Or put another way: surface over substance.
I am not bothered by these remarks as such. People are entitled to their opinions. But it speaks volumes to me that one or more people are willing to equate my worthiness as a human being and talent based entirely or almost entirely on what amounts to a haircut and my first attempts to apply makeup.
This is sexism in its most basic and often vicious form. Sadly, it is almost the rule in our culture and not the exception. From preoccupation with the shoes and clothes worn by women in Congress to the way we label professional women according to how “hot” they look to the prevalence of bullying women of all ages over hair, makeup, fashion, weight, and body shape, we as women are rarely judged by our inner persons.
What is perhaps more alarming is the way we women are the first ones to judge and bully based on appearance. The trolls who equate my professional worthiness with the way my hair looked on one day when I was not spending much time styling it are not men — but women.
If we as women are the first to bully and demean, how can we expect men to see us as more than just sexual objects? As Elizabeth Cady Stanton put it, “We are the only class in history that has been left to fight its battles alone, unaided by the ruling powers. White labor and the freed black men had their champions, but where are ours?”
We have the world we want to live in. We create it by our attitudes, our beliefs, and our actions.
But we can change this world with a single thought: I/we are not less human, not less worthy of love, success, and happiness than anyone else.
Perhaps one of the most empowering quotes of all comes from Mohadesa Najumi which I saw on one Facebook wall proclaiming, “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”
Live by this mantra, my friend. For we can and must do better.