Casual Sexism

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I saw an image on Facebook today where a doctor is advising a patient who doesn’t feel well and doesn’t know why. The doctor recommends meditation, exercise, a balanced diet, getting back to nature and to stop worrying about things you can’t control. Seems like good advice yet it struck me as fundamentally wrong.

The doctor was an older white male; the patient was a young woman. One wonders if a young female doctor would give the same advice to an older man. Would he listen even if she did? Why didn’t the doctor say at the end of his advice — and we’ll do some blood work and an ultrasound to make sure everything is okay?

Essentially the doctor has told the women that her symptoms are an illusion and her problems are all in her head. He is also saying that her health is unimportant to him. This casual sexism is found throughout daily life. It is so pervasive that we often don’t even notice it. Yet, studies have shown that these biases are probably killing women.

Overt sexism is obvious and is hardly worth discussing or arguing about. Men’s Rights Movements are usually puerile. Those that are violently misogynist are a fringe group — a dangerous one, it is true and possibly more of an immediate threat than terrorists in faraway lands. But their arguments are fairly transparent and easily disproven.

Overt sexism has been a target for progressive people for over a hundred years. It started with the suffragettes who faced the same (only much more extreme) abuse that feminists have always faced — death and rape threats were only implied because it was a more ‘civil’ time but they were there nonetheless. Imprisonment and police action against protests were not uncommon.

Still, women got the vote and have gradually taken their place beside men in all aspects of western society. There is a way to go in legislative bodies and corporate boardrooms but progress is being made and in some countries it is hardly an issue anymore.

Yet, implicit sexism still underlies much of our society. The continual denigration of women’s stories about rape culture is one example. Sexism in the professions that discount women’s experiences as being as valid as those of men is another. It has real consequences in the daily lives of both women and men. Sexism still governs our views of what issues are really important versus those that are only peripheral.

We see this even in as simple a thing as the debate over the wearing of religious symbols. It is always assumed that women are forced to wear the Niqab because they don’t have the strength to choose for themselves. When have you ever heard someone say that Orthodox men are forced to have untrimmed beards or wear their hair in pe’ots? You don’t hear it and you never will. Because men are always assumed to have agency. The fight never ends and none of us should stay silent in the face of casual sexism, racism, homophobia and the denial of equal human rights.

But that’s ten minutes.

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