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Thursday 8 March 2007

Blog against sexism Day

Today is blog against sexism day 2007. (Un)coincidentally, it's also International Women's day.

Blogging against sexism is as obvious as blogging in favor of breathing. Sexism sucks. I think all civilized humans can agree on that. But if we all agree, why does it still exist pretty much everywhere? And what exactly do we mean by sexism anyway?

I think a lot of people view sexism in much the same way as they misunderstand racism. (White) people have the mistaken idea that racism is an emotion. In this view, racists hate black people. But let's look at Strom Thurmond. This guy had an affair with a black woman and had a daughter by her and made sure to look out for his daughter during his entire life. It's possible that he loved his mistress and his daughter. Similarly, many sexist men love their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters too. Heck, I love my dog. For real. She's great. The best dog ever. No where near my equal in anyway, and possibly an emergency food source in the case of horrible disaster, but I love her.

My mother loved me. She thought she was doing me a favor by giving me a bunch of chores (and she was, but she wasn't doing my brother the same favor . . . nor my dad). I had to wash dishes and clean bathrooms and vacuum and do normal kid-level household chores. But I complained, because my chores were ongoing whereas my brother got to do fun things like mow the lawn - which only needed doing once a week. My mother explained that when I got married, I would be responsible for all the cleaning and cooking and she was trying to prepare me. Because men and women have different roles in life, or did when she came up, pre second wave feminism.

Obviously, emotions like love and hate are related to sexism only in extreme cases. So sexism isn't an emotion. What is it then? It's both personal and systematic. Both reinforce and propagate each other. Personally, it's gender essentialism. The belief that women have some sort of distinct role. The lowering of their horizons. Binary oppositions invite ranking and comparisons. When you create an essentialist gender binary, you put one group over the other and then compare them. Women lose every time. That's systematic sexism casting it's ugly shadow. When you set women on one course and men on another, men win and women lose.

Systematically, it's the organization of society in such a manner as to favor men at the expense of women. Now some of you might be thinking to themselves that not all differences between men and women are socially constructed. Cisgender men don't get pregnant, but cisgender women do. Well, that's true. But the huge life-time earnings hit that American women take from getting pregnant is a social decision and thus is constructed. As is health insurance not covering birth control. As is women doing most of the labor in the world but men owning most of the resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN states, "Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world's food production . . .." But "[n]ot even 2 percent of land is owned by women . . .." and "[f]or the countries where information is available, only 10 percent of credit allowances are extended to women . . ." while at the same time "[t]wo-thirds of the one billion illiterate in the world are women and girls." The list goes on, but it's depressing. ( )

In the US, women do most of the household chores and tend to earn less than men. Household chores are labor, although unpaid. But why do women earn less? Because they tend to be in fields that pay less than men. Why do these fields pay less? Because there are women in them.

More and more men are becoming nurses. The pay is rising. The prestige of the job is growing. When computers were first invented, software was an afterthought. The hardware was cool. The first programmers were all mathematicians who had to program extremely head-warping algorithms to compute stuff. It was much harder than it is today. But it was low status. Almost all of the first programmers were women. Gradually, engineers started to realize that the software was more important than the hardware. As programming became more socially important, the number of women declined in relation to the number of men. Now some folks wonder if maybe there's a math-based biological bias that makes women unsuited to programming. Try again. It was Grace Hopper who invented the idea of high-level computer programming languages (and Cobol and Fortran).

Ok, so there's a wide social bias that sees women as inferior, forces them to do more labor and yet keeps them in low economic rungs. And maybe the US isn't "ready" for a woman president. And this is a worldwide problem. So what to do about it?

1. Make healthcare free. Cover contraception, abortion and prenatal care. Cover everything.

2. Paid maternity and paternity leave. Free childcare. Allow flexible work schedules. Shorter work schedules too. 40 hours a week is unreasonable. 2 weeks of vacation a year is absurd.

3. Free education. As high as you want to go and can go.

4. Mentorship. Match women, POC and other minorities with more experienced people in their field, who can help them navigate their way up. Also, start this mentoring early, maybe in college or even before.

5. Recordkeeping and outreach. You should know whether or not your place of business or university is reflecting the diversity of your region. If it's not, then it's time to do some outreach. Send out representatives from your company into the community, to job fairs to schools. Pick representatives who reflect the diversity that you are trying to mirror.

6. Consciousness Raising. How are things divided up in your own, personal life? Is it fair? Does it reflect exterior income inequalities? See your household income as joint rather than seeing incomes as separate. Separate incomes mean that the lower paid person might be pressured to quit or go part time in order to economize on paid services. This has lifelong repercussions on earning ability. (see Do you see women as having different roles than men? What? Why?

These suggestions would benefit the majority of people in the US. Free healthcare helps everybody. Changing work-related penalties for having kids helps everybody. Free education benefits everybody. It's an error to see this as a zero sum game. As our fearless leader says, we can grow the pie higher.

These changes create opportunity for women (and other folks) while removing penalties unfairly placed upon women. It moves childcare from the realm of chore to the realm of paid labor, thus increasing the economic participation of caregivers. This isn't a complete list, but it's a start.

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