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Sexism and My 'Truman Show' Moment That We All Need to Have

The usual spate of year-in-review articles by the media has made it clear that 2014 was a great year for feminism. Note: It was a great year for feminism, not necessarily a great year for women.
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The usual spate of year-in-review articles by the media has made it clear that 2014 was a great year for feminism.

Note: It was a great year for feminism, not necessarily a great year for women.

2014 was the year of leaning in, the year of #YesAllWomen, the year of Beyonce, Laverne Cox, Emma Watson, Niki Minaj, and T-Swift, Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Long Live Notorious RGB), Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and all of their respective flavors of feminism. The year we refused to sweep domestic violence under the rug. The year of Title IX. Plus, we kicked off 2015 with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Golden Globes.

But 2014 was also the year of the Isla Vista killings, Hobby Lobby, and 70 new abortion restrictions. The Paycheck Fairness Act did not pass for the fourth time, and women are still not guaranteed equal rights in the U.S. Constitution. Online, it was the year of Gamergate, and a celebrity nude leak that turned a large majority of the country into sex offenders. Oh, and leggings were banned in schools.

In short, 2014 was the year we acknowledged sexism and feminism, but didn't really do anything progressive about it.

Let's make 2015 the year we finally take action.

Take action? How?! you may be asking yourself.

I have a few suggestions on how to make 2015 a better year for gender equality.

But first, let me regale you with a (relatively) short story:

(Or you can just skip to the bottom, you sound-byte ninnies.)

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a lass known as "the feminist one," but it had not always been that way.

For the first 20 years of my life I did not notice the social troll known as sexism living in my closet. Not to say I was completely oblivious. The men at my first job (age 15) had nicknamed me "Sophie the Trophy." I had taken a Gender Studies course at McGill, where "Killing Us Softly" and "Miss Representation" were part of the curriculum. I had weathered my fair share of sexist digs.

But the concept that sexism actively affected me in very real ways was, by and large, foreign.

That all changed when my good friend Bridget explained to me the "Schrodinger's Rapist" theory, and I read the original post in full. This is what I call my "Truman Show" moment.

Much like how Truman was tipped off by one small detail that made him cognizant to many more small details which ultimately reshaped how he perceived his reality, Schrodinger's Rapist was my feminist catalyst.

This line in particular:

"Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is."

Never before had it occurred to me that the burdens of personal safety I undertook on a daily basis were actually female burdens of safety.

While men don't necessarily have it easier, women definitely have it harder.

How does that logic work? Something like this:

Little things like texting a quick "home safe" confirmation to friends, bringing my drink with me into the bathroom stall, checking the backseat of my car before getting in -- these were all things I thought everyone did. And then I asked around and found out that none of my guy friends bothered with those precautions.

These small details that pepper my daily routine -- driving five minutes to my bus stop so I don't have to walk alone in the dark, wearing earbuds with no music so I can hear my surroundings -- essentially what women do to stay safe (and what men don't do) because of our gender became strikingly obvious in my new state of Femlightenment.

Hungry to understand, I started reading feminist blogs, and the "women" section of the news (a section that I had previously avoided because I thought it would be full of baby stuff).

The next "big" detail that really began to rub me the wrong way was the "male as default" phenomenon: The idea that it's a man's world, and it is women that must adapt to this landscape accordingly.

For example, linguistically, "mankind," "man," and "guys" are all perfectly acceptable ways to refer to humans, "women included" going unsaid.

But vocabulary is the fluffy, "privileged, white, first-world feminism" stuff, as critics like to say.

And the "male as default" phenomenon is not fluffy, it is downright dangerous.

Male is the default in the car industry, with automotive companies using only male crash test dummies, despite the obvious fact that women drive cars too. This raised the risk of moderate injury for women in car crashes by an astounding 71 percent, and the risk of serious injury or death by 47 percent. And we only realized this in fucking 2011. New requirements for female crash dummies were not put into place until 2012 (read more here). Shit like this is unacceptable.

Male is also the default in drug research, with scientists using only male test subjects in animal trials, and a heavy bias towards men in human trials. "Researchers avoided using female animals for fear that their reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations would confound the results of delicately calibrated experiments." This reasoning is curious, as female humans also have reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations, but experimental drug trials will often be administered to women without ever being tested on female animals first. In other news, men continue to avoid period-stuff like the plague. To absolutely nobody's surprise, women experience higher rates of adverse drug reactions than men.

This is when I realized sexism was an active effort, rather than a passive "this is how it's always been" shrug. It is so much more than a shrug.

Sexism defies logic. Even though women are better adapted for work in isolated and confined spaces such as submarines and spaceships (women used less oxygen, required less food, and produce less waste), they continue to face systematic barriers to joining the ranks of astronauts and submariners. (Additional sources here, here, andhere.)

Sexism defies capitalism. Even though a revealing study showed that companies perform better financially with more women in leadership positions, only 14.6 percent of executive officers in the 500 highest-grossing American companies are women.

You know when that typical jerkoff says, "If the gender pay gap exists and we can pay women less, then why don't companies only hire women?" just reply, "Because sexism trumps capitalism, asshole."

It seems like the only thing that beats sexism is good ol' racism. But that's a topic for a different day.

Anyways, the more I learned about the pervasiveness of sexism, and feminist theory, the more I started talking about it. For a long time I was afraid of being the "obnoxious feminist" every time I spoke up. I'm sure many people do think that of me. That's ok. Because something unexpected started to happen:

It started rubbing off on the people around me.

A few months ago a friend excitedly called me to let me know that at her waitressing job an old man tried to pay her by reaching to put bills down the front of her shirt. Rather than giggling it off, she turned away with a flat "no", and walked away.

"I thought of you," she said.

I had also started interrupting my guy friends' sports banter whenever they used "raped" in place of "dominated" or "won" or "triumph" (because really, when you think about it, how fucked up is that?).

It would go like this:

"Holy shizzle, did you see that game? The Seahawks RAPED the 49ers!"

"Could you use a different word, other than raped?"

"Oh yeah, sorry."

That's really all it takes. If the dudes in your life are decent people, they will apologize and use a different word.

Sometimes it takes a few times to stick. If my friends use "raped" again -- it seems fairly common in the context of sports -- I'll take it a bit further.

"Oh my gawd, they raped in that play!"

"Hey! did you realize that 1 in 6 women have been raped, and there are 12 in this room?"

Watching the most recent Seahawks game, I overhead a friend start to say "raped" -- only to stop and self-correct without any prompt. To me, that was more exciting than the touchdown.

Which brings me to my one suggestion for improving gender equality in 2015:

Talk about it. Talk about sexism.

Acknowledge it.

All of it.

Even the stuff that you disagree with.

It's been a slow process, but over the past year I've seen my friends - of all genders - stand up against sexism with increasing frequency, due to their increased awareness.

None of this is limited to female-centric problems. Men should, of course, feel free to speak up about their gender-specific problems too, because the road goes both ways. Sexism is solved by women and men speaking up and raising awareness to their gendered issues that would otherwise go unacknowledged.

Acknowledgement is a pretty low bar, by the way. It's the least we can do.

Sexism in developed countries is not one thing we can easily point fingers at, like Saudi's driving ban, or FGM, or forced veiling. Rather, sexism in first-world countries is an aggregation of small details.

Likewise, the solution to sexism is going to be an aggregation of small details.

Change the discourse, change the culture.

Here's my easy, anybody-can-do-it short list of things you can do in 2015:
  • Practice compassion and actively put yourself in others' shoes. Often I stop and think "this would (or wouldn't) be a problem if I was a man." And likewise, it would behoove men to sometimes stop and consider "this would be a problem if I was a woman."

  • Stop over-sexualizing breasts. Don't freak out and complain when a woman breastfeeds in public.
  • Listen and believe women when they tell you something. Like the fact that we don't like cat-calling. Or the 30 women accusing Cosby. That is either the most elaborate hoax ever, or... you know... true.
  • Believe rape victims of any gender. Victims of violent rapes experience less PTSD that victims of non-violent rapes, because survivors with physical evidence are more likely to be believed. It is that important.
  • Down with revenge porn! Don't take or share explicit photos without consent. Delete that shit and tell whoever shared it that s/he's a grade-A asswipe.
  • And stop fucking using the word "girl" to describe fully grown women.