Feminism February: Prejudice is a Thing

It’s time for another round of Feminism February, where our distinguished panelists answer my questions with a ridiculously short word count (which, for writers, is cruel and unusual punishment).

For those of you new to this series, you can take a look at past discussions on Disney princesses and stereotypes of Christian women.

Before moving on to the question, I want to say that this post is not meant to be seen as women complaining about stuff. A more helpful way to read it, I think, is a reminder that we do not always give other people’s stories and struggles the respect we should. (For more detail on that, read this post.)

When I read these answers, I immediately thought of all the ways I create my own “us” vs. “them” situations. I had flashbacks to the times I’ve shut down conversations by, basically, telling people they were just wrong and I was right so that settles it. I was reminded of the little ways that I don’t love people as well as I should. This is not necessarily a fun realization. But it’s important, especially because, as Christians, the #1 distinguishing mark of our faith should be our love for each other. Considering questions like this, I think, is a great place to start.

Also known as the "crazy woman driver" phenomenon.

Also known as the “crazy women drivers” phenomenon.

Here’s the question of the hour: How would you respond to someone who said that women don’t really face prejudice anymore—in fact, in our male-bashing media, men are often the ones who are unfairly stereotyped?

 

PaulaWell, I would first suggest that female and male stereotypes in media are two sides of the same coin: if we make fun of dads because they obviously can’t change diapers, it’s because we assume that moms, being the domestic ones, obviously could. Gender-based stereotypes have negative consequences for everyone—men and women.

There are several things I would bring up, but I’ll just bring up three: first, if we look at this issue from a global perspective, the idea that women no longer suffer for their gender simply doesn’t hold water—I think our Nobel Peace Prize co-winner could speak to that better than I could.

Second, just because it is no longer considered fashionable or politically correct to hold a certain viewpoint doesn’t mean that the consequences are no longer a very real part of our society. Widespread ideologies stick.

Finally, I think it’s important to recognize that saying, “You have benefited from a system of privilege” is not the same as saying, “You’re a racist/misogynist/all-around-evil person.” It simply means that you can and do have an important role in changing that system—as do we all. We’re all on the same team here—and that means being open to hearing each other’s stories.

– Paula W.

For more from Paula, visit the blog she contributes to, The PWR Lounge.

 

MelissaFeminism will never eradicate prejudice against women. It is not going to happen. Fortunately for many of us, Western women do enjoy many equal benefits of our male counterparts. Some of us are so fortunate that neither we nor anyone we know has ever been subjected to gender-based prejudice.

However, personal experience (or lack thereof) does not translate to universal truth. There are still women, in our country and others, faced with rejection and oppression because they are female. Our society has taken many strides toward cultural equality and, it seems, most of the population believes strongly that no one should face prejudice based on gender (or race, or religion for that matter). But it still exists in all of these realms. And it always will.

Does this mean that the women’s rights movement has failed? Not really. Prejudice will always exist because we will always be fallen human beings. We will always seek to make issues into Us vs. Them. Some people will always judge others on the basis of some outward difference.

Unfortunately the same sin that leads to prejudice also leads to objectification, dehumanization, and stereotyping. And the feminist movement has not escaped this trend. Therefore, we do have unfair stereotypes and objectification of men in the media. We haven’t erased it from women, we’ve simply added men to the mix.  We’ve successfully taken at least one step forward and at least one step back.

– Melissa J.

For more from Melissa, visit her website, mgimagery.com.

 

TaylorWhew, this is a big one I still wrestle with. Emma Watson summed it up nicely in her UN speech in saying both men and women can feel “imprisoned by gender stereotypes.” It’s a natural reaction to focus on the sexism shown to women in even recent history, but it’s also a (possibly equal) disservice to characterize all white, middle class, middle-aged males as misogynists. (In fact, several white, middle class, middle-aged males were catalysts in me realizing I identified with many feminist ideals.)

I recognize any gender-based discrimination I have or will face in America is probably not as extreme as in many other places, but I’m not going to pretend prejudice doesn’t exist here either. One issue I care very much about is the portrayal of the women in the media, from extensive Photoshop “magic” to objectification from the male “gaze.” (This infographic sums up women’s frequent nudity and lack of speaking roles in movies well.) Advertising, entertainment, and the arts reflect cultural values, which means a large segment of ours finds women’s value solely in their bodies, which creates dangerous expectations for women and doesn’t treat them as whole people. So, um, yes—we still face prejudice.

– Taylor B.

For more from Taylor, visit her blog, Crowd vs. Critic.

 

RuthieOur media has a way of stereotyping everyone, whether they are men or women. Men haven’t escaped this tendency, but women are still definitely stereotyped as well. Our media has a disturbing way of valuing and using women for their physical beauty. Only a few days ago, I sat with a group of friends watching the Super Bowl, and at the beginning of each commercial, we tried to guess what the ad was selling. It was hard to do, because every ad was so similar. Beautiful women were used to sell cars, beer, lingerie, and more. As long as our media views women as objects, I think it will continue to be extremely difficult for women to be completely valued as whole people.

Overall, in our society, women may be better respected now than they were a hundred years ago, but that doesn’t mean all prejudice has disappeared – we still have thousands of years of history of prejudice against women to overcome. Prejudice may be harder to identify today, however, because I think it looks different. Women in our society are no longer told they can only be wives and mothers, but instead that they can be whatever they want to be. However, less than a third of doctors and engineers are women, and those women who are in those fields are still paid significantly less than their male peers. Clearly, some sort of prejudice still exists.

– Ruthie B.

For more from Ruthie, visit her blog, Stories that Bind.

LizThe fact that there is a question illustrates the fact that prejudice is so ingrained that even well-meaning people don’t notice it. Two-hundred words cannot cover all the instances of gaslighting, stereotyping, shaming, and objectifying that women face. It’s so embedded in our culture that we hardly notice it—the way “like a girl” is insulting and women face a wage gap. Maybe men suffer from male-bashing and stereotyping, but unlike women, they are not told it’s the product of their own hysteria, and their problems cannot negate the much more ubiquitous prejudice that women face.

The recent #YesAllWomen movement tried to expose some problems. So eager to be acquitted of guilt, the #NotAllMen response essentially said, “I didn’t do it; it’s not a problem.” Prejudice is men silencing cries for help. It’s media’s imperatives telling us our bodies are for men and to accept sexual harassment as complimentary. It’s fat shaming and skinny shaming and rumours, if we succeed, that we must have slept our way to the top. It’s teaching girls self-defense because boys don’t learn self-control. It’s our culture saying that prejudice was demolished in 1920 because we got the right to vote.

– Elizabeth S.

For more from Elizabeth, visit her blog, Everyday Terrors.

DianaI’m not a fan of anyone being stereotyped. I would agree that many elements of media representation of both women and men deserve critique. Yet the reality is that cisgender, white males wield enormous privilege.* This acknowledgement does not mean all men suck—they don’t. It also doesn’t mean that I hate men—I don’t. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that society is broken.

Historically, men have often been the only ones represented, the only ones with the power to tell the story. While trend seems to be shifting, it would be naive and untrue to assume we’ve “arrived.”

In conversations like these, I think it’s valuable to move from the general to the specific. In at attempt to do that myself, here are some examples of prejudice, discrimination, and/or violence against women in the media over the last year or so:

Of course, this list is subjective and short, but perhaps it gives us a place to begin.

*A privilege that is neutral in and of itself; it’s in the application of this privilege that power gains potential to be abused or harnessed for good.

– Diana M.

For more from Diana, follow her on Twitter (@dianameakem), or visit her blog, Wordflow.

So here’s a question: if prejudice against women exists on a widespread, cultural scale…what can/should we as individuals do about it, both men and women?

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