I’ve noticed over the last five years or so that my rage is quicker to ignite when I see sexism in social media or the news. The swirl around Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg because they’re women irritates me. It’s 2013 – why are there so few women CEOs that there’s so much curiosity about them? And why do we always talk about their looks? Why does it matter if a woman CEO is pretty? I don’t remember anyone looking at James McNerney, Robert Nardelli, and Jeffrey Immelt when they were in the running to take over for Jack Welch at GE and wondering whether any of them were handsome enough for the job. I don’t remember their looks coming up as a topic at all.
I experience rage when I hear about the misogyny that seems to be rampant in the gamer and technology worlds, where the “cognoscenti” hold assumptions about the inferior skills and abilities of women that are ridiculous holdovers from five decades ago. The casual acceptance of these attitudes and the false beliefs that underlie them exacerbate that rage.
I had the chance to catch up with a dear friend of mine from 10th grade. She was a debate buddy, and she started college as a liberal arts major but found herself drawn to computer science. Her degrees are in math and computer science, and she has an MBA from Harvard. She told me that one of the recruiters from her first post-MBA employer told her that HR department everywhere are finding it difficult to find women candidates of the same caliber as my friend and our contemporaries. There’s been a decrease in the numbers of women going into science, technology, engineering, and math since the 1990s.
Ashley’s theory is that as a society, we’re sexualizing girls earlier than we used to; I can see that. The racy outfits from my high school days in the late 1980s wouldn’t cause a nun to blink today. I knew that classmates were drinking and doing drugs, but I never heard anything coming close to a rainbow party, and for the most part, couples that were making out were long-time couples.
I don’t know if that’s the entire cause, though, and I wonder if there’s something else going on.
I was at a conference earlier this week where I caught up with several male acquaintances. After we got updates on where everyone was and what everyone was doing, people told stories about how they met their wives. The stories were all different and great and interesting and hilarious, but the thing that stood out to me about these men, all in big, important roles in big, important companies, was that not only did they love their wives and not only were they attracted to their wives, but every single one of these men respect their wives. These women are not your average Highland Park trophy wife. They’re lawyers and teachers and CFOs and engineers. And my friends openly stated how attractive their wives’ brains and careers were to them.
This sentiment seems rare today. I admit that my only comparison points are the men who contact me on OK Cupid and www.textsfromlastnight.com, but the news stories that I read make me think that OK Cupid and TFLN are microcosms of what we value and emphasize today. My friends are highly educated men and women who are sensitive to issues of sexism and misogyny. They think about the ways they communicate what’s important and appropriate and acceptable to their sons and daughters. They can’t be the only parents doing this, so why are women avoiding STEM?
I saw a headline on CNN that read that Hillary Clinton is going to head a global team that will research whether women have made any advances in the last 50 years. My immediate reaction was, “No.” I read about the heinous acts of children in Steubenville and Saratoga and the defensive reactions of some of their parents; I read about the teacher in Montana and the judge who decided that the student the teacher raped deserved it; and I hear Robin Thicke’s extraordinarily catchy but also disgustingly rape-y song “Blurred Lines.” They make me want to run away or set someone on fire. I’m obviously not going to set someone on fire, so that leaves running away. But where would I go? Running away isn’t the answer. Working to fix the problem and improve the culture is the answer, but I’m at a loss.
I’m at a loss, and it’s so embarrassing because I advise companies on how to fix their corporate cultures. Shouldn’t the lessons be the same? The advantage of corporations is that there are written standards of business conduct, so at least everyone has some idea of what the company claims to think is acceptable behavior. There aren’t written standards of life conduct, and who would decide what those are anyway? The Christian right thinks it should be them. There’s a lot of good in Christianity and religion, but there’s a tremendous amount of ugliness and fear, too. There are lots of people on the left who think it should be them, and there’s a lot of good there, but an equal amount of ugliness and fear. Who am I to judge? Don’t we need a judge?
So where do I start? What do I do to make sure girls know they don’t have to take shit from boys, that it’s ok to be smarter and faster and stronger than the boys are, that girls have agency and don’t exist just to make boys happy? What do I do to make sure boys know they should respect girls, which means treating them like the fellow humans they are and not objects or toys? I don’t think all girls are hiding their true selves, and I don’t think all boys think girls are only good for sex, but there are enough of them that even in late 2013, we aren’t as civilized a society as we pretend and claim to be.
I don’t know what to do. If you do, I’d love to read what you think in the comments.
Perhaps we have not moved further on the problem because we have been largely ignoring one half of it. We have been talking for many decades about how to help girls and women, but little thought has been put into how to help boys become the men we expect them to be. Yes the pink aisle is a travesty but no one ever talks about the black flaming death aisle. My son told me the other day that boys are “not cute” I quizzed him a bit and found out that it was something one of his teachers had said… we teach little kids that girls are precious and dainty and boys are gross and tough… what bullshit! Wanna know one reason I think things have not completely changed? Fear that little boys may “turn” gay. Most people are not ready to embrace the steps it will take to fundamentally change our society. Boys have their whole self worth pinned to whether or not they can throw a damned ball, or fight, or risk their life. Few people talk about it as a problem… but boys are greatly judged on their size from birth. I would feel so bad for the boys clearly being compared in to our gigantic infant/toddler. Men never ask me if I would try to get our son into sports, but I heard it constantly from women. I finally got fed up with them putting this propaganda in his ear that I started whispering to them that I was giving him coffee to stunt his growth in hopes he would be an artist. Are you a small dude? You are screwed. You will see it in your parents eyes. Boys get abused, and yes, boys get raped, worst of all boys get ignored . And I would say its not only the men in the lives of boys that are messing them up every single day, Women contribute greatly. Back when we were 14 my friends mother constantly railed about the evils of men in front of both her sons (and me). Next time I see two toddler boys beating the hell out of each other and hear the young mothers who have their little girls dressed like princess say “oh well… Boys will be boys!” maybe I should call child protective services. Then there is how fathers are portrayed by the media… Boys grow up seeing fatherhood constantly portrayed as a “joke” or worse, fathers are domineering killjoys, even often the villain. Hardly ever are they cast as loving co-parents who nurture and adore the children. Boys and young men are getting sent the massage that they are “bad” and there is little escape.
We are two halves of a whole… you will never fix a flat by patching a leak in one side of the tire and saying… “Screw the other side! It has 20% less wear over the last decade so it can patch itself!
If we want better equality, we should start by doing these impossible things…
Teach ALL young people respect for the full spectrum of human sexuality.
Teach young people not to use any size and strength advantage to dominate others.
Teach young people not to use sexuality to dominate others.
Be honest about the differences between the sexes and explain why that can be an advantage.
Fundamentally change sports at all levels and remove the gladiatorial element, privilege and worship of athletes.
Fundamentally change the fashion industry… (this is often talked about, but I add it for balance)
Stop treating 16-25 year olds like children; expect more “responsible adult behavior” from young adults. 16-25 year olds are not “KIDS.” Treating them like they have no responsibility is robbing them of the time of their life when many important lessons should be naturally learned, Hopefully with some guidance.
Stop worshiping youth culture and acting like 16-25 year olds have the answers… they rarely do.
Fundamentally change or eliminate major religions. (I am encouraged by some recent papal talk)
Mix all that together and wait about 50-100 years for all the remaining assholes (of both genders) to die and things may be noticeably better.
I don’t agree with all of this, but I do agree that we need to be doing better with our boys, and as always, I’m so grateful for your perspective. My experience has been as a girl/woman, and I had a great (sheltered?) one growing up. I’d like to see girls do better and expect more from themselves, but you’re absolutely right that we need to see boys do better and expect more from themselves as well. I still don’t know what *I* can do. I’m not a parent. I’m not a scholar. My influence doesn’t stretch any further than to the tip of my nose, but I’d still like to use what little I have to try to fix this, and I don’t know where to put my energies.
Thats funny to me because I know one little boy who thinks the world of you and will grow up with an improved respect for women because of having you as an example. Well, except for the cursing… : ) Kidding aside I am grateful for the attention you give to JHS, I am a firm believer in smart kids spending time with smart adults.
I agree, at least partly the challenge is in raising boys to become men of substance themselves and ironically alot of what we are currently doing in school right now ensures the opposite. Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, CC, I am totally on the same page with you about how we raise girls, the sexualization of them at shockingly early ages really angers me, and I am so happy my daughter is a”young” thirteen. But my volunteering in her school has shown me that we are totally raising/educating boys the wrong way. We basically infantalize them, and denigrate everything it is to be a boy, and we have no men there, for the most part (I know I am generalizing so please bear with me), so they have no clue about how they should behave as they struggle with their adolescence. In addition, where I live, many of the fathers are “absent” in that they are working/commuting shockingly long hours and this absence compounds the example. I just saw “The Book of Manning” on ESPN. Wanna know why Cooper, Peyton and Eli all turned out to be excellent at what they do and all around great, wonderful men!? Their father was present all the time. Their mom was important too — but if we want to raise good men, then as boys they need examples of what that means! Teach them humility. teach them how to show affection to their children, to celebrate their kids’ accomplishments etc. Great book on the cultural and sociological origins of this —from the 1990s (I know, the dark ages) called Iron John and another called Fire in the Belly. Two wonderful examples of how we got where we are today. That is, sad examples, but at least they explain it.
I’m not offended, and I think your sentiments echo Mr. Scott’s above. I don’t have children, may never have children, but I live in society and would like to see it be better and not regress, which seems to have started already. I’m not a dad, and I think for a lot of good reasons, many organizations would probably not be excited to have a childless woman mentor boys who need mentoring. How do I make a difference? Where do I start? It would be so much easier for me to continue to live in my bubble where I do the things that I want to do and am grateful that I had the upbringing and education for this to be the case. Shouldn’t I be using my gifts for good and not just for myself? is it enough that at least I don’t use them for evil? I don’t want to shrug my shoulders at this obstacle and find a different path. I want to know what the right tool is to bust through it because all of us deserve better.