Reflections on a sexist society

Below is an excerpt from a comment left in my last post that reflects on my experience of coming to grips with patriarchy and sexism.

You and I are sexist not because we “mean” to be, not because we feel in our hearts that we are, not because we’d ever in a million years admit to such a thing, but because we were raised in an incredibly sexist society. It’s not something you have to try really hard to learn, it’s the default. This is especially true if you grew up in the church where men have all the power and women watch the children. This is especially true if in your home men were the “rational” ones while women were the “emotional” ones, if men were seen as natural leaders while women were natural homemakers, if men could come home, kick their shoes off, and be served all evening while the women (who also worked all day watching children, cleaning the house, etc.) now has to scuttle around feeding and cleaning up after the man until she collapses exhausted into bed (then rinse and repeat for the next 60 years). Now in this scenario a man is sexist not by virtue of being extraordinarily mean to his wife, but by simply participating in a sexist society – by speaking and living in ways that reinforce a sexist system. Of course, the trick is that as a male he is almost completely blind to his privilege. I say almost because it’s normal for him to have a bit of a guilty conscience about some of this, although he’s normally able to tell himself a story about how good he is to his women by comparing himself to some wife-beater down the street. Also, even if he does begin to become open to the idea that he just may be operating in “slightly” sexist ways, as a person of privilege in this scenario he completely and utterly fails to realize just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Which is why he desperately needs women, especially so called radical feminists (who he might formerly have ignorantly called “femi-nazis” or some other garbage – of course he’d never so much as cracked one of their books) to help him see the world through the eyes of an oppressed women. Of course, he can never fully identify but slowly he begins to notice just how pervasive and difficult it is to root out his sexist ways of thinking, speaking, and being in the world. These roots go deep. They’ve been en-culturated in him since he was a child. The fact is, he’ll probably never fully recover. The best he can hope to do is to try his best to pay attention to himself, and to listen humbly to the women in his life and those willing to speak to him through books & articles. But there has to be a level of trust here. He has to trust these women and their stories, because honestly it’s an outsider conversation to him. He simply hasn’t experienced the world in the way they have. He’s operated his whole life, at least in this area, as a privileged person. That means he’s simply not in the position to criticize women and feminists. He simply can’t tell them how they should go about working for their freedom. In fact, he needs to see any tendency within himself to do just that as deeply suspect, as potentially part of a latent sexism that told him that if he had an opinion about women then he had every right to say it and they sure as hell better listen! If he feels compelled to help in some way then he needs to go to women and ask how he can help in the larger cause. Not because he’s giving them permission to take the reigns in the conversation. It’s actually the opposite. He needs their permission to support them. Why? Because frankly they don’t trust that a man can follow, that he can overcome his sexist upbringing and truly operate as their social “lesser” in this situation.

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