Recently, my dad and I were discussing a poll showing that about half of Trump supporters were female. We both balked at the idea of women supporting a candidate who is so openly derogatory toward their gender. But then I remembered that women can be sexist too, and I used to be one of them.
When I say that women are sexist, I don’t mean that this sexism manifests itself in the form of women openly hating other women for their gender. It’s more subtle than that, and it’s engrained in us by society. Many people don’t even realize it’s sexism and that’s why we all need to reflect and question our own perceptions to break down these hard-to-see barriers.
Growing up, I was never taught to be biased against women. Quite the contrary, my parents pushed me to be educated and strong and to pursue my passions in a male-dominated field. But societal actions speak louder than any words. Though I always heard the words that men and women are equal, that’s not the world we see. As someone who grew up loving politics, I saw men dominating the area and subconsciously developed the belief that leadership was for men. I thought, deep down, that a woman standing on a political stage was somehow less powerful, less appealing, less suited for the majesty that is politics. Likewise, we hear girls criticizing each other’s makeup, style, and physique. We hear that some women are wearing too little and others are wearing too much. We hear average sized girls calling themselves “fat” and pretty girls calling themselves ugly. Condescension, rather than acceptance and empowerment, becomes the norm and it’s hard to overcome these pervasive messages with mere words.
I also thought since I had been treated fairly, claims of systemic inequality somehow held less merit. I’m doing fine, where’s the problem? Why push for more women in leadership? What real issues are there to remedy?
Then I got older, and actually started to hold leadership positions, where I soon saw a different reality. This is when I opened my eyes to the subtle, meritless sexism that lives on throughout this country. Subtle sexism is patronizing a woman in politics with baby talk and cute language, i.e “aw, you’re politickin’?” Subtle sexism is asking for a woman’s phone number when she is asking you about the upcoming congressional election. Subtle sexism is being called a “little girl” when you want to talk about a polling place. And some slightly-less-subtle sexism is Donald Trump telling female professionals that they “look better on their knees.” But if women don’t see the need to stand up for other women, they are going to accept comments like Trump’s as unrelated to gender or just another "stand against political correctness," and they’re certainly not going to push back against the more subtle sexism I saw in local politics.
To be frank, we are in the heart of Appalachia, where our views are not always the most progressive. People are a result of their environment and their culture, so I was hardly ever angered by these kind of remarks, as they were delivered with good nature. The people just didn't know better, maybe because they never went through the introspection I am now advocating for. But it’s still imperative to recognize these kind of remarks as disparaging and it’s up to both women and men to push back.
I also thought that, by recognizing sexism, I was making myself a victim—something I did not want to be. But now I realize that recognizing and calling out sexism makes me the opposite of a victim. It makes me an advocate—something I always want to be.
I was wrong. Wearing a dress, heels, and full make up does not make me less apt to lead, just as wearing no make up, flats, and jeans does not make me less of a leader. Other women in college often shatter the vain stereotypes I once subscribed to and they, instead, are powerful, funny, independent, and intelligent. And come November, I’ll be casting my vote for a woman (maybe two? hint, hint: Elizabeth Warren) who can fill both the prestige and rigor of the presidency just as well as any man.
I’m not writing this just to say “I used to be ignorant.” I want more people to question what has been normalized in society. If I, a person passionate about social justice, could have such a blind spot, I know many others do as well. If, on the surface, things appear equal, dig deeper. Think about your own biases, analyze them, and make yourself more aware of the inequalities we should all fight. If we do, we can become a society that not only tells girls they can do anything, but a society that shows girls they can do anything.
In honor of me begginning to watch Parks and Rec, I will leave you with a call to action from Pawnee’s favorite public servant, Leslie Knope.