[A letter I wrote to a friend.]
So, I’ve been thinking about your kid since you told me that she asked WHY people are STILL sexist. I really want to write her a letter but I’m afraid that I’m too ANGRY to write a polite, clean, appropriate letter. So, instead I’m going to write you my thinking now and then you can decide which parts the kids might want to read/know.
First, I want to acknowledge the fact that the STILL in the question is important. It’s hard for me to separate out the “original, ancient” causes of sexism from the present issues. Second, I think that people are STILL sexist for a lot of reasons and here are some of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list but I have a few reasons in my head since I got your text.
- People who have power are afraid of losing power.
- People are afraid of change. Even people who want change find change difficult. Take for example, a person who wants to move cities or change jobs. Even though they WANT that change and know in their head that it’s right or good, they still have a hard time with change because change is rough no matter what.
- Some people have been told their whole lives by society that they DESERVE the top spot. So our society has told white, straight, rich, men that they are the TOP of humanity in the United States of America. It’s hard for them to change their thinking. (My example of this is – I met with a bunch of liberal Jews to talk about Sarah and Hagar in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. I told them that I thought Jews are trained to see Sarah in the best light – even though she was pretty mean to Hagar – and that as a result we are protective of her. They argued with me: “Oh no, we aren’t protective of Sarah.” But then as we got further and further into the conversation I realized that they were so protective of Sarah that they didn’t even know they were. They were trying but they needed even more help than I thought to open their minds.)
- Some people don’t realize how lucky they have it and how hard other people have it. So, that’s why people accuse people who are suffering of “acting” or of being “paid protestors.” If their whole lives, people are respectful of them, certain people don’t realize that that only is true for people who look like them or have money like them, etc.
Third, In terms of how sexism Got Started, there are a few theories:
- It is true that more women can get pregnant than men. So, in some times of their lives – pregnancy, nursing, etc. – it is true that women need protection from society. Also, most men’s bodies are different from most women’s bodies so that – while women are built to withstand pain – many men seem built to hunt and travel and fight. I think that there is a short leap from “women need protection sometimes” to “women are weak and need men to tell them what to do and how to do it.” So, some of this original sexism might have to do with biology.
- Power scares people. The fact that women can get pregnant and give birth and nurse babies is all about their amazing power. And I think that some men may have been scared by this. Pain is scary.
- Change is scary. After puberty, men’s bodies don’t change so much but women’s bodies change every week of every month in cycles.
- Blood is scary. Women deal with blood a lot. They take care of babies and kids. They bleed every month. When they give birth, they bleed again. I think that maybe men thought that women’s connection to blood was scary.
- There are more theories, but we can’t do anything about them so we might as well move forward.
Fourth, here is the vocabulary word for the decade: KYRIARCHY.
Kyriarchy is a new word created by Dr. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She has a PhD in bible and she knows a lot about ancient societies in Greece. Instead of trying to examine sexism and racism and classism and other kinds of prejudice separately, she recognized that all kinds of prejudices work together to create a kind of pyramid. So, white, rich, men, for example, are at the top of a lot of prejudices that put down people who aren’t white, aren’t rich, and aren’t men. So, when some people talk about “patriarchy,” they are only talking about sexism, but there is so much more that goes into it. And this is also part of why people are “still” sexist – because they might be more afraid of having their white kids in schools with kids of color than they are of having a sexist president.
Fifth, at this point I also think it’s important to talk about the word MISOGYNY.
- Some people don’t realize they are sexist. (For example, I hate when people talk about a book being seminal! Because the “germ,” the “embryo” comes way before the semen. So if you want to say something is first and best, then you really have to say it is GERMINAL not seminal. I also hate the word disseminate – why does everyone want to spread sperm around? Why can’t they just “distribute” information or “share” the resources?)
- Some people are sexist and they don’t care that it’s mean. Some people really believe that men are better/stronger/smarter. Some of those people are actually women. Boo.
- Some people are so scared or so self-centered that they actually HATE women. That is misogyny, hatred of women. And those people don’t usually change. It’s usually not worth interacting with the misogynists. However, it’s definitely worth it to warn people about misogyny.
- People who “think” that women are less or deserve less or need less aren’t evil. I think they are thinking inaccurately and could benefit from learning more – maybe even just from polite interactions with smart, cool women, BUT – if you think/see someone is misogynist, stay away, don’t try to fix it.
Here is a blog article that talks about it – but it’s by “new” feminists aren’t really scholars of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza or Kyriarchy. https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/04/kyriarchy-101/
Also, when you feel sad about politics or current events, it’s worth it to re-read this letter from Leslie Knope:
Here is something else that is very important to remember – Even before you can vote, you are important. If you go to a protest, for example, it doesn’t matter if you are 18 yet. All that matters is that you are a human being standing in protest. (Or sitting and eating snacks while holding a sign or something.) The point is when you put your body or your voice in the political arena, that makes a difference, even before you are of voting age.
Same goes for phone calls. When you call the office of an elected representative, the point is that you are taking your time to use up the time of a staff member to communicate what matters to you. I know that people ask that you write letters/postcards, but it barely takes any time for a staff member of an elected official to read and count your letter/postcard. It takes way more time for them to talk to you and get your zip code and hear your concerns. When the staff members have to spend time out of their busy day listening to you, then they 1. Remember and 2. Tell their boss. And you don’t have to be 18 years old to communicate your concerns.
On that note, it’s valuable for you – even before you are 18 – to call/text adults you know who CAN vote and remind them that it’s important to you.
I also have to say this – we live in a two party system. I think that every young person experiments with being Independent or Green Party or something that isn’t Democrat or Republican. However, unless you are willing to work your tiny tush off to change the two-party-system into a three-party-system, I think it’s more efficient and effective to work within the system we’ve got.
There are a lot of people who would benefit from hearing smart, thoughtful, compassionate kids’ questions and concerns.
Please continue asking questions and sharing your concerns. Just even by thinking critically about the world, you are making it better.
ALSO, I love you and your family. ALSO, I’m sorry that the world can be so frustrating and scary.
More later, LOVE, Rabbi Susan Elizabeth Lippe, the First