Anyone attuned to these things has no trouble finding them everywhere. From the clods on the campaign trail who yelled "Iron my shirts!" at Hillary Clinton to the ignoramuses who write magazine articles insinuating that men are incapable of being nurturing parents (the kind of sexism, like the two offending paragraphs in my email yesterday, that manages both to degrade men and to define women in a limiting way), there is no shortage of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of gender in our everyday lives.
I hate having to be a good sport about sexism, knowing that my silence amounts to tacit approval and makes me a collaborator. Still, I understand that you have to pick your battles unless you want to be battling all the time. I also recognize the need for a sense of humor. Sexism is unfortunately so embedded in our society, our lingo, and our consciousness that even people who do not promote it sometimes find themselves contributing to its continued existence.
As strongly as I feel about this issue, I want to battle it effectively, and I've concluded that taking on every casual instance I run across is not the way to do that. I tend to nod and smile pleasantly and change the subject when people assume my husband's income was what funded our early retirement or ask me who's going to take care of him when I travel on business, or even when someone tells one of those ubiquitous jokes that portray women as for sex only and men as lumbering buffoons.
But yesterday's email came from someone who is widely known and admired. Whether he intends to be or not, he is a role model. I stewed over his sexist paragraphs for a while, then decided that because of his reach, I didn't want to let this one go. I wrote a polite 3-sentence response that gently objected to the sexism. The last of the 3 sentences read: "I seriously doubt you really think this, and hope you won't mind a friendly reminder that stereotypes don't help anyone."
Once my email was written, I thought it over, bounced it off a couple people whose opinions I trust to rein in my more knee-jerk reactions, and then sent it. It's now 24 hours later and he has not seen fit to respond. This rudeness further offends me. We're dealing with someone who is always hooked in, who never lets his cell phone out of his sight, who communicates frequently and well. I have the ability to call him out publicly. Shall I?
2/9/09 Update: Sincere thanks to all who've commented on this post, either below, on Facebook or via email. There was nothing private about the email with the paragraphs that offended me. It went to a distribution list that I understand exceeds 50,000 people. There is also nothing private about my reply to the sender. So here they both are.
The paragraphs I objected to opened the 2/3/09 afternoon HARO email. HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out, an innovative free subscription service that connects reporters with sources. HARO emails go out three times per day on weekdays, and each edition is sponsored. As far as I know, Peter Shankman, whose brainchild HARO is, writes the opening paragraphs. In any event, he is the "I" referred to in them.
The edition in question opened as follows:
This HARO is thanks to those words no guy wants to hear: "Why hasn't he proposed yet?!" Well, celebrity relationship experts, TV personalities and husband/wife Matt Titus and Tamsen Fadal have the answer for women who can't get their man to pop the question in their latest book, "Why Hasn't He Proposed?" Go From The First Date To Setting The Date. A real married couple, they have the answer to how you can land the ring on your finger with their fool-proof six week plan to get him to commit without saying a word! This book comes on the heels of their first book, "Why Hasn't He Called? and their Lifetime show, "Matched In Manhattan," a reality show based on their lives as married relationships experts and a real life couple. Plus, Matt and Tamsen are giving away the chance to win a free diamond ring with the launch of their new book!
[Links & contact info deleted].
The above book, which virtually every female on HARO is now buying, is enough to scare me into having absolutely nothing to say in my opening monologue. :)
Here's the text of the email I wrote in response:
Hey, whoa, ease up on the sexism, OK? This female would not only not buy this book if it were the last book on earth, but is disappointed to see someone so evolved playing into outdated notions that women are all about trapping men and men are all about eluding women. I seriously doubt you really think this, and hope you won't mind a friendly reminder that stereotypes don't help anyone.
I should also note than I'd previously emailed him to inquire how one went about becoming a HARO sponsor, and he responded to that email immediately.