Privilege and Sexist Attitides
Today at lunch I had three separate moments where sex-based assumptions came into play. It’s always interesting to me that when I encounter situations like these, none of the actions are intended maliciously or even consciously. They come from a deeper internalized sense of gender-based heteronormative stereotypes that are in many ways harder to combat or challenge than overt sexism.
The first is one that is at least in part a regional expectation: children. I don’t have any, despite approaching my 28th birthday and being married for over three years. We aren’t ready or willing to have kids yet, and that isn’t likely to change in the immediate future.
The server taking our order today thought I looked like someone she’d seen dropping off grandchildren at school. Which isn’t to say that she assumed I had children solely because of my age, but that she thought she recognized me. The phrasing of her question was interesting, however, in that she didn’t preface the question in this way, but instead asked if my daughter attended a specific grade school. Not, “You look like someone I see dropping off my grandkids at school” but assuming that since I’m old enough to have kids, it is normal to assume I do. I told her we didn’t have any children, but that I have sometimes been told I resemble someone strongly (which is not uncommon for most people, I think).
But the assumption that I have kids or will soon have kids seems to pop up much more often now and frankly it bugs the hell out of me. Perhaps because I had the sort of parents that I believe made deliberate attempts to keep me from assumptions and use reason as much as possible, but I never remember assuming anyone had kids simply because they looked old enough (and specifically old enough for Utah). Some coworkers at Thrack’s office have either asked if I was pregnant or simply assumed and had to be corrected. (Let me tell you, that just does fucking wonders for my self-image and feelings about my weight, although I don’t know if their question is related to the weight I’ve put on in the last few years or not.)
With the demographics of my city and state, I am not surprised, precisely, by presumptions about my uterine productivity. Just comparing the age pyramids from the 2000 census of Salt Lake County and the national average is…suggestive:
The second issue is related both to my weight and to my sex. Diet fucking soda. I hate it; the only thing I can taste in it is aspartame. Thrack and I ordered exactly the same beverage with our lunch, a lime coke. Can you guess which of us got the wrong thing? If you guessed me, you get a cookie. Despite each of us clearly ordering a lime coke, mine was a diet lime coke and his was just what he ordered. I know from a marketing and consumer standpoint, women are a huge marketshare for the product, which is fine, if that’s what you order. Now, maybe the server assumed because I ordered soup and salad that I would be watching my weight (it just sounded good at the time), but you never, ever assume something like this. The fact that we both ordered the same beverage, but my choice was simply assumed by default to mean the more feminine, weight-conscious version is nothing short of maddening. It sounds like a trifling complaint, but it reflects a deeper assumption about my sex and autonomy. This was not an isolated occurence; tt’s actually happened to me at this same restaurant before with just as little malicious intent.
The last little jolt was as we were leaving, and someone (again) thought they recognized me. The man involved thought I was someone he knew, and wanted to know my surname. When that didn’t jog his memory, he wanted to know what my last name was before I was married, assuming that if I was married, I would have changed my name. Now, this is a debated feminist issue that carries with it all sorts of complications. I have my reasons for deciding to change mine when we married, but not one of them was because it’s what you’re supposed to do. I sometimes wish more women would make the decision either way without taking to account the expectation that they are supposed to. It sometimes drives me crazy that after all the strives and greater visibility women have achieved for equality, the social and familial conflict of “keeping your name” is still the fodder for media. How is this still a controversial decision or frankly, anyone’s fucking business but the two individuals getting married?
It’s a greater issue than simply bad service or holdovers of coverture, however, when people make gender-based assumptions, comments or judgements. Because is reflects a whole set of biases and prejudices that hurt both the individual’s wishes being second-guessed or undervalued as well as the one holding those ideas. Inequity hurts everyone, and this has been self-evident to me for as long as I have had the capacity to recognize its existence. My mother once asked me why I cared so much about LGBT rights, since I am not myself a part of that range of minorities; while I struggled to put it into words at the time, I find I can’t make myself not care about injustice. My whole worldview spins around a core belief in the base value of human dignity and respect. By not recognizing internalized biases that devalue individuals based on (real or perceived) group identity, we are all demeaned.
Oh and one last point, as always, internalized inferiority is real. You don’t get to be exempt from sexism “because you’re a woman.” There, I think I’ve done enough griping for oh, probably a month or so.