Sexism: The mother of all 'isms'.
by the national gadfly, Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 11:33:55 AM EST
Sexism is the 'gateway 'ism'', that makes all other 'isms' possible. It precedes all other forms of discrimination, setting the example that there are some people that view others as inferior and they use brutality upon them. What I mean by that is that because our family and society models are built around the model of inequality, injustice and brutality - we accept that behavior as normal. So, too is racism, classism, speciesism and any other oppression by one group toward another. The behaviors of sexism are the behaviors of bullying, injustice, intolerance and cruelty.
(Cross posted at The National Gadfly)
Sexism is everywhere, all the time. Sexism is there from the moment we are born. It is in every country regardless of technological or educational conditions. It exists in boardrooms, bedrooms and one room farm houses. It permeates every society and every conversation on the planet. Laws, religion, music, politics, philosophy and commerce are so interwoven with sexism that I dare say that sexism is the foundation for human existence.
Don't believe me? Pick any aspect of human existence and prove that women don't have a worse deal than men. You may think you know of an exception to the rule, but I would wager that upon asking any woman who you think has the upper hand whether or not she is favored over men and she would show you how that is not so.
Women are raped, beaten, cheated, denied education, denied healthcare, sold as slaves, killed for men's 'honor', tortured, swindled, threatened and abused - all for the sole reason that they are women. It's not just women. Transgender, gay, lesbian populations are all targeted 'as women' by men. They suffer heightened abuse because their numbers are smaller.
It is so pervasive, so accepted as the 'norm' that it invisible to millions of people. Mind you, the inequality and injustice are not invisible to the targets of sexism because they suffer the impact in their daily lives. However, sexism often goes unacknowledged as the direct cause of their misfortunes.
Religions call it God's will. Entire cultures call it tradition. Laws identify women in terms of property and livestock. Language itself is ingrained with sexism in overt (male & female voice) and covert ("mankind") reinforcing messages of gender based inequality. What it is really is brute force, bullying. Men are bigger and their domination of women begins with violence. Violence whether applied or implied is the origin and when the 'sales pitches' of religion, tradition and law are challenged by women, then violence is brought back out as a last resort.
I tend to look at history through the lens of economics. When examining human behavior, I ask who and what were gained and lost? So the endurance of sexism in society is because the patriarchal, military model of empire wants it to continue. Men benefit from it and so it endures. Sexism is a cycle of assumptions and behaviors that have been crafted and performed for 5000 years and probably even longer.
Sexism starts in the family. The family unit is the breeding ground for societal behaviors. Societal institutions are structured to reinforce the family as a unit. Family and Society act to support and maintain each other. The strengths and weaknesses of the family are borne out in larger numbers as the strengths and weaknesses of society-at-large.
In the family, the father exercises rights, privileges and status above women and children both. The family is the first empire. Father outranks mother and children. Boy child outranks girl child and eventually grows to outrank mother and finally father. The cycle repeats. This model gains support from legal definitions of property, entitlement and inheritance and these were written largely by men. Religions (corporations run by men) also support this model as intended by god.
I mentioned economics, so to examine the issue of sexism, please consider this following. Mammals need 6 things for survival: food, water, shelter, space, warmth & sex. 5 of those needs are legally traded commodities. Indeed, they are the basics of economies around the world. In a relationship, men and women can legally engage in a conversation or transaction for food, shelter, water, warmth or space. There are women who sell sex, but often that is illegal and these women are not the spouse of the man in the family unit. The woman in a family unit is not allowed to legally negotiate the terms of her relationship with her husband. The wife and her sex is viewed as a 'right' of the man via the institution and tradition of marriage.
This is no trivial point. It is the primary relationship between men and women and the omission of legal rights in this arena pave the way for the abuses of women that permeate our world. Women are denied a voice or a say in the eyes of the law in the most intimate and personal relationship - the central relationship in any family. This model of a woman's voicelessness is repeated in the family dynamic. Boys grow up expecting to be in a relationship where the woman will have no voice and girls grow up believing that there is no alternative.
Commerce is a dialogue between two parties to a negotiated transaction. It cannot exist if one party is unable to negotiate. Given the pervasive role of sexism in society and families, I do not think it any coincidence that the women have no legal recourse in the most central, intimate and defining arena of their lives. If sexism is to end, then relationships need to become negotiable and legal.
Here is a chance for society to help break the cycle of sexism. If relationships are made into legal and enforceable contracts, then women will have an alternative in their families. The family as empire model will no longer be the only game in town.
What would the lives of women be like, if they could legally negotiate the terms of their marriage like any other business contract? What would dating be like if men who promised women things to entice them into sex or intimacy - were legally bound to fulfill on those promises? What would marriage be like if it were to become a renewable contract, based on performance by both parties?
Sexism begins in the family and it when it ends there, it will finally die out.
At this point, you may ask: "What about negotiation in marriage today?" It's a black market. Why do black markets exist? Who do they benefit? If the idea of real commerce is acceptable, why not allow it to be contracted? The answer is that black markets exist because the governing body seeks to deny an equal, legal voice to a transaction. When the transaction includes a societal ill (like weapons, drugs, etc.) it can be a good thing. When the transaction is the sexist oppression of womens' voices as equals - it is a bad thing.
Prostitution only benefits men. Period. Look at the law in design and practice. Prostitutes are punished, 'johns' are not. Prostitutes are abused by police in ghastly numbers. Transgender prostitutes (often forced into the job by society's outright rejection of them as human beings) are abused more than anyone. Murder, disease, abuse from pimps and blame from society for its own failings are the all too common rewards for prostitutes. They are denied healthcare, education, workers' rights and dignity for their participation in the 'black market' economy of the sex trade.
I think that until women have a legal, enforceable voice in their core relationships, sexism will not be defeated. The larger, societal ills of institutional brutality, oppression and inequality will not diminish until sexism is no longer the all-pervasive example. Patriarchal, military empires expressed in government, religion and consumer capitalism will be the death of us all.
We need to choose between sexism and survival. There are too many people, too many guns, too much poison, too much disease and too little room for brutality to be our core value.
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