Dec 4, 2008

Sexist Me (Still not the mammoth post)

I try to be a fair-minded person. I pride myself on my openness to new ideas and understanding stance toward ideas I don't agree with. But today, in a moment of introspection that came while reading the wikipedia article on Courtney Love, I realized: I'm a pretty sexist person.

It is, of course, naive to think that women and men are exactly the same and it is natural to treat them differently in some respects, but in this one aspect of my life, I think I have probably crossed a line into sexism.

My problem is this: I expect a lot out of women. A lot more than I do from men.

Example: I was hanging out with a couple recently, and the male was smoking a certain illegal substance. I thought little of it, as I had seen this happen on many an occasion, but the second the female in this couple took a hit, I felt a little shiver of revulsion. The same shiver of revulsion that I feel when I'm around a woman who swears frequently.

A different, but similar, shiver of revulsion strikes me when a woman is poorly-dressed. A poorly-dressed man causes no reaction.

I look down on a woman who reads romance novels and other woman-reading rubbish, but a guy who reads a trashy sci-fi or fantasy novel gains immediate forgiveness, when it really is the literary equivalent of Taken By The Viking.

I trace this to five main factors:

1) As a female, I assume that other females can do anything I can do. This doesn't mean that I think I'm really great, just that the things I'm good at should be easy for other women as well. I find zero appeal in any sort of substance abuse, so any sort of drug or alcohol abuse in a woman makes me go "Oh come on, why would you do that? You know it's not healthy/smart." I was raised in an environment that instilled a great deal of politeness, so when I see a rude woman I think to myself, "Common courtesy should be natural for you!" When a male tells about his latest experience on mushrooms, I think, "What a troubled soul." When a male is rude, I think, "Must be a guy thing."

2) The media (in an effort to not be seen as sexist, I'm sure) tends to portray women as more caring, more insightful, and often more intelligent then men. Lois is a normal, kind person, while Peter has a Squeeze-It for a brain. There is probably just as much sexism toward women in the media as toward men, but growing up in the culture I have, I immediately see the sexism toward women and denounce it. The sexism against men is more subtle (example: you notice that a scene suggests that women are too dumb to realize all this guy wants is sex and say to yourself, "that's not really an accurate portrayal", but you don't notice the other message: all men want is sex).

3) Despite all politically correct campaigns against it, cultural and biological human nature will always tell us: it is more important for a woman to appear attractive than a man. This one actually doesn't bother me too much. Men are under more pressure to make money, etc., I'd rather be under more pressure to look pretty and under control. Sorry to you radical feminists out there (I say as if I, Miss "I hope someday to have a rich husband so I can be a stay-at-home mother with lots of fabulous dresses and high end makeup", have radical feminist friends).

4) I feel that any woman who makes a fool of herself makes the rest of us look bad. Sometimes I want to scream, "Listen, you've had a couple drinks, just stop! Don't you see that each drink after this chips away at the fragile reputation for respectability and intelligence woman have in this world?"

5) While I am happily married, I'll still never entirely shake the "all women are competition and all men are potential mates" mentality. It makes me look for the imperfections in women and the bright side in the men.

Now that I've recognized this flaw in my life perspective, I'm interested in trying to change how I look at things. I can't decide which way I'd rather go, though. Should I hold men to the same high standards I hold women to? Or should I loosen my standards on women? Naturally, the best answer is find a happy medium, but when making a conscious effort to change something that comes's just too much work if I don't pick one direction.


Michelle Styles said...

I was very sorry to read that you look down on women who read and enjoy romance novels and therefore mosre than likely women who wrtie them (NB Because you referenced my book Taken by the Viking, I ended up finding your blog on my google alert. Given the problems with piracy these days, they are necessary for all authors.)
Yes, Taken by the Viking is escapist literature written for a mainly female audience, but there is nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn't you have fun when you are reading a history book for pleasure? I hate the idea that somehow leisure time reading should be worthy. Or that the only escapist book worth reading must be male focussed.
The whole point of the romance novel is escaping into a good story. Somehow it seems very puritanical and condescending to imply this is wrong.
The Romance novel genre is mainly run by women for women. It is the largest genre of publishing in the US with $1.375 billion in sales in 2007 compared to religion ($819 million)or sci fi/fantasy ($700 million) -- source Simba Information. In the UK where I am based, Mills & Boon (the UK arm of Harlequin) sell the equivalent of one book every three seconds and is celebrating its centenary this year. On the publishing side, the female publisher of Harlequin Enterprises is one of the most powerful businesswomen in North America. The editor who worked on Taken has a phd from Oxford and chose to go into women's fiction publishing rather than staying in the rarified world of academia.
Romance novels are enjoyed by university lecturers and housewives, entrepreneurs and shopworkers -- studies have shown that women who read romance novels tend to read more of everything else as well. Benezir Bhutto was a fan of romance novels.
They are women's way of escaping and taking contol of the type of fantasy they enjoy. They are written for today's women, rather than the women of a bygone era -- even the historical romance hold a dark mirror up to today's society. Ultimately they are all about enpowering women to make choices, rather than accepting the status quo. The heroines are aspirational...including Viking set romances. And although they are easy to read and hopefully a page turner, they are quite complicated and complex to write.
Personally I prefer the romance genre to the male dominated and domineering world of the traditional sci fi/fantasy novel but that is me. Perhaps because the romance genre is so wide, you have not discovered an author that you like. If you contact me via my website,, maybe I could suggest some romance authors who would be better suited to your taste.
Michelle Styles

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