I think that a clear and comprehendible message is vital to the achievement of any lasting social change – give those you are fighting a chance to pass you off as crazy, and they will. When we throw around terms like ‘sexist’, it’s very easy to sound hysterical and politically correct to the point of ridiculousness and to me, this is quite a big deal. Despite our huge progress towards an equitable world, we are surrounded by situations that are completely unfair to women. I worry that when someone calls ‘sexist’ when they are personally offended, they define a serious and broad issue by the standards of an individual who got upset.
Sexism is roughly defined as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” Its a pretty broad definition but I don’t think its broad enough to cover, for example, a man opening a door for a woman (though rather than a strictly male to female thing, I think we should probably all be a bit more courteous to each other). Other’s apparently do and I have heard of men who get snide remarks when performing this lovely gesture.
Recently, I’ve come across a couple of other situations labelled as ‘sexist’ that I just can’t figure out. Often the people using the word are people I really admire and respect, so I’m genuinely struggling to see their viewpoint. I wonder if this is indeed a good sign – that people backing the removal of sexism from our lives are so varied, that our views of it are equally as diverse. My concern though, is that sometimes we face things that make us feel angry, and we reach for the first word we can find to define that feeling. ‘Sexism’ is an easy one to apply to any offensive situation involving women, but does it actually cover all these situations? Maybe it doesn’t even matter, but I think pulling out a term like ‘sexist’ brings a lot of serious connotations to an event that may have just made you feel offended.
Safety in Paradise
I was genuinely shocked recently to be told by someone that there was growing outrage among people I know that our national airline made the below video. Having watched the ‘Bare Essentials of Safety‘ (too naked?), ‘Safety Old School Style‘ (mocking our elders?), and bunch of others that swing from All Blacks to Aerobics, I think the video, if anything, is one of their better ones… Promoting a stunning part of our neighborhood, and a place that relies heavily on international visitors.
I understand the video features swimsuit models and aligns with the anniversary of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (maybe that’s where the offense lies?), but I’m probably not their target market and have never opened an issue. The only other reason I could see for the offense is that beautiful women were the central focus of the ad. I would understand if Air NZ only hired beautiful people, or indeed, only made videos featuring them… But their videos are varied and while I think their staff are perfectly fine, they don’t stand out as any more beautiful on average than anyone else.
Maybe you find it distasteful to view women in bikinis (though to me that comes very close to telling women what they can and can’t wear), maybe it’s a concern for the models involved, but I think their life choices are equally as relevant as any other woman’s. The big one I read was that we are forced to watch a safety video and therefore don’t have a choice about having other women’s near nakedness all up in our faces. I don’t know. I love beaches, bikinis are just not that uncommon in my life.
Because of my confusion, I assume others are also scratching their heads, which leaves me thinking that if we really want to hit sexism where it hurts, we may have missed the target.
Good Ole Paul Henry
The other night he had the wonderful Michelle Dickinson on his show to talk about what she does best: science. Because she’s such a superstar, she was recently invited to spend time with Richard Branson on Necker Island. At the end of an interview, Paul pulls up a pic of them in a fun embrace and asks “Michelle, did you have sex with Richard Branson?”.
Michelle responded impeccably, and from what I can gather, found it funny. She’s a smart cookie and Mr Henry has a reputation, I doubt she’d have turned up if she felt at all put out. So why did a bunch of other people cry ‘sexist’ and demand he be fired?
I would kind of understand the claim if I wasn’t 99% sure he’d have asked the same of any man in the same position. I would understand it if the question did in fact reduce her to being nothing more than a sex object. I would understand it for a million reasons… But, as far as I could see none of them were relevant.
I think a quote from Ricky Gervais (and sort of the point of this post) makes sense here:
“Remember, being offended provides no objective indication of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It’s nothing more than a barometer of your own emotional control.”
You may have felt offended by his question. That’s fine, you have every right to be offended. But do you need to label it as sexist?
One of the things that makes those magazine format shows popular is you get to know the presenters, they feel human to you. You may not want to become buddies with a presenter, but they’ve got to be edgy to keep your eyes on the programme. I understand Michelle is a doctor and should be taken very seriously… But I think if you look at her career her whole point is to bring science to the people, to be a person, not a dry scientist. And unlike with a safety video, if you feel offended, you actually can just change the channel.
Care about sexism? Do any of these things?
I read this article a while ago “35 things men can do to support feminism“. It struck me then and now that maybe this stuff is the real issue, I read this article and immediately saw several examples Ive long since used to explain why I struggle in some relationships. Maybe it’s not an either/or situation regarding the examples above, but it does strike me that we’re quick to point out tenuous links to sexism, while happily wandering around living it.