Ex-Sexism

When I was 16 years old, I was sitting in a maths class being my usual insane self, and a new student – a boy I’m not ashamed to say I was slightly attracted to – asked me whether I was a feminist. I froze. How do you answer that question? I barely knew what feminism was! In fact, I was so confused that I (un)subtly avoided the question and went home to my Dad where I asked him exactly that: Was I a feminist?

“Do you believe that everybody should be treated equally?” he asked.

Yes.

“Then you’re a feminist.”

I took that on board and proudly proclaimed it for years. I was a FEMINIST! I wanted equal rights for women everywhere, I wanted equal pay and the right to choose and maternity leave and all of it served up on a platter before my bed time.

But then I saw the following clip in an episode of West Wing:

It’s basically a discussion between two people who work for the president – though from different parties – about the Equal Rights Amendment, which as I understand it is a change some want to make to the constitution so that the rights of women are written in. When I first saw this, I think I re-watched it 7 or 8 times. For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that I will be discriminated against for being a woman. That it will be harder to get jobs in male-dominated fields because of sexism. That my life will be affected by genitalia. And I hate it.

I remember in primary school teachers would walk into the classroom and ask for volunteers to carry some heavy desks. Being the proud little goody-two-shoes that I was, my hand sprung into the air eagerly. Yet I was never picked. Because I was a girl. Even though I beat one of the boys in an arm-wrestling match. Little things like this fueled my hate for gender-bias, but after watching that episode of West Wing I had to reconsider.

It is my belief that I am not hindered in any way by my sex; not physically, emotionally, socially, culturally or academically. In electing to work in the sciences I have chosen a profession largely dominated by men. I honestly don’t believe this is because men are more or less intelligent than women or because women have not had access to the same opportunities. I believe this is because fewer women want to work in the sciences.

Novel idea, I know.

Now don’t get me wrong – in no way am I saying that women don’t experience discrimination and abuse because of their gender. That would be incredibly naive of me. What I mean is that in developed countries, women achieve what women want to achieve.

I’m not trying to antagonize anyone or start any fights, I’m just conveying my point of view. And I realize it is extremely biased: I have had an amazing upbringing where I was encouraged by family, friends and teachers to pursue whatever I wanted. I was provided with enough resources to succeed but not enough to have it handed to me on a silver platter. I was born with intelligence, but not so much that I could slack off or grow bored. I am very aware that I am very privileged.

Statistics will be thrown in my face about there being a far smaller percentage of CEOs and things that are women. Which is true. I can’t argue with the facts. Except to say that maybe there’s a reason for this. Maybe, women choose to have families and to take time off to raise them which doesn’t fit the time commitments of a CEO. The rebuttal: why should women have to give up their careers to have kids? They don’t. Social acceptance of men and women not wanting to have children is growing, and it’s now widely accepted that it doesn’t make you any less of a person. Women don’t have to have kids – they can just climb the corporate ladder instead. They don’t even have to choose just one!

What I am trying to say is that not EVERY case of a man getting hired instead of a woman is because of sexism – even if they’re being accepted into a position largely held by men. It’s derogatory to both sexes to think otherwise: that a man only gets a job because his boss is sexist and that if a women gets a job it’s just because they want diversity in the workplace.

We spend so much time talking and arguing about sexism when its honestly not the biggest problem in our society. I want politicians arguing about how to help homeless people get off the street and how to eradicate AIDs and how to deliver food and medical supplies to war zones. If I work hard enough, I know with absolute certainty that I can go anywhere I want and there are a lot of people far worse off than me who can’t say the same. And they need your help.

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