Who Runs The World: WOMEN
A few months ago I wrote about seeing Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche at the Women of the World festival in London. The discussion with her opened with her expanding on a comment she had made “I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism.” I was intrigued by Adiche’s reason for feeling this way and I’ve thought about it a lot since. She said that race is still widely recognized as a problem that needs further attention but sexism is often poo-poo’d (my phrase, not hers) and not acknowledged as needing work. Now, as a white woman I’ve only benefited from systemic racism so I’m not in a position to be a judge in this round of oppression Olympics but I think it’s hard to argue against sexism being the longest form of systemic oppression in history. I have a graduate diploma in Classical Studies, focusing on ancient Roman history. While there are cases to be made for religious and racial oppression back then it did not appear in the way we think of it today. Ancient sexism, however, is exactly as we think of it today. I’m not suggesting we haven’t made progress. I’m suggesting that the progress we’ve made has been coming for thousands of years. This is true for sexism but not for most other forms of oppression that we are fighting today. The only other contender I can think of is ableism. People with physical or
mental disabilities have been oppressed since the beginning of time but that’s a conversation for a different day. The reason that this history is important to consider is because we need to realize that when we are fighting sexism we are bucking a system that’s been in place for thousands of years. “The Patriarchy” which feminists so often rail against comes from the Greek word patriarhes which means “ruling father.” Just as you can’t fight racism without considering it in the context of capitalism, to you can’t fight sexism without considering it in the context of human history. Suggestions that women are second class citizens are so ingrained in the fabric of our society that most people, even most feminists, don’t recognize them. And attempts to highlight these subtly sexist aspects of our society will bring eye rolls, exasperation, and even hostility. While listening to Run the World (Girls), a friend looked at me and said “does this song bother you?” with amusement in her voice. Yes, of course it does. Girls don’t run the world. Girls play on playgrounds and go to elementary school and have stuffed animals. I understand that the single syllable of “girls” works better than the double “women” but the message that is now victoriously being chanted by women everywhere is that the females who think they’re in charge are really children. I don’t believe that was Bey’s intent but the regular use of the word “girls” to describe “women” is one of the most common ways that the English language supports continued sexism. Language, wedding rites, and beauty standards are just some of the ways in which even the most enlightened feminists support the patriarchy, usually without realizing it. So to continue this ancient struggle we have to focus on the little things. I recently went to the wedding of two friends—both feminists. They did a beautiful job of dodging some of the most antiquated traditions. They walked down the aisle together as equals. No one gave anyone away. She kept her own name. Her football coach married them. As someone who is always looking for where we can cut sexist traditions, I was impressed. I enjoyed the wedding so much more because I wasn’t uncomfortably watching traditions that are rooted in a father selling his daughter for a good price. Women are in constant battles for equal footing with men—in the workplace, in the justice system, in healthcare, in relationships. These overt fights are critical, obviously, but there are every day changes that we can make that will help to push our society further from ancient times.
I’d like to challenge you to take a first step: When someone says “girl” when they are referring to a woman, correct them. It doesn’t have to be a fight. Just quickly pointing it out without a lot of fanfare is enough. Most people will realize the error and say, “yes, woman” and move on. The more often we insist that adult women be referred to as adults and not children, the more seriously our society will take us. Men did not build the patriarchy by allowing themselves to be called boys.
Article by Claire E. Ryder
Director of Refugee and Immigration Affairs
Women's March PA