No matter what you call it, it’s sexism

    Dictionary.com – Sexism: attitudes, conditions, or behavior promoting stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

    Merriam-Webster Online – Sexism: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

With regards to the Say what post and the one on Doc screwed the Pooch, I said specific statements were sexist, or more properly, examples of sexism. Why? Because they made generalized statements of social behavior based on sex.

Cute, funny, offhand, stupid, silly, friendly, joking, brilliant, clever, demeaning, exploring, explaining — whatever the basis of the statement, when there is generalization based on sex, this promotes stereotypes in social roles.

Two statements:

    “…business books are bodice-rippers for men”

    “…Oh: when you get tired of all the male kinda shit that seems to comprise 5/4 of the blog world (techblog or warblog… now there’s a sexy selection)…”

Someone take these statements and the definitions I provided, and you, specifically, tell me where I’m wrong in saying that both are examples of sexism.

Change in society doesn’t happen through law or proclamation — it’s based on changing social attitudes and behaviors, gradually, over time. It’s each of us becoming aware that we are, directly or indirectly, supporting stereotypes based on race or religion or sex: in our jobs, in our homes and neighborhoods, in our schools, and in our language.

Doc and Halley are terrific people. From their writings they both come across as fun loving, generous, kind, and intelligent. Neither comes across as sexist, and I don’t believe either is. However, no matter how likable they are, no matter how popular they are, no matter how respected they are, they do not get a “get out of being called on what you write ” free card. I sure don’t expect one for myself though in the past I have felt picked on a time or two for my writing, and have become correspondingly whiney in response (not something I’m particularly proud of).

What do we keep telling the major publications about weblogging? That weblogging is interactive, that we catch the mainstream press whenever it’s out of line, incorrect, or irresponsible. Well, ladies and gentlemen, there are few mainstream press publications that would have allowed either of Doc’s or Halley’s statements to pass the editor’s desk. And not because the editors are practicing censorship, but because neither statement is strong enough on its own to justify the sexism implicit in the words.

To explain that last statement, let me use an extreme example. Let me tell you a word: nigger. Chances are when you read this, you recoiled in disgust. Just the use of this word is enough to get books pulled from school shelves and people fired or even prosecuted. Me using it in this weblog posting has probably angered many of you.

Yet as late as a few decades ago, this word was in popular use in much of this country — used freely at work, in our press, in our schools. It took years of awareness and effort, and some people dying, to finally change the social norms enough to make the use of ‘nigger’, and what it implied, reprehensible.

However, as demeaning as this term is, its use in some publications is still acceptable. Why? Because the term is an integral part of telling a story that, ultimately highlights the incorrectness of the environment that fosters this term. Thus, using ‘nigger’ casually in conversation at work is socially unacceptable; however, the use of the term in the book To Kill a Mockingbird is an essential component of the book’s story, a story which ultimately demonstrates the imbalance of justice for blacks in the white dominated South in the time this book is set.

<edit >The point to this example is that if you’re going to use a term that’s racist or sexist (or bigoted), then at least make the use worth something rather than some offhand throwaway remark.</edit>

As I said, that was an extreme example. The context of Doc and Halley’s postings makes their statements innocuous. This is weblogging, for goodness sake! They’re joking around with friends, having a good time. Yes, I should lighten up, laugh the statements off, or ignore them at the least. And if I lived in a society where 50% of the politicians, CEO’s, and technology workers, and so on were women, I would most likely have a really good chuckle right about now. However, I don’t live in this society. In fact, if I remember my numbers correctly, we’re lucky to meet the 20% mark for upper corporate or government positions.

I’m beating a dead posting here. I’m trying to make a point many people won’t get because I’m making it based on the writing of two people who are well liked and respected in the weblogging community. Two people none of us believes is sexist. If I’m going to make a point about sexism, why don’t I find the real sexists in the weblogging community, and go after them?

Because change in a society occurs gradually, over time, with each of us becoming aware that we are, directly or indirectly, supporting stereotypes based on sex: in our jobs, in our homes and neighborhoods, in our schools…

…and in our weblogs.

One last note on this issue, and I’ll stop picking on these nice people and pissing most of you off: In both my postings, I never once said that either Doc or Halley was sexist. Please read what I wrote, and my associated comments. Once you do, please answer me this: exactly who is making generalizations from the writing of the postings to the person’s character? It sure as hell hasn’t been me.

(Doc’s responses to my initial posting: here and here. Halley’s here.)

Postscript: And if anyone wants to pull the link to my weblog from their blogroll because of this posting — or any other of my postings — please do. I will not make any comment about this action. I respect your right to link to me, or not. I must, if I ask your respect for me being able to freely express my opinion.

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