A Subtle Sexism

I have been accused of sexism in my writing more than once. The most aggressive accuser was at least kind enough to call it a subtle sexism. I figure if I’m a large hairy male critter who can manage “subtle” in my view of women, I’m doing fairly well. That doesn’t mean that I have no strong opinions, however. It means that like everyone, I have my own ways of looking at a very complex subject and reducing it to a worldview that works with integrity to my beliefs.

Why write about sexism in the midst of so many other election year topics in a world that could very well be coming apart at the seams? This article and its companion comments triggered my particular venting of opinion.


Before I talk about my actual opinions on the subject, I want to point out that I read a lot of  this kind of article. Not only am I interested in the views of women, I find that those views are a critical and frequently overlooked piece of the great tapestry of American society. In other words, if we want to make progress as a nation, we cannot ignore anyone, especially the women who make up the majority of our numbers, and do so against a surprising onslaught of challenges that men never face.

If you were to roll past the body of these articles, into the comments section, you would find a stock cast of characters. There are the balanced comments, of course, the women (for the most part) who try to see it from both sides, basically like their husbands, and struggle with their demands in the best way they can. These voices make up the bulk of the comments and cover a range of good points.

Next, you invariably have the man-haters who are poised to lay the blame for every problem they have ever experienced at the feet of a heartless, condescending, exploitative patriarchal society. The wolves are guarding the sheep. There is a basis for that kind of thought, but if the entire universe pivots around it, I suspect there is a lot of potential happiness is being left on the table.

To support that worldview, the so-called alpha males always stick it in. (Crude innuendo intended) They like to take the tack that women should be happy that we let them have shoes and leave the kitchen, or they like to start whining about how men are far more put upon than women, never mind that they have the lion’s share of societal advantages.

Those “dudes” like to point to the gamma male, the guys who actual have the ability to sympathize with the challenges of women, and to give them women the credit they deserve for the sacrifices they make. First the alphas make fun of the gammas for an obviously ineffective tactic for diving into the britches of hapless and gullible (in their view) women with the whole sensitive male bit, then the mentally muscular alpha proceeds to issue the pointless threat that if they were to meet up with one these gammas, they would undoubtedly kick the living crap out of the poor sensitive male. It would probably be a bad day for an alpha if a gamma were to express support for women, and then proceed to demonstrate that how a man thinks about women has no bearing on his ability to open up a can of whoop ass.

And that’s the play. There are plenty of opinions along the continuum of thought in the battle of the sexes, and other type casts for specific issues like abortion rights, but these characters seem to appear at any gathering to discuss women’s issues. Does anyone think that the most prevalent breakdown of communication the human race experiences, namely between men and women, can be expressed this simply?

Where I fall in the tumble depends on how you define sexism. If you think that men and women are exactly the same, blank human slates to be filled with the programming of the world around us, I think I am definitely sexist. I believe that we are different, and that we were made (or evolved, your choice) that way for good reasons. Aside from the obvious fact that women can have babies, we have profound biological differences that affect everything from child rearing to how our brains are structured, and I regard that as a very good thing. For every idiot failing I have, there is a woman in this house with a compensating strength.

If, on the other hand, you define sexism based on how we treat men and women regarding the technicalities: rights, equal pay, the glass ceiling, reproductive rights, religious rules, and all the other ways that men try to force women into a second class in society, then I’m a solid feminist. I believe that women should have every opportunity that men do, on an equal playing field, and I further believe that they are fully capable of filling any roles they see fit.

Equal, but not the same.

At risk of losing my membership in good standing of the Big Hairy Male Society, I’d go so far as to say that I have no problem seeing about ten million things that women, as a rule, do better than men. I also believe that women have a number of competitive advantages in the game of life, and when I make a point of those things in my stories, that’s probably where I cross the line into the subtle sexism zone.

I’m not covering any new ground here, but how many men have done something purely stupid because they were doing it for an attractive woman? How many men have wrecked their entire lives for the same basic reason? Yeah… How many women have noticed how one of those really beautiful women seem to have it so easy, with men stumbling over themselves to offer some form of assistance, anything from opening doors to buying extravagant gifts?

Yes, I understand that women prefer, as a rule, to be measured by their accomplishments rather than their looks, but there is no way to interpret that basic biological power over men as a general disadvantage. Does it lead to frequent instances of victimization by men? Sure it does. Does the pursuit of that advantage lead women to do crazy things to attain it? Yep. That too. In extreme cases, women pursue beauty like politicians pursue high office. In both cases, the below-the-line advantages outweigh the fight. Is there an entire industrial strength layer of society devoted to extracting money from that basic desire? Sure. The point is that if female attractiveness and the male desire to possess it at all costs were not a baseline advantage for women, then a bolt of the fabric of our society would not be built around it. Another swath is devoted to resisting it.

The previous two paragraphs could brand me as a not-so-subtle sexist. I get that, but I don’t think that really detracts from the truth of it. Growing up in the South, I was taught a whole set of common rules of etiquette that involved things like opening doors for women, and pretty much everything else you might expect, good and bad. It was a shock the first time I tried that move out here in the Pacific Northwest, where I’ve learned that a great many women are striving for total equality, including ignoring the fact that they are indeed women. I opened the huge door on the front of the Barnes & Noble for a middle aged woman, and received a huge scathing lecture for my trouble. It’s not easy to shed the teaching from my youth, so I just keep opening doors and trying to guess whether I’ll get a thank you, a dirty look, or a lecture.

The waters are muddy these days. My guess is that both sexes are struggling to define the proper roles for themselves, just like I’m playing door-roulette for sport. In terms of how we actually deal with each other, women and men, it’s an anything goes scenario, and we probably have a long way to go to work it out, if a resolution is even possible. It could be that every detail of gender relations is a fluid construct – forever, and we’ll always muddle through as best we can.

However, in technical and legal terms, there is no reason that we should define ourselves differently. Women have great strength and some weaknesses in any given situation. Men have great strength and some weaknesses in any given situation. The best we can do is to figure out which strengths and weakness apply to that situation and give full credit to whoever can solve the problem of the moment. Full credit, for the record, means equal pay, equal rights, and some smart accommodation for the fact that women still bear the major burden for childbirth, child raising, and you know, the perpetuation of the human race.