Posted by Danny Pforte
Recently, much of the conversation around the Skidmore campus has been focused on racial tension. But there is much more to a person's identity than race. Social identities include race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, as well as physical and mental ability. Each of these facets of our identities grants us a certain level of power, but also faces a struggle. Some groups hold more power in society than others. One social identity that has been overshadowed by our discussions of race is gender.
Gender is socially constructed, and men are the dominant group in the United States. Even though strides have been made to increase academic and workplace opportunities for women, the power remains in the hands of men. A common theme in our society's policies is the promise for equal rights and opportunities for subordinate groups. But these promises ultimately lead to hypocrisy and its consequences.
For example, the Equal Pay Act was supposed to eliminate workplace discrimination and wage gaps between men and women. However, the most recent census confirms that on average, women are paid significantly less than men for the same work. And of course a more obvious example of institutionalized sexism would be the recent congressional discussion to cut funds for Planned Parenthood, while also attempting to narrow the definition of rape to physical violence. As it so happens, rape is more complex and harmful than a beating.
Our campus reflects the consequences of the patriarchal society in which it is located. In challenging me to a debate, some of my critics decided to use sexist language, such as the phrases "sack up" and "man up." These expressions are very common and also problematic, because they not only reinforce male domination, but also highlight the socialized aggressive behavior that prevails among the men in our society.
Men are expected to be on the offensive when it comes to our values and beliefs, which often prevents any productive discussions from happening. Both sides should try to understand differing opinions. The media, peers, school, and other groups socialize aggression and violence as normal behavior for men, while women are taught the exact opposite. Women in our society are socialized to be weak, submissive, and they are objectified, taught to think that their bodies are their only resource, rather than their true talents and intelligence.
We cannot blame ourselves for being socialized by the dominant groups in society. Their power gave them control over our thoughts and behavior while we were young. However, we must all take responsibility for the gender inequality on our campus. Women are most often the victims of sexual assault on this campus. The conversations I have had regarding the "hook-up culture" revolve around the idea that "men are assholes" and that they take advantage of the gender ratio on campus.
But I think that the sexual misconduct on campus and the hook-up culture are the result of sexism deeply ingrained within our society, rather than the ratio of women to men. Women are taught to use their bodies for power and have low self-esteem if they can't meet the high standard of being a "beautiful woman." Since men are socialized to the opposite effect, being inclined towards aggression, violence, and a sense of entitlement, they will continue to be the perpetrators of sexual misconduct, domestic violence, and gender inequality.
It is time we all ask ourselves what it means to be a man or a woman. Even more importantly, we should take a look at the power and vulnerability that accompany our gender identities. Other identities, such as our race and sexuality, play a key role in the formation of our gender identity. Another important aspect of gender is that it is not a rigid dichotomy. There are individuals within our society who identify themselves as transgender or "fluid." The binary depiction of gender as being either man or woman further highlights the power dynamic and inequality within our society.
The fight against all of the –isms (racism, classism, sexism, etc.) begins with a fight with ourselves. We cannot truly find solutions to large-scale issues without looking at how they affect us, how they place us in positions of either power or weakness. Once we come to this realization, we must try to abstain from practices that reinforce power inequality among social identities. Whether it is challenging a friend's sexist remark, or advocating the empowerment of women on the societal level, we can all play our part in fighting sexism on our campus and in the larger community.
A big part of this fight against sexism is for men to understand the problematic nature of masculinity. Masculine tendencies such as aggression and violence were constructed to relinquish power from women, but they also have dire consequences for men. Men are expected to be non-emotive, and it is taboo to seek help and to be incorrect about something.
Most social identities that divide us into privileged and oppressed groups entail negative consequences for both groups. Until we speak out on these important aspects of our identity, we will stay trapped in someone else's construction, which was created specifically to dominate certain groups. Let's get free.