some thoughts on sexism online

In my career field, there is a forum where people can confer about jobs and other happenings in the field. Because I am thinking of pursuing a professional degree in the field, I have browsed that forum quite a few times and have come away, each time, quite horrified at the amount of casual sexism thrown in.

Some have had the courage to speak up about the sexism on the forum and the response usually goes, “But it’s all just light-hearted joking! Toughen up!” or try to deflect it with even more ironic (in their opinions) sexist comments about the OP making them a sandwich instead. There was even a terrible thread where they asserted that all the “hot women” in the field use their attractiveness to their advantage and if they dress up, then they must expect objectification. Another terrible thread talked about my college– it’s a women’s college– and some commented how we are self-centered and entitled [nasty epithets here] who only care about snagging prestigious husbands and no one should ever take a job there. Only here and there are there replies acknowledging that some joking has gone too far and expression of disgust of particularly offensive sexist remarks. 

Even more heartbreaking can be the people who stand up for women– one comment ran thus: “Why can’t women dress up? Should they all look like lesbians?”– as if all lesbians have short hair, wear checkered plaid shirts, and eschew makeup.

As it is a relatively small field, it’s disheartening to think that some people who will eventually become my colleagues and even my mentors think this way and will privately devalue my work on the basis of my gender. I guess some will say this behavior is all right because it is merely online and “in real life” they will not behave this way. However, I do believe that we all have an unconscious set of values that we make choices by and if we reinforce it by even jokingly saying these things, over time, if we say it enough, it becomes close enough to reality. The concept of rape is an example of this; for some reason, it became in vogue to say “this test raped me” or “I raped the test” and so forth, devaluing rape into something of a triumph or a #humblebrag defeat. For people who have survived the trauma and suffering of rape, I can only imagine how this casual usage makes them feel.

Also, I note that there is so much more sexism than there is racism on that forum, for whatever reason. If they are “joking around”, I would expect “joking” on all fronts, not just centered around women. However, this is not the case. Being racist is bad, but having a laugh or two at the expense of women and those who defend women is still considered kosher. I lament the fact that “feminist” still has a stigma attached to it with an aggressive image of bra-burning– that’s not it at all. Mostly, we are just people who would like equal rights and recognition for women. We do not hate men; we do not burn bras; we are not all lesbians. Being a feminist is still radical, and on the fringe, and something that is made fun of. I lament this.

One more thing– a professor at my college is outside of the mainstream schools of thought and so they bring her up and make fun of her relentlessly in the forum. A discipline does not advance through homogeneity, but through the heterogeneity of ideas and backgrounds. Her ideas may sound funny at first, but perhaps after reading her work, you may come to see why she has those viewpoints. From context, I believe that most in the forum making fun of her never bother to even check out her research and instead crow over the weird lines in her biography. It saddens me to no end when people are quick to judgment, proclaim everything at the top of their lungs as if they are the total authority, and feel snotty-nosed-uppity that they are proudly mainstream and conformist.

Well, I suppose it’s the internet, and they are exercising their right to be dogs.


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