Disclaimer: this is not every female-identifying person’s experience at Macalester, but these are some of our experiences. A subtle yet highly problematic issue on our campus is sexism. This sexism is not the blatant sexism we typically think of, like job discrimination or the wage gap, but rather it is hidden under the liberal ideology. Sexism comes in many shapes and forms. The predominant forms of sexism here at Macalester are hostile sexism, benevolent sexism and internalized sexism. When we say women, we are including all female-identifiers, and when we say men, we are including all male-identifiers. As two cisgender women, we want to include everyone in this conversation because at the end of the day sexism affects everyone, whether they be cisgender, transgender or gender-neutral.
Hostile sexism is the more stereotypical type of sexism that women encounter in their daily lives. It is usually aggressive and the least socially accepted form of sexism. Hostile sexism is defined as a male asserting dominance over a woman in a demeaning and degrading way, whether it is through derogatory comments, negative generalizations or cat-calling. One day while putting my plates away at Café Mac, I heard a voice behind me say, “Ay, ay, ay mamacita, looking good today!” I whirled around to see one of the workers leering at me and promptly ran away. The friend whom I was waiting for started laughing while I shared the story, mostly because he was uncomfortable, but also because he found it funny. Other men told me I should “take it as a compliment,” to which I responded with silence. In general, the women I talked to were able to identify with my experiences and emphasized how unsafe it made me feel.
I talked to the Title IX representative, who made it clear that I was the first one to come to her with such complaints. It was only after my meeting that I learned that many other females had similar experiences in Café Mac, but decided not to say anything. I can only speculate as to why these women did not come forward. Perhaps, they felt the same pressure from men to normalize the experience and therefore felt uncomfortable talking to an authority figure about it, or perhaps the experience was just normal for them because of the sexist society we live in. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that in one way or another, hostile sexism hurts women.
Benevolent sexism comes in the form of disguised chivalry, which is well-intentioned, but still detrimental to women’s existence in society. It is never clearly seen as sexism, and it portrays women as fragile, docile creatures who need a man in order to be okay. But that is not the only form benevolent sexism takes. For example, late one night I was hanging out with a male-identifying friend, and I was hungry. My friend and I decided to order Jimmy John’s as a midnight snack. My friend didn’t have any money, and even though I had money in my room he refused to let me go back to get it. He said he would get some money for us so I did not have to leave his dorm and come back. It was cold and dark outside, he added, and one of us had to wait for the food. He borrowed the money from a friend, and I never had to pay him back, even though I offered to pay for it and attempted to pay him back. As sweet of a gesture as this is, it is still a form of benevolent sexism. I appreciated the act, but I know he would not have done the same for his male-identifying friends. No matter how much I tried to convince myself I did not owe him something, I felt like I did. Benevolent sexism can be seen as a sweet gesture, but in my experience it complements gender stereotypes and makes women feel guilty based on these stereotypes, i.e. that a guy needs to pay for my meal.
Internalized sexism can come from either a man or a woman, but to give an example it is easier to describe internalized sexism coming from a woman. Internalized sexism is the involuntary internalization by women and men of the sexist messages that are present in society and culture. Recently, we dealt with the effects of internalized sexism in sports. Early one morning we were practicing in the Leonard Center, and our coach, who is also a woman, was making us do push-ups as a part of our warmup. The coach said, “We’re going to do 10-15 push-ups. Boys, if you want to do more that’s okay; I know you can. Girls, if you need to drop to your knees that is okay, too.” As a woman who runs and did Crossfit all through high school, I was stunned by the remark. Then I got angry. After practice we discussed how sexist the remark was, but we could not understand what made us so angry about it. I realized it was because she did not believe women were capable of doing the same work as men, and it was probably drilled into her as a young woman. Therefore, she was only saying what society allowed her.
Sexism is an intolerable act, whether it is hostile, benevolent or internalized. Macalester needs to have more serious conversations about dismantling the patriarchy, which is inherently related to several other systems of inequality. The issue is so deeply rooted in our society that it is hard to catch all forms of sexism, and this article hopes to end all forms of sexism. As a society, we must learn that benevolent sexism and internalized sexism are just as problematic as hostile sexism and unlearn the habits so ingrained in our day-to-day lives.