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Everyday Sexism

Sexism: Adaptable to the 21st Century

Author:
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By Shira Small

My sophomore year of high school, a dozen freshman boys created a March Madness style bracket evaluating each girl in the school to determine who was the prettiest. The domain they used required individual input, meaning they couldn’t just copy and paste names from the directory—they had to type in all 140 girls’ names by hand. The boys made derogatory puns out of many girls’ names, making fun of the way certain names sounded, or adding in crude language just for fun. Later, they admitted that they had intentionally misspelled the girls’ names so the list would be harder to find, but as with most things on the internet, it didn’t remain hidden for long.

The day the bracket went public, I saw a girl who had been ranked 60th run into the bathroom, tears rushing down her face. Moments later, a girl who was ranked 7th followed suit. It didn’t matter where you ranked; learning your friends had been judging you solely based on your appearance hurt no matter what. But for me it didn’t just hurt to see my name on the list, it changed the way I walked through the halls. Suddenly I was hyper aware of the way I looked and the way I moved; it didn’t matter if I was in class or with friends—I couldn’t stop thinking about the ranking. My mind became a cesspool of self-criticism, and my insecurities dominated every thought. These boys’ blatant objectification had turned me into an object in my own eyes.

Equally excruciating to being placed on this list was the backlash—or lack thereof—from the student body. I figured that people who normally dispute sexism’s existence would be eating their words. Instead, most people shrugged off the incident because “these types of rankings are made all the time.” I was shocked. I thought, really? That’s your defence? Sexism is acceptable because it happens all the time? In the same breath people said sexism wasn’t real, and also that the bracket was acceptable because sexism is unavoidable. Externally, I didn’t feel comfortable explicitly questioning the hypocrisy of some of my classmates. Internally, I was suffocating, furious that I couldn’t relay how hurtful and prejudicial their dismissal of the list was. I found myself at a crossroads: do I keep quiet in my comfort zone, or do I speak out at the risk of being controversial? Looking back, I wish I had spoken out, but in the moment I felt so lost that I did what too many girls who are hurting do—I stayed silent.

I don’t think the whole school considered the bracket acceptable, but it brought out a side of the student body I hadn’t seen before. One of my closest male friends admitted to creating a ranking of all the girls in our grade and discussing it with other boys. A handful of girls were unbothered because they had gotten so used to seeing these types of lists. Many felt rightfully upset, but some misplaced their anger. In response to the bracket, one girl retaliated with a list of her own. She ranked about nine boys in the school, most of whom had participated in creating the original ranking. Although the school punished her as well as the boys responsible for the other bracket, her punishment wasn’t as harsh. The same people who had disregarded the list of 140 girls took great offense to this new list, claiming it was sexist towards men that it was taken less seriously. I don’t condone this retaliatory list, but it was clear to me that it did less damage.

I was a feminist before the list emerged. I noticed daily microaggressions towards women; I saw an underrepresentation of women in power; I knew that not all women had the right to choose; I witnessed my mother’s exposure to sexism in the workplace; I heard about my grandmother not always having the right to vote. However, I never thought I would encounter such explicit sexism from progressive kids my age. People often tell me there’s no longer a need for feminism, and at times it’s hard to disagree. But the list and the troubling responses it elicited sent me a clear message: sexism is real, and we cannot stay silent. Progress isn’t permanent, and in order to protect the advances we have made we must be vigilant, proactive, and supportive — we must be feminists.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

Girls can’t what?!: sexism in STEM classrooms

Author:
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By Stephanie Wang

Sure, I see statistics on the clear disparity in the number of women going into STEM fields, hear horror stories of sexism in the workplaces of tech giants, and notice a difference in the amount of girls in math and science classes, but it’s another thing altogether to experience an overt form of gender-based bias at school.

Initially, I didn’t think anything much of the fact that AP Physics C was heavily dominated by boys, fully anticipating that we’d be seen as equals, with our accomplishments seen in equal light. Suffice to say, I was heavily mistaken.

For an end of the year celebration, we were challenged by our teacher to build a catapult and then use it to shoot a marble at a toy monkey more than 15 yards away. My group was the only group that was all-girl. When we asked our physics teacher for a screwdriver, one boy acted as if we couldn’t possibly know what a Phillips screwdriver was. This was despite the fact that unlike his group, we didn’t get a company to build the catapult for us, instead laboriously designing and conducting trials with our catapult. When we turned out to be the only group to hit the monkey, several of the boys – watching from 15 yards away – disputed it, saying it didn’t actually hit the monkey. This is despite the fact that our physics teacher, standing a foot away, vouched and said it did hit. Not to mention, we all heard the sound from the marble hitting the monkey.

Instead of accepting that they’d been bested by a group of girls, they demanded that we go again to “really prove it hit,” and obnoxiously crowded around the monkey and started to film the shot just to ensure that we couldn’t “cheat.” Perhaps the reason they felt like they couldn’t possibly trust the teacher’s judgment was that she was a female, and of course, a group of males with overly fragile egos know better than an incredibly knowledgeable physics teacher who used to be a college professor.

Throughout the entire experience, my group mates and I could only feel shock at the overt sexism we experienced. Here, we saw a clear example of the struggles facing women in STEM. Really, it was an incredibly apt metaphor for how women are expected to do twice as well to gain the same respect and credit. We were all fully aware that had this been an all-boy group that had won the challenge, the class would have congratulated the group, never expecting the group to go again and repeat the accomplishment amidst cameras and jeers. We were all fully aware that had we been boys, we never would have been subjected to comments from teachers and peers throughout high school that they “didn’t see us as engineers.” We were all fully aware that had we been boys, there never would never be comments that we only got an opportunity or got into a school because of our gender. These types of things, in the moment, just seemed to be a fact of life. Even worse, we knew that what we had experienced was practically nothing compared to the bias and prejudice other women in STEM have faced in their careers.

While it’s certainly disheartening, it’s not going to stop us, and to all the girls interested in STEM, it shouldn’t stop you either. If girls don’t continue to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, nothing will change, with the misguided belief that STEM subjects aren’t for women only prevailing and propagating. Pursue your passions, not the career stereotypes society pushes onto you.

My group mates and are using this experience to further fuel us, as a source of motivation to be successful in engineering. And that’s truly the reason why I’m sharing this story: because I hope this will inspire in you the determination that even against odds, that you will hold true to yourself, your passions, and your beliefs. My group mates and I; planning on double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Foreign Affairs, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Computer Science and Economics; know the opposition we’ll face and we’re determined to change both mindsets and the world.

We Deserve #SREnow

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Powered by Girl is a girl-driven activist movement. Many of our team are young women living all over the UK. As a group who have been directly affected by the UK government’s inaction on Sex and Relationships Education, we’re here to speak out. We’re victims of a sexist, derogatory and dangerous culture of sex. As young women, we feel it’s vital that gender-based violence and information about consent is made available to every child and every teenager. That’s why we support the End Violence Against Women and Everyday Sexism Project’s petition for ‪#‎SREnow‬. Here are just some of our reasons:

Healthy relationships develop through understanding – not only about healthcare, but also about mental care. There is too much ignorance surrounding issues of consent and sexual orientation, and the best way to tackle this is by education. This is why we must support the campaign to make SRE statutory in UK schools – so everyone can enjoy happy and safe relationships – Issy, 20

Sex and relationships can be one of the most exciting things about growing up. Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous. Young people need to be educated not just in safe sex, but on safe relationships, in order to equip this most vulnerable group in society to deal with these issues – information for everyone, no matter their sexuality – Amy, 16

At a time when children and young people are bombarded relentlessly by so many confusing and potentially dangerous messages about sex and relationships, comprehensive and in-depth SRE is vital. Biology does not suffice- exploring relationships and sexuality are often key aspects of adolescence and young adulthood- however, as we hear more and more of these experiences being negative ones, tackling the relevant issues through education is of paramount importance. By introducing SRE as compulsory, we can build fantastic foundations for not just adolescence, but for a lifetime of happy and healthy relationships – Cora, 16

It is vital that young people across the UK receive a decent SRE covering all key areas. Merely focusing on STIs, as was my one term of sex ed, is not sufficient. Consent should be central to SRE however schools are not required to teach it. When it comes to consent there are no ‘blurred lines’ and that needs to be clear. A 17 year old should not be learning about consent through discussion online before being taught about it in SRE or PSHE. Statutory SRE should teach responsibility and respect for people of all genders and sexual orientations and provide a safe environment to do so. We need to improve SRE and we need to do it now – Chloe, 18

With every minute that passes, roughly one incident of domestic abuse is reported to the police. That’s 60 incidents per hour; 1440 per day. Over a year, this amounts to around 525600 incidents- and those are the reported ones. It’s believed that far far more cases of domestic abuse go unreported. These are really shocking figures, yet they’re rarely talked about. School sex education lessons- even those titled ‘sex and relationships’- choose to focus on the biology of reproduction and ways of preventing pregnancy and/or infections. Whilst not saying these issues aren’t important, there is far more to ‘sex and relationships’ than this. There is little or no education delivered around consent, or sexuality, or happy and safe relationships. Young men and women are let down by this; they’re lead to believe that there is no choice but to go along with unacceptable behaviour, lead to believe that it’s not okay to be different or to speak up. This leads to so many problems further down the line that could be reduced with some basic education. If nothing else, the message could be delivered that it is okay to talk about these things. We no longer live in an age where we can pretend this isn’t happening, and transfer the problems to someone else. We need to act, to lay down the correct building blocks in the formation of happy, healthy adults, engaging in happy, healthy relationships. Legislation around this would be a hugely important step – Becky, 17

You can get involved by Tweeting using the hashtag #SREnow, and signing the petition here :)

SREnowpetition

STEM Jokes

Author:

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By Erika Davidoff

After studying together for our upcoming physics final, my group of engineering-student friends decided to take a break and peruse a collection of engineering memes. Though some of them were clever, and many of them simply rehashed the standard “lol engineering is hard” trope, I was dismayed that so many of them joked about the fact that engineering is a male-heavy field. There was nothing disparaging to women in particular, thankfully, but there were a lot of “where are all the women?” and “no girls allowed” posts. The four guys in my group found this commentary fairly hilarious. The three girls giggled awkwardly. Ha ha, guys. We’re right here.

Many universities, including mine, are trying to attract more STEM-oriented girls, and seek to have roughly gender-balanced entering classes. This is a problem, then, that many people are paying attention to and many people are trying to fix. So why are we still joking about it? It would be like joking about sexual assault—oh wait, that happened during our study hall, too, when one guy told another about his chances on the final, “You’re not just f*cked. You’re raped.” Cue more nervous laughter.

I wish I would have spoken up then and told him that wasn’t okay, but I didn’t, and I regret that. As long as jokes like these persist, it’ll be hard to convince people that problems like sexual assault and a gender imbalance in STEM fields are worthy of serious attention. These issues are no joke, and I hope I’ll be able to convince my friends of that.

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