Sexist men and women shape and perpetuate a backward and unjust society. This attitude can be obvious or expressed in a more subtle way. It’s based on an authoritarianism that is as rusty and old as it is damaging. Solving it and flushing it out of institutions and people’s mentalities is everyone’s responsibility.
Victor Hugo said that the first equality is equity. That was two centuries ago. Other writers and thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, or Emilia Pardo Bazan have also shared their testimonies in order to wake us up. Their ideas and thoughts have the potential to help us make some progress with equality and liberty. However, it often seems that we’ve barely made it past the starting line with our achievements for gender equality.
The freely-elected president of the United States, for example, has very clear views on the female sex. He said, “women are essentially aesthetically pleasing objects.” We live in a world where women are sexualized and made inferior in practically every context. Not only that, but a world where the very laws reek of chauvinism, authoritarianism, and patriarchy. These laws and systems persist from one generation to the next, from one legislature to another.
Our system is riddled with holes and biases. We all know this. Fixing the psychological, social, and political foundation is not something that we can do from one day to the next. Changing the system means changing people’s mindsets. The only way to do that is with determination and collaboration. If we can’t get everyone on board, we at least need a good majority.
“The first man to compare a woman to a flower was a poet. The second, an idiot.” [translation]
Chauvinist men and women are everyone’s problem
Chauvinist men and women are all around us. They’re in our families, at work, and among our friends. What’s more, maybe you yourself are chauvinistic. Maybe you’re among the people who practice and perpetuate chauvinism without even realizing it.
Your actions, comments, or reactions might be chauvinistic at their core. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Rather, it’s a reflection of your education. It also reflects how culture influences all of us in a silent, persistent, and studied way. You may even be a person who openly condemns inequality and violence against women. Nevertheless, most of us can fall into the trap of chauvinism when we least expect it.
That’s why it’s so important to understand this crucial point: chauvinistic men and women aren’t born that way. It isn’t an innate characteristic. Nor is it the result of some kind of brain connection that makes us act in a certain way. Just as you learn to read, ride a bike, or memorize irregular verbs in another language, people also “learn” to be sexist. We follow the example of others and internalize them.
Chauvinism you can’t see
Sexist and chauvinistic men and women are the product of an environment that treats men as superior. They absorb and internalize this idea over the course of their childhood and adolescence. We know, for example, that gender stereotypes are acquired at an early age. Not long ago, Science Magazine published an article that showed that girls start to feel “less smart” than boys at the age of 6.
Girls start to feel less smart because of the way we raise our children. It’s a result of what they see in their day-to-day lives and the ideas that we communicate to them. For example, when we raise boys, we constantly affirm their individuality. This is the overarching trait of chauvinism where strength and superiority reign. It’s the front that men have to maintain at all costs. In this macho club, the only permissible emotions are authority and sex drive.
Throw off the yoke of chauvinism
Throwing off the yoke of chauvinism isn’t easy. However, recent movements like #MeToo or the Spanish movement #Cuentalo are bringing these issues to light. These viral phenomena fulfill a need. They give social support to women and encourage them to speak out. They empower women and let them know they aren’t alone.
The second thing that these campaigns are able to achieve is quite interesting. They’re raising awareness and calling out injustices that have always existed. They’re shedding light on discrimination, violence against women, sexualization of women, and the sexist laws that have always existed. Chauvinistic men and women are still there, there’s no doubt about that. But more people are speaking out about their behavior and attitudes every day.
If we manage to free ourselves from the constraints of chauvinism, we all win. We will all breathe easier, and be freer. There are people who think that we have “enough” equality. However, all you have to do is look around and have some empathy to realize that that’s not the case. Chauvinistic attitudes are everywhere. In the way a man talks to his partner, in the way a mother raises her son. We see it in marketing and in the songs we dance to but don’t pay much attention to the words…
In conclusion, remember that change is only possible if we’re all aware of this ancient patriarchal foundation. What’s more, seeing it and feeling it isn’t enough. Awareness is useless if we don’t take action. There’s no point in knowing about it if we aren’t capable of creating a society based on equality, respect, freedom, and true justice.