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Opinion

Fighting sexism, why everyone should be a feminist

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February 10, 2012

The other day in class I overheard two female students talking: “So, professor so-and-so took off his coat the other day before lecture and he was totally wearing a t-shirt that said ‘I’m a feminist.’”

“Oh my God that is so funny!”

“Yeah, totally! We asked him if it was his wife’s shirt and he said it was his. We took a picture and put it on Facebook.”

I find this particularly disturbing. Feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” This, by the way, is posted all around campus. Look for yourself. So, why are female college students snickering at a male professor who espouses publicly his support for gender equality?

Let me answer my own question. We suck. By we, I mean our society and, yes, I am guilty of it too. I grew up thinking that feminists were some silly group of overweight lesbian man haters who went around hating men. This is not the case. Feminism, and gender quality is a serious issue.

Growing up I was lucky. All of the women in my life were hardworking and independent. I could not conceptualize the idea that women were some how less than men. I just was not exposed to that kind of thinking. So of course I thought feminism was silly and all women are treated the same.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. I am grown up now and I have noticed that our society, the real world, is a lot different from the environment I grew up in. Let me explain. Sure, most people do not feel that women are inferior. Sure it’s only a small minority who feel that way. But think about all the people who just stand by and let sexism happen. Those people are the problem. I am the problem.

I stood by and watched a woman lose her job because she was being sexually harassed. When she asked her boss to stop it he fired her. It was obviously her fault. There was no sexual harassment problem until she (a female) started working there.

I stood by and watched a woman be made absolutely miserable because she was attractive and had large breasts. Obviously she was sleeping around.

I stood by and watched a woman whose supervisor would not let her do her job because she was a woman. He then recommended her for termination because she was not doing her job. He later admitted to me that he did so thinking that she was incapable because of her gender. Clearly only people with penises are competent.

In all of these cases the woman had expertise essential to the jobs they were performing.

The first two were law enforcement professionals who were training and mentoring police in a less developed country. One was a former police officer in the U.S. with over 30 years of experience in a large city. The other was a military police soldier in the National Guard. The third woman was a translator who grew up in the area she was working in. She was not only an excellent translator but was also able to provide advice on cultural mores or norms. In all of these cases the women were prevented from doing their jobs solely because of their gender.

In all of these cases everyone, including me, just stood by and let sexism happen. I let sexism happen. Is that so much different from doing it myself?

I cannot change what I did and did not do. What I can do is share their stories and assure you that feminism is not some silly thing to snicker about before class. Feminism is a serious issue and maybe we all should think twice before deciding not to do anything about it.

Jason Larson is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.