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Category: Feminism, Education, Girls

Sexism: What’s the deal with that?

April 19, 2011

By Alexandra Guthy

Let me just start by saying I don’t really consider myself to be hard-core feminist (not that there’s anything wrong with being called a feminist, I actually find it to be a term of fortitude and a great compliment). Although I may have some very strong opinions on some very important issues regarding women’s rights, I never thought these issues impacted me personally, that is, until now.

You are a waiter at a nice, but casual, café. It’s late afternoon and a man and a woman are at lunch. You are given a tray with their order, and as you approach their table to deliver the food, you realize you are unsure of who ordered what. There is a salad and a hamburger on the tray, who do you give the salad to?

Many times I have been the woman mentioned in the above scenario, and I have come to realize the prevalence of female stereotypes in my daily life. The annoyance here is that I always get the salad. The waiter gently rests a plate of leafy greens in front of me every time without even asking what I ordered, when all I want to do is eat a hamburger! I also find it sad that some women are afraid to even order a hamburger when they’re out with a guy, but that’s a debate for another time. I understand getting a salad is not the worst possible form of discrimination facing our society today, but still, these subtle prejudices are a reminder of the inequality women have been facing for a long time. I know that may sound a bit extreme, but it’s true.

My newfound sense of feminism emerged a few weeks ago. I entered a jam-packed theater at the Sundance Film Festival, waiting to see a movie my mom urged me to see. “You’ll love it,” she said enthusiastically, “it’s a real eye-opener.” And that it was. The film, cleverly titled Miss Representation, was a documentary designed to expose the “glass ceiling” in modern media that is preventing the expansion of female leadership in society. I know, pretty heavy stuff. I didn’t think much of it at first, but after hearing some of the recent statistics and research, I was beyond shocked.

Did you know that the United States is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures or that women comprise merely three percent of Fortune 500 CEOs? Women hold only three percent of powerful positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising) and women comprise only seven percent of directors and thirteen percent of film writers in the top 250 grossing films.

We hear about oppression and injustice in history class, and for a moment we are really touched and angry and want to take a stand, but this feeling tends to fade after the bell rings and we pack our books and leave for our next class. But this film was different. It made me want to take a stand all the time, not just for a moment, but consistently and whole-heartedly. So I began thinking: do other women and girls know these facts and feel the way I do? The answer, I’m afraid, appears to be no. Does the name Gloria Steinem ring a bell? She should, but to most, her name seems inconsequential next to idolized female figures such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The sad thing is, I bet most women know Snookie from Jersey Shore, or even the name of the winner from last season’s Americans Next Top Model, but they don’t know Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem is only one of the most influential leaders and activists of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s. But who cares, she’s only the woman who fought for women’s rights to equal pay and equal treatment, no biggy. I find it so unfortunate that women and young girls today, myself included, idolize and admire other women for qualities that, in some ways, counter the values promoted during women’s movement.

I don’t expect our culture to change overnight, but I do hope that awareness of prejudice and inequality against women can be more openly acknowledged and, eventually, eliminated completely.

Alexandra Guthy’s piece originally appeared in her school newspaper, The Student Voice in Issue 6 on Friday, March 4, 2011. The Student Voice won Fifth Best in Show at the National Scholastic Press Association’s (NSPA) conference.

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