Most people think “sexism” or “sexist” and they think of women being denied certain jobs simply because they’re a woman. They think unequal pay for equal work. They think of preferential treatment towards men in all aspects of society, from jobs to laws on protection to everyday life. They think of a stereotypical man who thinks that all women belong in the house and that their sole purpose is to make babies and pleasure men. They think of a man who makes derogatory comments to his female coworkers and make inappropriate gestures towards them. They think of someone who cat calls to a woman as she walks down the street. And while all of these things do in fact still exist in varying degrees in today’s society whether we want to believe it or not, this is not what today’s sexism is about.

Today’s sexism is much more subtle. Any semi-intelligent person can tell that the above examples are blatant sexual discrimination, and that it’s wrong. Generally, sexism is no longer condoned in American society. But that by no means implies that it no longer exists. Quite the contrary. Because the new sexism is much more subtle, people continue to perpetuate it without even realizing it. People will become angry and object when called a sexist because they don’t fit the old definition, therefore they don’t think they fit any definition of sexist. But that is also why the new sexism is so powerful and so prevalent: because so many people think it’s okay.

Example: The popular website, Texts From Last Night, publishes supposed text messages that typically represent a person’s debauchery from the evening before. This was published the other day: “i fell off the bed in the middle of it, and he yelled “5 second rule” and kept fucking me. i think im in love.” While imagining this situation, I literally laughed out loud, especially given that I have also fallen off the bed during such activities before. However, I then wondered why, in that situation where his girlfriend (or hook up buddy or one night stand or whatever) has fallen and could possibly be in pain, why was his first thought about a reference to food (the “5 second rule” referring to the fact that if a piece of food has fallen on the floor for less than 5 seconds, it’s still safe to eat)? Why was it that he basically compares this woman to a piece of food, and not only that but implies that after “5 seconds” she would no longer be suitable?

I realize that this was in no way this man’s intention, and he may in fact have utmost respect for women by today’s standards. He meant to make a joke, to make this woman feel less embarrassed about being uncoordinated enough to fall off the bed in the first place. But it’s not his intentions that are the problem. The problem is his unconscious association with women and food, inanimate objects to be consumed. (This is very reminiscent of the controversial Hustler issue of June 1978 which depicted a woman in a meat grinder, as well many other depictions of women as food.)

Another example is the way in which so many people, men and women, refer to someone who is weak as a “pussy,” inferring that female genitalia is inherently weak. Some may counter argue that to call someone a “dick” is also derogatory, but when you compare the full list of nicknames for male and female genitalia (as I mentioned in my post about language and gender), it is clear that female genitalia is made to look gross (cum dumpster, penis parking, bearded axe wound), whereas the penis is a powerful symbol (the sword, the rod, Russell the one-eyed wonder muscle).

These are all very subtle, even subconscious ways in which both men and women perpetuate sexism in today’s society. It’s no longer the blatant ideas that men and women are different and should serve different roles in society: sexism has evolved to be the almost unnoticeable derogatory references to women by all people, even those who claim to be for women’s rights. Not only that, but when people like myself point out the sexism in such comments, we are yelled at and told that we’re over-analyzing everything, that the person’s intention wasn’t sexist therefore the comment or action itself wasn’t sexist. This not only helps perpetuate these sexist ideals, but it also builds resentment towards feminists and the woman’s rights movement.

People don’t think they’re being sexist, and not only that, but they resent being called sexist because of what they think of themselves. But who’s to say what’s sexist and what’s not? The person telling stupid “jokes” to make people laugh, or the women who are thoroughly offended by such comments, who feel targeted and made to feel inferior? Should we “get over it”? But how exactly does one “get over” discrimination? Or rather, shouldn’t those perpetuating sexism “get over it” and admit what they’re doing and take steps to stop it, instead of deny it?

I vote for the latter.