Against the Binary

A couple of weeks ago, my 3-year-old daughter decided to wear some very cool pants that, until that moment, she hadn’t shown any interest before. Once she wore it, she really enjoyed it. When she came home from kindergarten that day, she said she didn’t want to wear those pants anymore. I asked why and, tearing up, she said someone told her she looks like a boy in it. This, of course, is one of many little tragedies that 3-year-olds go through and get dramatic about, but it stuck with me more than other things. It also broke my heart a little. I remembered it again while watching the flood of news about Harvey Weinstein and the continuous reports of sexual harassment that women have to go through all the time.

There is a connection, of course. Weinstein’s idea, that he, as a man (a powerful man, but more on that in a second) somehow feels to have the right to ask women to do sexual favors for him starts with little things like girls being told that they look like boys if they wear pants. Because that is where the categorization starts and once you start instilling in children that there are differences between men and women that go beyond biology, you lay the groundwork for also making differences.

As when my daughter comes home from kindergarten and tells me which colors are for girls and which are for boys. Or when a colleague, who I respect greatly, makes offhand sexist ‘harmless’ jokes. Or when I am doing Zumba classes and feel weird even mentioning it, which is probably supported by the fact that every new instructor I have, points out how unusual it is that a man is doing Zumba. Or when I tell a student to stop talking and she says “I’m sorry for talking so much, but I’m a girl.” Or when I see this in stores:

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And this:

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And this:

 The subtle difference here drives me crazy because it is so not necessary!

The subtle difference here drives me crazy because it is so not necessary!

And this:

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And this:

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And countless other examples of a binary worldview which constantly, everywhere tells us that there are inherent differences in what men and women like or do or enjoy or want or are capable of.

All of this matters. All of this is responsible for the climate in which (mostly) men feel they can do whatever they want with women or question their skills or belittle them or sexually harass them.

It is amazing to see how much the climate has changed, how much people are finally willing to accept the things that have been happening. This change is so strong that I almost fear a backlash (and of course in the ever so popular corners of the alt-right this backlash is fed more and more as the fear of ‘p.c. culture’ and ‘feminists’ grows and women (!) can write articles like this one)

The reason I have been writing about this from the start and I keep on writing about it, about the sexism in movies, song lyrics, posters, trailers, kids books and everywhere else, is because these little things matter. We don’t need sexist leaders to perpetuate misogyny and gender stereotypes as long our culture keeps on telling us about those differences and we accept them as the norm. They are constructions that we have come to accept and that we teach our kids who suffer through them until they think it is normal. It is up to us to break those cycles. It is one big aspect of our controlling, dominant culture and the one that is changing the most radical right now. It is very liberating to accept that and to throw out those stupid clichés. Don’t think you’re giving up anything because we’re actually all on the same side and this is not a war. There is nothing to lose.