So, I’ve been quiet mostly because I need to find an apartment before April and so that’s been keeping me busy. Last weekend I went to Osaka to check out some potentials and my friend went with me. The day was going fine (if a bit long); we met up with the agent who was helping me, we had seen several apartments, etc, etc. Then, as we were being driven to one of the places, my friend looked over and saw a woman putting on makeup while driving.
In the ensuing conversation she asked something to the effect of, “Don’t you think that doing that perpetuates the sexist stereotype?”
This is a hot button for me, because I’ve been accused of doing a similar thing for daring to mention to a male (now ex-)friend of mine that my cramps were acting up. His reasoning was that if any woman ever mentioned her period in the presence of men then that was a carte blanche invitation for them to make sexist jokes about PMS.
What this is doing is applying a sexist double standard to women, in which the actions of an individual are held up as being representative for the entire group (this happens to not just women, but all non-privileged groups and is one of the defining factors of being the Other). It’s the same idea behind the xkcd comic above, wherein when a man is bad at math it is understood that he is the one bad at math, but when a woman is bad at math it is understood that women as a group are bad at math.
Returning to the first example, was the woman putting on makeup being incredibly stupid and driving recklessly? Of course. If I was a cop I would have pulled her over and ticketed her, just like any other reckless driver. But she, and she alone, is responsible for her actions. If it were a man driving recklessly, it wouldn’t be used to “prove” that men as a group are reckless. Yet, put a woman in the same position — or, worse yet, have her doing an activity that is considered feminine as part of the reckless driving — and suddenly she’s the poster child for Why Women Are Bad Drivers (a stereotype obviously not supported by the facts).
The thing is, we can’t help other people’s selection bias. People choose to believe in stereotypes. When they do so to the point of having tunnel vision when it comes to seeing the one person who fits the stereotype and ignoring the thousands of others that they see every day that don’t, then there’s nothing that an individual who belongs to that non-privileged group can do. Even if all the individuals in the world tried to change themselves to not fit that stereotype it wouldn’t help, because those people who believe the stereotype have chosen to believe it and the choice to give up that belief in favor of the truth has to come from within.