The double standard: "Doesn't that perpetuate sexism?"

How it Works (xkcd comic)

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.

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11 thoughts on “The double standard: "Doesn't that perpetuate sexism?"

  1. I was chatting to a friend the other night, because he was having some difficulty coming to grips with my transsexuality. One of the things he said almost had me completely blow my top.

    He said that transsexuals are the very worst gender-stereotypes around, and that the very idea of them offends him because they reinforce the gender binary.

    I didn’t think of it at the time, cos I was waaay too busy going ‘OMFG, WE OFFEND YOU? OFFEND YOU? WTF!’ in my head, but I should have pointed out that he is simply buying into the stereotype of what a transsexual is like.
    After all, I know transwomen that are tomboys, and transmen that are very effeminate and refer to themselves as ‘fags’.

  2. RhianWren said:

    He said that transsexuals are the very worst gender-stereotypes around, and that the very idea of them offends him because they reinforce the gender binary.

    Oi. That’s exactly the kind of selection bias I was talking about in my post. It’s really easy to single out the non-privileged groups because they already stick out as “not the norm”. I’m sure your friend knows at least a half a dozen cisgendered people who fit their gender’s stereotypes to a T but doesn’t think about them at all because they’re seen as “normal”. Ugh.

  3. I agree about the women-makeup part. She should be seen as just a wreckless driver and should be ticketed as any other reckless driver is.

    I’m not so certain about the “if she was a man” argument. Men do face a stereotype also when it comes to wreckless driving. That is, that if a man is darting from one lane to another to get one car ahead, if he’s tail-gating, than it’s seen as males are all agressive/reckless.

    Back to your situation, you talking about your period definitely shouldn’t be an invitation for sexist jokes and being made to feel bad about talking about it.

  4. Brad said:

    I’m not so certain about the “if she was a man” argument. Men do face a stereotype also when it comes to wreckless driving. That is, that if a man is darting from one lane to another to get one car ahead, if he’s tail-gating, than it’s seen as males are all agressive/reckless.

    I have to disagree with you. If that’s a stereotype, it’s not one I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t as well established or widespread as the woman one.

    For example, take a google search. If you search for “women bad drivers” most of the top hits either reinforcing or discussing the stereotype. Contrast that to “men bad drivers”, where a good part of the top links mention men in reference to the myth of women being bad drivers. If you switch that to the word “reckless” the closest you get is a pop-science article in the Guardian.

    So, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that the evidence supports the assertion men are actually held responsible as a gender for one male’s reckless driving. And, until there are questions on Yahoo! Answers asking Why are ALL men bad drivers?, stupid flash games about the World’s Worst Men Drivers, and scientists trying to “prove” why the stereotype is supposedly true, then I would say that my point still stands.

  5. I guess you might be right. Maybe it’s just my experiences that I think/notice that. I wasn’t saying that men get anywhere near the same flack as women do. No worries about disagreeing. I hadn’t researched my thought at all, it was more about my experiences and what I’ve talked with people about.

  6. Brad: I’d generally agree that there’s a tendency to associate “aggressiveness” with men, but I disagree with you about the driving. A particular man driving poorly might be seen as exhibiting stereotypically masculine aggressiveness, but you’ll rarely see that driver used to generalize about other men’s ability to drive safely. A woman driving poorly- in this case because of the make-up- might be seen as exhibiting stereotypically feminine vanity, AND she will be used to generalize about other women’s ability to drive safely.

    (Just to clarify- I don’t think that women are any more vain than men- but I think that there’s a stereotype that women are more concerned about their physical appearence than men are)

  7. One final driving statistic I’d like to see is “Number of times [a given demographic] inconveniences someone else on the road.” There is more to good driving than addressed by bobbie7-ga’s research (which I’ll admit is the most thorough I’ve ever seen). For example, the stereotypical old grandma in the big cadillac who goes 30 in the left lane. She always buckles her seatbelt, never drinks, never speeds, and she’s going too slow to get in an accident. But, I don’t think you could get a single person stuck behind her to tell you she’s a good driver. Statistics say she’s perfect.

    My point is, I am just as quick as anyone to judge or stereotype a person who does something irrational or dangerous on the road, and if any of these stubborn, tunnel-vision-prone stereotypers are like me, they’re getting their opinions from driving by the person (here, woman) who cut them off, not from the mangled wreck on the side of the road. But statistics unfortunately don’t record cutoffs.

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  9. The only places I’m aware of the ‘reckless men drivers’ stereotype is 1) a reckless teenage boy stereotype and 2) bullheaded stubborn men stereotype (not asking for a map.)

    The first mainly refers to the standard ‘Males below 25 are worse off on their insurance generally than girls because they’re more reckless’ sense, but since I’ve never priced insurance for a teenage girl versus a teenage boy and so can only say I’ve heard of it. The second is the stuff of random man vs woman jokes everywhere, but not really particularly reckless.


  10. I don`t know… I was wondering about sexist jokes and particularly on PMS ones… I think it basically depends on the situation when you tell them and who tell them. Personally I don`t mind telling that kind of jokes, nor I don`t mind women making sexist jokes on men. Basically, if they stay JUST A JOKE, and don`t have effect on real life, it is ok for me. One could answer “well, aren`t jokes a part of real life”? Good point, I have not an answer to that. Personally, I have got a lot of women friends that don`t get angry if I make sextist jokes on them… they know it is just joke, they know I will treat them always as human beings, ALWAYS. Somebody else get pissed off… I think they miss the context, or they just don`t know me vsery much (I don`t mean to didscriminate). I know it is very easy to be misunderstood too. Anyway, TOTALLY OFF TOPIC, yesterday Gary Gygax died. He was the man that influenced my life more than anybody else. King is dead. Hail to the King!!

  11. Hey, a couple things on this thread… without in anyway endorsing stereotypes, it should be pointed out that everyone knows and uses them. If you didn’t know them, sexist jokes wouldn’t be funny. Social psychology shows us that everyone automatically activates them in the presence of a stereotype cue. What matters is whether or not you apply them. Hopefully you know more about an individual than the stereotype of the 50% of the population to which s/he belongs.

    Second, on sexist jokes. Social psychology also shows us that sexist jokes aren’t “just jokes.” They influence behavior. A recent article showed that men who scored high on hostile sexism were more likely to discriminate when given the opportunity. Men either heard a sexist joke, an equally funny but nonsexist joke, or a overtly sexist non-funny statement. Only in the sexist joke condition did the researchers see discrimination against women. (The task was to budget for several organizations, including a women’s organization. Sexist men who heard a sexist joke cut more money from the women’s org… THEY DISCRIMINATED.)

    So, it’s not just jokes. It influences behavior, encouraging discrimination in some cases. The good news is that confronting prejudice works… it influences people’s attitudes, at least in the short term. So, confront when you hear a sexist joke. It’s not just a joke.

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