Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Katie Couric on Racism and Sexism

"I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable."

So says Katie Couric. I like Katie; I blame some of this on years of watching NBC's coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is still enjoyable now that she's gone -especially since Matt Lauer is still there- but isn't the same. And my father loves Katie Couric, so I've seen a lot of her and I generally find her to be an amiable and capable newscaster/anchor/whatever. And I find myself implicitly agreeing with the quote above; but I'm more than willing to bet that is because both Katie and I are women, and white. If I were a man and not white, I would probably feel differently about the first part of that quote; if I were a woman and not white, I could also feel differently about the quote. Racism is still common; it is still prevalent. And I can't in good conscience say it exists to a lesser degree than sexism.

I do, however, fully agree with the second half of the quote, that sexism is far more acceptable and forgivable than racism. Words like "bitch" and "slut" and "cunt" reverberate through every day conversation -among women and men. There are shirts, Facebook flair, bumper stickers, and so on actively advertising women as being lesser than men; that minimize and trivialize and normalize things like sexual assult. "Stop Rape: Say Yes". I won't say I don't laugh at them; I do. And it may be something other people will demand my feminist business card be rescinded for. But even as I see the humor in items like that, I'm also struck by the thought that there are people who genuinely believe it. Racist words aren't thrown around so cavalierly -and almost never when someone of another race is actually around, barring the John Kerry instance. Not that it doesn't happen (as a Facebook friend of mine described in a note); not that racist conclusions aren't drawn and commented upon when someone of a minority group is within earshot. But -and this is only one white girl's take on it- it seems more on the down-low, and less like "you should totally agree with this even though you're part of the group I'm totally disparaging".

Meanwhile, women are in full earshot when men tell sexist jokes, call other women "bitch", and generally opine that women like Penny of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible got what she deserved because she slept with a tool instead of recognizing the "great" guy right next to her. And we're expected to laugh and agree. Which, thanks guys. That's real sweet, and not at all about hating on women or expecting us to be omniscent. I'm sure worse things are said behind my back, just like racist tripe is spread around and laughed at when "those people" aren't in earshot. But they feel pretty safe being misogynistic and sexist and assholic right there in front of me too. And that needs to change, stat.

Sexism is normalized; women are expected to laugh along while they are belittled and injured, especially because many don't see it as "sexist". Articles in The Washington Post talk about how much stupider women are than men (though to be fair, they quickly printed a rebuttal by Katha Pollitt). I can't even begin to describe how many times I've heard "that's just the way it is", like society doesn't have some part to play in why women are drawn more to the social sciences instead of to the hard sciences, like women haven't always been pushed to whatever medium society sees as being of lesser importance. For much of Western Civilization, women couldn't study literature or history, because it was too complicated for their little minds to handle. Virginia Woolf opined that she couldn't write poetry -a man's medium- and was stuck writing novels because she didn't have the education in classic languages. Now, women aren't equally represented in biology and chemistry and advanced physics and math, and the reasoning -while clinical and cleaned up and wrong- is essentially the same. And that sucks; it sucks even more that it is so accepted as truth that a majority of men -and a lot of women- don't recognize it as being a complete sham.


Jess said...

In relation to the article on math test taking, a decent amount of psychology experiments regarding the wording of math problems. Researchers found that if word problems only had boys as subjects, then the girls scored lower than the boys. If an equal amount of boys and girls were involved in the word problems, then girls did better. What is also cool and surprising about that is that boys scores didn't change when there were more females in the word problems. Thus, it's incredibly hard to measure an exact intelligence level based on one test. Someone could be far more intelligent, but tested in the wrong manner for this to show through.

petpluto said...

Interesting observation! I heard of some studies that measured math abilities in other countries, and males being better at math (or even equal in math) isn't a universal. In some nations, boys did better, in some girls did better, and in some both were equal.

jjfs85 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jjfs85 said...

This post reminds me of a ssexist joke someone once told me. He said, "The only people that think women should vote is women, and they don't count." Everyone laughed including me, but the two women who were nearby then ran over to smack him. I ran the other way.

jjfs85 said...

That joke would have been perceived as considerable less appropriate if he had substituted a racial minority for women. Good observation, Pet.