Sexism still exists and it still hurts

Abby Nye | Columnist

Our generation is fortunate to experience the third wave of feminism in western culture. There has been significant progress in raising awareness regarding the spaces in society that women still seem to find difficulty occupying, which includes everything from sidewalks to governmental positions. Unfortunately, sexism, misogyny and intentional biases set against women continue to exist and be practiced in full force.

In a conversation I had with a male student at Whitworth, I was shocked to find they believed the feminist movement was no longer necessary since gender equality had been achieved. As a woman, I was quick to disagree. The fear I have built into myself because I am a woman has affected me in many ways. My parents had my sister and I take self-defense classes to learn some basic defense skills. I was taught that walking alone in public, whether it’s night or not, was a dangerous thing to do and to check behind me every few steps. I was even told that certain items of clothing I could wear were not smart options because they would make others objectify me.

Despite all these prevention tactics I had learned at a young age, I have still felt the repercussions of a culture that shames women for making “mistakes” rather than teach men the harmful effects sexism and misogyny have on women. Self-defense strategies did not help me in my place of work when a man came in and made a pass at me. It does not help when I’m running and get whistled or cat-called, instantly sparking a fear that has made me cut my runs short on multiple occasions. Nor did it help to prevent a man from placing his hand on my head in a public place, sarcastically saying, “oh yeah, what we need is even more empowered women.”

Popular use of the phrases “witch hunt” and “locker room talk” have been used to accuse women of overreacting to their feelings of oppression, degradation and victimization. Using “witch hunt” to describe the nature of the sudden surge of sexual assault allegations against prominent male figures is simply a way that the media and public can shame women for seeking justice against their predators. Similarly, “locker room talk” has been used by men to excuse derogatory language and words like “bitch” and “pussy.” These words have largely been used to degrade women to a weak “thing.” Brushing it off as “locker room talk” does not diminish the oppressive impact it has on women. Using any type of language like this is yet another insidiously aggressive way that men have used to reinforce their social dominance.

Despite the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and assault continues to take place. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 91% of all victims of sexual assault and rape are women, 27% of college women have experienced unwanted sexual contact, and women experience a 36% increase in the payment of their health insurance if they have been physically abused and raped. There is no hiding the fact that sexual harassment and assault has not slowed or deceased due to the increased awareness of its prevalence. In fact, according to the Symbol Statistics of Canada, the amount of police-reported sexual assault cases peaked in October of 2017, the same month the #MeToo movement launched. The feminist movement can help raise awareness of the shockingly large number of sexual assault cases, but it will not stop them.

The historic oppression of women was never bound to have a clean end. Oppressing women has simply made us angry. Sexism still runs rampant in our culture and one problem is that many men have chosen to turn their backs to this movement. They perceive the empowerment of women as a deeply personal, malicious attack on their rights. It’s exhausting to deal with the men who are so resistant to this movement and contribute to the passive exertion of sexism. Women are being harassed, assaulted, abused and raped. Women are dying and still men will question the necessity of feminism and call it a dangerous time for them.

Feminism is not here to dole out apologies to men who feel victimized by empowered women. We’re here to support all women and the choices they make, the dreams they pursue, and the goals they achieve. The fact of the matter is that feminism isn’t up for debate, it’s the reality of our culture that women are still being oppressed in many ways. It’s time for men to stop worrying about their rights being taken away from them and to start understanding that oppressing women for all of history is going to have its consequences.