It's no secret that life is full of things women deal with that men simply don't. Indoctrination into gender norms starts early — in fact, the case could be made that it begins from the moment you're wrapped in a baby blanket based on your gender at birth. Although gender equality has come a long way since the days when we were considered property to be married off to the highest bidder, sexism and misogyny are still very much alive and well in the modern day.
The proof is all around us: The wage gap, campus rape (which is largely experienced by women, although sexual assault certainly happens to men), street harassment, and even something as seemingly innocent as the language we use to insult people are all symptoms of a culture that's set up to benefit men. As such, women endure different experiences than men; and unfortunately, these experiences are often invalidated or outright dismissed whenever we try to speak out about them. It's a knee-jerk human reaction to assume that if you haven't experienced something, surely no one else has either, But as a result, some men refuse to acknowledge sexism even when they're presented with concrete evidence — something which ultimately harms everyone.
Of course, the flip side is that men have different experiences than women, and nobody is denying that the patriarchy hurts men as well. I'm also not saying that the issues seen here aren't a big deal to some men; they're definitely more of an immediate concern for women, though. Let's take a look.
1. Pressure to Have Children
Although both men and women are pressured to become parents as they grow older, women are expected to do so. Our worth to society is inextricably tied up in motherhood — for instance, consider the difference between the bachelor and spinster stereotypes. Both terms describe people who never have children or get married, but bachelorhood is treated with a sort of amused tolerance. Spinsterhood, on the other hand, carries such negative connotations that it's the butt of tired sitcom jokes at best and the subject of derision at worst.
2. "Having It All"
If a woman has children, and often even if she merely mentions the possibility, she's accused of trying to "have it all," as if the desire to maintain a career and a family at the same time is selfish.The prejudice against working mothers runs so deep that it has a name: The "motherhood penalty," which often results in lower pay than male coworkers (including fathers) and perceived lower competence. In contrast, there's evidence that men experience a "fatherhood bonus" — that is, their careers are actually helped by having children.
Last week, I was writing in a coffee shop when a man sharing my table asked what I was doing. When I explained that I was working on an essay, he proceeded to give me an unwanted 10-minute lecture on how to get published online, even though I clearly have little need for such advice. If you've ever identified as a woman, chances are you recognize the manifestation of male arrogance known as mansplaining.
Loosely defined, mansplaining is used to describe when a man condescendingly explains something to someone who actually knows more than them on the subject. Although it's technically possible for someone to mansplain to another man, it usually happens in the context of men unnecessarily explaining something to women — generally because they assume they know more than her based on their gender dynamic.
4. Lack of Representation
As the so-called "default" gender, men are used to seeing themselves everywhere in the media: Background roles, directors, and (of course) leading men. Women, on the other hand, have to fight for every instance of representation in these same spaces, especially if we're looking for representation beyond typical roles like love interests or the morally-ambiguous sexy villain.
5. Being Written Off
When it comes to showing emotion, women experience a catch-22: If we hold back, we're derided as ice queens, but if we express ourselves, we're written off as emotionally unstable or, even more offensively, told that we're PMS-ing. Men are automatically taken seriously, while women constantly have to walk a fine line between showing too little emotion and too much. If we tip too much in either direction, chances are high that whatever we have to say will be outright dismissed.
6. Policing Femininity
Femininity is so devalued that women are taught to hide it if we expect to succeed. Even champions of gender equality fall prey to this trap: Last year, Naomi Wolf came under fire for penning an open letter urging young women to drop their use of vocal fry in order to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, she does have a point — research has shown that women who display masculine qualities in the workplace are more likely to receive promotions. However, the answer isn't to continue to play down our feminine qualities; it's to value them as much as we do masculinity. And that goes for everyone, no matter how they identify.
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