Opinion

Sexism, Palin and Letterman: Battling cultural stereotypes | Sex in the Suburbs

I had an unusually large number of comments regarding a couple of my blog posts this week on sexism (see “Bristol, Bras and Sexism in America” and “Subtle Sexism”.

In the spirit of share and share alike, here are some excerpts and further thoughts.

From the blog

As I was driving to get my hair cut, I thought of Sarah Palin and her recent public stand against a joke by David Letterman this week. I actually agree with Governor Palin in terms of not finding funny much of the casual debasement of women in our society. In our culture, it's "funny" to make jokes about her daughter's teen pregnancy, while we also spend billions of dollars sexualizing women and over $1.5 billion on ineffective abstinence-only education for teens.

While it may be ironic or even amusing to some that Bristol Palin is a national spokesperson for abstinence, there is nothing funny about teen pregnancy. Our lack of funding and willingness to look at effective programs to prevent teen pregnancy has helped cost 750,000 teens a year their innocence and changed their lives forever. One thing that does concern me about Ms. Palin's "abstinence spokesperson" association is that the Candies Foundation, for which she is an ambassador, focuses on abstinence for teen girls. Last time I checked, it took a male and female to create a pregnancy. In yet another subtle way, our society is enabling sexism to continue.

In her book "Abortion Rap," the late attorney and activist Florynce Kennedy wrote this now famous statement: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." There are days when I really contemplate that statement, especially in light of current politics on the subject. There remains a piece of this argument that is mired in sexism, even though it appears on the surface to be a religious issue. When people tell me they are Christian, and that is why they don't believe in abortion, I discern whether or not that is the moment to let them know I am Christian, and pro-choice. Not pro-abortion, pro-choice. I believe that women are able and entitled to make that decision for themselves. When we remove the choice, we are treating them as "less than" citizens.

More thoughts

I believe that David Letterman’s joke was derogatory toward young men as well as young women. As the mother of boys, I do not want my sons to identify with a sexualizing, aggressive male role model, and I don’t think it’s funny when people portray men that way or women as victims of them. As parents, we need to be aware of the onslaught of messages our children receive regarding their gender roles in our society. It is our job to be aware, to discuss it with them, and to give them healthy messages and information regarding their sexuality, genders and roles.

How do we do this? When children are young, we can make sure there are plenty of gender-neutral toys around, like play dough, blocks, balls, water toys, etc. Barbie and Batman can have a place in any thoughtful home, as long as Barbie is learning how to change the oil in her Jeep after finishing her fashion show, and Batman can occasionally be seen taking a bubble bath or cooking dinner in order to relax after a hard day of fighting the bad guys. These types of activities counter stereotypes and broaden the acceptance of differing roles in our culture.

As children get older, be sure to talk with them about any comments or jokes you overhear that are derogatory to either gender. Avoid complaining about your partner or spouse in front of them. Discuss the stereotypes you see and hear, and participate in non-traditional roles from time to time, even if it is outside of your comfort zone.

It is not enough to say we’ve made progress. Take a look at the video “Onslaught” on the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (www.dove.us/#/features/videos/default.aspx[cp-documentid=8354359]/) if you think the messages kids receive about gender roles today are no big deal.

Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If we do not discuss or confront the remnants of sexism in our culture, who will?

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