This past year – in two thousand and sixteen – I had an argument with a male friend of mine.
He could not, for the life of him, understand why it’s unacceptable to say that ‘playing like a girl’ in a negative connotation is something that needs to end.
To him, he insisted, it wasn’t an insult because it was just a fact.
It got murky from there, as many ingrained (but not fully thought through) prejudices tend to.
He believed that it was a consistent biological difference; women are weaker, physically than men on average, and therefore playing like a girl means ‘playing weakly’.
I pointed out that there are plenty of women who are stronger than the vast majority of men, and he amended it to look at the top one percent of professional athletes.
“The strongest man in the world is stronger than the strongest woman in the world. At the very highest level of competition, women can’t keep up.”
So, I tried to clarify, you aren’t trying to talk about generally speaking? And therefore probably shouldn’t use it?
No, he insisted. Since the strongest of each group are unequal, playing like a girl is still factually correct.
This same friend further muddled his own point just last week.
We were talking about how tall my daughter is. She’s in the 97th percentile of babies her age in height, and still in the 71st percentile of babies her age in weight. She’s been like this from day one – and based on her father and I, there’s plenty of evidence that she’s about to be a very athletically predisposed woman.
This friend built on that with a complaint about the height of women nowadays.
He noticed, he complained, that more and more women are his height (around 5 foot 9) or even taller.
“That’s because women are being given the chance to physically develop with the same strength and training advantages as men nowadays,” I pointed out. “As women are giving more formal athletic training growing up, they’re going to get bigger – they won’t be smaller based on developmental oppression.”
He didn’t like that.
“I don’t like women to be taller or stronger than me,” he pouted.
And there we have our problem in society.
Mike Francesca said THIS MONTH that women cannot be head coaches of male sports teams. He genuinely, in his deeply-engrained misogynistic mind, believes that women are incapable of coaching men and having the men listen to them.
“There’s no saying that everybody has to do every single job,” he said, per Anya Alvarez of the Shadow League.
“Some are better for some people. That’s all. That’s not being chauvinist. That’s not being Stone Aged. That’s just being reasonable.”
A GOP politician in Utah claimed that women’s pay equality is bad for the economy because it ‘takes money and jobs away from men’. A Polish member of European Parliament said this week that women should not be paid equally because they aren’t as smart or as strong as men.
Even beyond these extreme examples of sexism, though, International Women’s Day exists because of the first two stories.
My friend believes that women are weak and inferior and that playing like them is a negative. Mike Francesca believes that women cannot command a large group of men in a paid or professional setting (in this case, in professional sports).
These beliefs permeate society’s thoughts and influences. Women are less likely to get scholarships or grants or job promotions because of these beliefs. If the men in charge (of which there is still a vast majority) think that women are the inferior candidate based on their gender, they’ll be treated poorly. They won’t be given the same opportunities. Even if there isn’t a direct bar against them in a male-dominated field, they’ll be barred from certain ceilings nonetheless.
A different friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about how the gender wage gap is bunk.
Equal pay for equal work is already largely in effect, he insisted. The reason women make so much less money? They choose to! They choose lesser fields and they choose not to take promotions within their careers and they choose to leave work and raise their families without choosing to remain employed. All choices, no?
No. Not at all.
As long as men still believe that women are incapable of certain things in male-dominated fields, women have limited opportunities – even if those limitations aren’t spelled out on paper.
As long as men still believe that a woman will do an inferior job at something, women will still have limited opportunities for job growth in certain sectors.
As long as men still believe that women should be vilified for choosing to work and have a child (and man oh man, you wouldn’t BELIEVE the comments I’ve gotten in the not-so-distant past about how I’m not ‘raising my own child’ or I’m ‘failing to see her best moments, what a shame!’ from men in my community), women will lose opportunities. Men are less likely to promote a woman if they’re nervous (or secretly hopeful) that she’ll eventually take time off – I know, the horror! – or ultimately quit for her child.
There’s no hesitation of this sort when it comes to men, which is sexism at play.
My daughter’s father changes diapers. He can feed his daughter with no problems. He is as good at her bedtime routine as I am (sometimes, when I see him reading her a bedtime story, I suspect he’s even better at that part). He can dress his daughter and he knows how to entertain her.
He knows all of this because – get this – he watches her when I’m at work on the nights I cover hockey games. Is my daughter not still getting plenty of parental contact and emotional development with the roles reversed?
Yet no one would ever consider barring her father from a raise or a promotion for having a child, yet plenty of organizations would be hesitant to give me increased opportunities for the sole reason that I have offspring.
Men still tell women that they’re whining for wanting equal rights.
You can vote, you can work alongside us, you have the choice to be anything you want to be! They love to yell. Stop being stupid and be grateful for what you have.
Stop asking for special women’s days. Stop asking for special women’s campaigns. Stop asking for special laws ensuring you get rights you already have. Stop asking for my jobs; if you haven’t earned it, that’s why you don’t have it! You don’t deal with any oppression.
When I was in high school, I got my first job.
I remember being so excited to work at my favorite mom and pop restaurant. Getting the brownie madness and the Switchman’s pasta every day of my life? Sign me up.
That quickly became my least favorite job. Ever. The boss was a misogynistic old white man who carried a gun around the restaurant as an intimidation tactic and treated women like dirt.
He wouldn’t let me become a server at 18 or work solo as a hostess -even though he let boys my age do it – because he ‘didn’t trust me to do it right’. Never mind that I, as a food runner, routinely took and put in orders for servers when they were swamped and taught the new servers (all men, all my age) how to carry the big trays without spilling things. never mind that he was fine with me working as the dishwasher, and then leaving me alone to wait for my dad to pick me up at midnight.
He wouldn’t even give me a letter of recommendation for college. When I left for a more fair job, he refused to speak to me when I came in to eat at the restaurant.
Other jobs have made me wear tight shirts, though. I’ve had to bartend in a skirt and knee high socks. I’ve had to wear heels in a locker room to look ‘my best’ (and some women literally are legally obligated to wear heels, although that’s hopefully changing). I was once told I shouldn’t expect to get a big gig because I don’t ‘paint myself up the right way’.
Women have days like International Women’s Day to remind us that all of these men trying to push us down, keep us down, are wrong.
We can do anything. We have the ability to change perceptions and be anything. We can be good parents and work in the highest sectors. We can be effective architects. We can be incredible soldiers. We can coach professional sports teams. We can do it all.
We have these days because members of the Marine Corps still post nude photos of their servicemen on private Facebook groups and invite lewd suggestions and threats, all with the handy inclusion of those service members’ names, stations, ranks, and personal information.
We have these days because women get harassed out of their STEM majors regularly. They are denied internships by bosses that think they’re a risk to quit and start families, and then they’re denied promotions by bosses that *want* them to quit for their families.
We have these days because men still believe that women, somehow, can’t do anything. They think that women are weaker, less intelligent.
Things aren’t changing fast enough, but I’m hopeful.
By the time my daughter is out in the real world, I hope she can be an NFL coach if she wants. I hope she can be equally considered for a promotion at her technology job. I hope she can wear what she wants to work without being shamed for it.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.