Fri. January 15

Culture

Defining Sexism Down

Carrie Lukas

Mad_Men_Episode_8

2015 could be remembered as the year campus political-correctness jumped the shark. Perhaps, really, it had jumped the shark long ago, but the widely publicized protests at the University of Missouri, which lead to the resignation of the university president, and reports of trigger warnings warning students of such dangers as classic novels and Halloween costumes, woke the public up to just how ridiculous campus life had become.

Yet campuses aren’t the only place where oppression and grievance are being defined down, often to the point of ridiculousness. Today, feminists gloss over and even explain away actual violence against women (so long as that violence is committed by men from groups that qualify as oppressed), but they stand ready to point out acts of sexism so subtle that they would otherwise be undetectable.

Take this recent article entitled the “subtle sexism of hoodies.” Author Aimee Groth explains that men working in the technology field have taken their cues from icons such as Mark Zuckerberg in defining what’s acceptable work-wear (such as jeans and hoodies) while women lack similar role models. As a result, women must decide on their own how casual is too casual and other vexing wardrobe considerations.

Women in the male-heavy tech industry undoubtedly do face some real challenges, though this seems unlikely to top anyone’s list. And certainly there are far more gradations between sweat-suits and black-tie in women’s wear, leaving women with more clothing options to consider.

But does the hoodie phenomenon really deserve the title of sexism? Most of the women interviewed for Groth’s article didn’t seem to think so; Groth struggles admirably to piece together an interesting article about the unequal tech-industry casual-wear trends, but even she seems to recognize it’s a stretch to make a molehill out of this tiny lump of nothing.

Another item on the modern feminist agenda, apparently, is fighting “the tampon tax,” or the fact that feminine hygiene products are not currently exempt from many state sales taxes. California assembly woman Cristina Garcia explained that she started her campaign to make these products exempt after hearing from her constituents about their struggles to make ends meet. Ms. Garcia has a point: Californians are overtaxed and these taxes hurt those with low-incomes most. But surely the solution to their tax and budget problems isn’t just to knock a few cents off of a monthly CVS charge. Rather she should consider bigger policy changes that would really reduce prices and encourage job creation.

One suspects that tax reduction isn’t Ms. Garcia’s biggest priority. More likely, she is struggling to find a hook to show she’s fighting “gender injustice,” and today in California that means pretending that a sales tax on tampons is oppression.

As standards for what is sexist fall, we also define down what constitutes an act of courage. My favorite: As this Slate article describes, some feminist professors and scholars have taken to describing the use of an elaborate, multi-stepped, Korean beauty-care regime, a “radical act of feminist self-care.”

Those who came of age with The Beauty Myth might be confused: We recall a generation of feminist arguing that women’s fixation on their physical appearance is a hellish outgrowth of the patriarchy. But never mind that. Today, women’s willingness to dedicate hours of their time to wrinkle prevention is an act of empowerment. Women—for once, we are supposed to assume—are putting caring for themselves, rather than those annoying kids, elders, or (heaven-forbid) husbands, first. Spending hours on your beauty regime is now a good thing . . . except if it’s because you don’t feel like you can just toss on a hoodie and have to decide what to wear to the office, then it’s oppression again.

These contortions to conjure up evidence of sexism and the triumph over it is testament to the tremendous progress American women have made. Of course, our world remains imperfect. Just as theft and murder will remain fixtures for as long as mankind endures, there will always be violence against women and sexism as long as humans populate the Earth. But American society is reaching a point where equality of opportunity, and the expectation of fair treatment of women, is so complete that we can now linger on how nuances in our fashions and customs can be seen as either evidence of progress or lingering handicaps, or even both.

Certainly, we’ve come a long way, baby. Or is that phrase demeaning to women? Standby as women studies professors delve into that very pressing question.