Before I begin, I'd like to preface with a 'full disclosure' style statement; I am what could technically be termed a feminist.
This is a tricky affirmation to make particularly on the internet (see image above). The debate on sex, gender and equality is one whose waters are muddy at best and this debate is in the early stages of talking about feminisms plural, rather than trying to incorporate sometimes contradictory ideals, views, opinions and theories under one all-encompassing banner of FEMINISM. Many aspects of my life would, to some, disqualify me as a 'proper feminist'. (See mention of other half above. Said other half is male and we are engaged. Oh, the scandal.) I am also seen to be the victim of the 'have it all' generation, where I have a career (of sorts) and the intention to have a family. I am most definitely heteronormative, and happy in my relationship and with my life choices. I sometimes think I need more hours in the day to even begin to achieve the things on my daily to-do list, but this says more about my ambition and determination, than it does about my gender. I am also open minded and (I think) tolerant of other social, sexual, class and political positions. I do not call myself a feminist because I think that women are better than men, or under some misguided belief in a need to redress the balance of gender power relations to have men suffer the same as women have for decades. I am a feminist because I think about inequalities in all aspects of society and I want everyone else to do the same. I am not really interested in debating the issue of maternity and paternity leave in the pub (again). However if that gets even one person thinking about how they view the world and the other people in it then yes, I'll tell you that my MLitt was in Women, Culture and Society and set myself up for a hour of ear bashing about how the extension of women's maternity leave cripples small businesses and that besides women used to give birth in a field and then go back to work, so why do they need to much time off (genuine example).
I encounter discrimination all the time, not least because of the combination of my age, gender, body-type and hair colour. I am stereotyped as a blonde and think that this, above all else, drives people's first impressions of me and thus their behaviour towards me. I have lost track of the times people have firstly spoken with me on the phone, only to say 'I thought you would be a brunette' when they meet me in person. My appearance does not match my personality, apparently. At times, this is an advantage and while morally a tad suspect, I do sometimes leave people with their opinion that I am a bit dim intact. On other occasions I enjoy disavowing them of their opinion, and again sometimes I find this a chore.
I do not, however, attribute these small and relatively insignificant instances of discrimination to sexism and gender inequality which is still inherent within our culture, and the tenancy to attribute every act of discrimination or injustice to plague the female populace as a direct result of patriarchy astounds me. It was for good reason that Simone de Beauvoir claimed that women of her generation were complicit in their own oppression, and this is a notion that is as unpopular today as it was in 1949.
There is an apparent trend in the interactions between women I know and respect to enter into a blame culture where many, if not all, of their perceived injustices are the fault of either the patriarchal system or individual men. I recognise that cultural and social inequalities play a large part in the lives of many women and that these are very real, pressing issues to be highlighted and discussed. I understand (believe me) the therapeutic effects of a good moan, this blog being case and point. However we need to check that urge when it leads us down the very route we are bemoaning and turns us into hypocrites. Yes, there are problems in our society and not least that of continued gender equality at home and in the workplace, and yes, there is a tendency to put gender issues on the back burner in the event of even a minor political crisis, never mind major events such as the fight for civil rights or a world-wide recession.
This does not give you a free pass to be sexist. Getting together for self-congratulatory, patronising 'oh men, aren't they useless? Aren't they lucky we put up with them? How would they do anything without us?' sessions is wrong* and detracts from the times when you speak out against genuine oppression. Telling someone off for judging you based on an arbitrary act of biology, such as your genitalia, is a much more difficult position to maintain if you've just had a conversation about certain characteristics of 'all men.' It doesn't make their position right, but it makes it much harder to convince them otherwise.
At the risk of plagiarising from a friend, if you're not sure if something is sexist reverse the genders in the paradigm and see if you're still happy with it. Another good 'quick check' on opinions and behaviour is to check your generalisations by substituting it with another generalisation, one you are pretty sure is entirely discriminatory and unfair. For example, 'all French people are cheese eating surrender monkeys' if substituted to 'all black people are cheese eating surrender monkeys', while severely lacking in the accuracy of its stereotype, it is so shockingly and obviously racist I can't quite believe I've typed it up and published it on the internet, for everyone to see even if its just an example of what's wrong with reverse-discrimination. *gulp* I can't guarantee that I'll not edit that out, but it makes my point. Also, try to avoid generalisations at all, if you can. They rarely attest to the wonderfully multifaceted and contradictory aspects of human nature.
On another note, most feminists do not think that all men as sexist. Heck, most women do not think all men are sexist. If there is any group who can be said to think that all men are sexist, it's sexist men. It is perhaps worth remembering this when you make a sexist remark that you do not actually endorse by your daily behaviour or ideals as those who do hold these beliefs will see this as further justification of these. Just something worth thinking about, and also the reason behind my attempts to stop playfully calling my other half a poof for not liking spicy food. (very wrong of me, regardless of the fact that I am neither homophobic, nor think that so called effeminate features and behaviours in a man is a bad thing.)
The image above comes from http://www.gabbysplayhouse.com/?p=1444 and contains an interesting discussion in the comments. Read those only if you are prepared for it, but I recommend you take a look at the comic anyway. And in case I get accused of trivialising the issues that women face in our patriarchal society, I would like to refer you to one of the author's responses to the many comments accusing the comic of sexism against men:
"saying it’s reverse sexism just doesn’t cut it for me. that’s such a cop-out of deliberate ignorance as to what happens to women every day, because of men, that it’s actually kind of making my forehead hurt just trying to wrap my head around it. are there really THAT many men who live in fear of being murdered by their spouses? are you really THAT worried about your state legislators forcing you to bring a baby to term after you were raped? do you feel at all pressured to get breast implants by your spouse? are your parents coercing you to breed? is your husband forcing you to? do you every weigh the benefits of getting a pint of ben [and] jerry’s at 7-11 against the predatory male attentions from male strangers that you will have to field walking there [and] back? if you DO get raped, do you really worry that a jury of your “peers” will then call you a slut and say you must have been asking for it, by virtue of your wearing makeup at the time? do you worry about being murdered for saying “i wanna be president”? are you forced to flirt with men just to make them listen to your words at your job? were you conditioned to make babies and be a docile manservant from babyhood? does society base your worth on how coy, young, helpless, starved and fragile you look? are you judged in daily life primarily as a dick receptacle?"
It should be noted that despite some of the comments, Gabby is male. Not for ant reason other than to note how commenter's tones change when he points out that he is, in fact a man. Also, the way that he points this out to people is quite amusing: "I just asked my penis and, apparently I am male" (paraphrase).
My main point is that discussing the issues of sex, gender and sexuality and our expressions of them is difficult. What we have to do is make sure that we are constantly aware of our behaviour. Women have it tough, as the examples in Gabby's comment are testament to, but do we really want men to have it just as tough? Do we want to pass objectification on to our sons, or our nephews, or our students, or our friends? Are issues with the unattainable image of female beauty negligible because men are beginning to face the same kind of pressure?
* (Yes, I am talking to you Loose Women)