I’m supposed to be celebrating small adventures on this blog until I manage to have some bigger ones. In that spirit, I’ll begin this post with last night’s inaugural meeting of the Colorado Women’s Blogging Group, hosted by Beth Hayden. By the end, I think you’ll agree my subject is a large issue after all.

At least 40 of us crowded into a room at Boulder Digital Arts to talk about our blogs and listen to Beth’s presentation on search engine optimization (SEO). There was diversity of subject, from SEO to women’s health to “thriving, not just surviving” to Claire Walter’s blogs on Colorado cuisine and travel news to my rather garbled explanation of Restoration Nation. And those from half the room; people were almost done introducing themselves when I arrived late.

The real adventure, for me, is to see how women’s groups are still thriving in a metro area that’s considered to be rather progressive and has lower unemployment figures than much of the country. In July I attended the inaugural meeting of an editors group, and although most there didn’t call for it to be exclusively a women’s group, there were no men in attendance.

I don’t think I would call these groups consciousness-raising groups, since they don’t necessarily embrace gender issues, yet I find it notable that there are still so many of them, more than 40 years after the second wave of the feminist movement began in the 1960s. So many despite the fact that “feminist” became a bad word decades ago and still needs to be reclaimed. For example, I was just reading the August 2010 issue of the Denver Voice, the magazine sold by homeless people in the Denver Metro area, and the article “Pink Collar Glam” had the following comments about feminism: “Christine and I were just talking about feminism in the 70’s as being so angry and trying to be more like a man, very masculine. We think feminism should embrace femininity more. And not try to be so dominant, but being comfortable with the fact that we are women.”

I can just imagine feminists of the 1970s frothing at the mouth at the thought that they weren’t feminine. They were trying to EXPAND the definition of femininity. And if they were trying to dominate someone, they were doing so because they were tired of being dominated by men.

And then the interviewer replies: “Yeah, that wave of feminism in the 60’s and 70’s was somewhat of a failure because it was too angry and reactionary. It doesn’t make sense to counteract oppression by trying to re-oppress something else.”

I had to laugh at this author calling feminism reactionary. Look up the word, please. It means “ultraconservative.” It refers to retrenchment, not what 1960s feminism was about. Those women wanted, for example, to be able to apply for jobs and not be told, “We don’t hire women.” They weren’t trying to oppress anyone, though they may have been clueless about the needs of women of color and lesbians.

Todd and I talked about this subject today at lunch. He said if someone tried to put together a group of male programmers, for instance, people would laugh at the idea that men have more commonalities than differences. Apparently, women still feel they have more commonalities than differences. Is that a result of a second-class position in society, or have we simply gotten into the habit of thinking women’s groups will help us?

I told him about the comment I recently heard (from a woman) that women are more emotional than men. That’s nonsense: there are more emotional individuals, not more emotional sexes. If women seem more emotional than men, it’s because they are raised to express their emotions, not because they have more of them.

And then I remembered the almost-all-male fiction workshop I took through Lighthouse Writers, run by Viet Dinh. My young female character got called a tramp by another writer because she had sex with her boyfriend fairly soon after they met. Yet the very next week, when a man presented a story about a male character going to a prostitute, no one made any disparaging comments about the character. No one, including me, had the courage to point out that double standard. Instead, I quit the class and lost my money.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Am I noticing sexism more because I’m older, or has sexism flowered in the last few years? I would have expected Hillary Clinton’s run for president to have reduced sexism, but I think it may have increased it. Perhaps it was the prospect that her campaign presented of women gaining so much power over men.

Of course, if women don’t get together in groups, how will they fight sexism? It’s not a fight that can be won on a individual level.

What do you think? Have you noticed more sexism lately? If so, what do you think is causing the increase?

Leave A Comment

  1. Cara Lopez Lee September 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I love the kind of writing you’ve been doing here, and I’m glad you brought up this subject. The points you’ve made in this post ring true to me. Too bad you didn’t say something in that class about the double-standard… but I understand. I’ve been in situations like that and found myself too stunned and nervous to speak… though later I would think of many pithy responses.

    My answer to your question: I don’t think it’s so much that sexism has gotten worse, as that we keep telling fairy stories about how it has gone away… when it hasn’t. It’s like the fairy story about racism being over in America, just because we have an African-American president. If anything, President Obama has only become a lightning rod for the latent anger and suspicion people still carry within them. We often stereotype, diminish, and compartmentalize others because differences are scary and putting people in boxes is easier than trying to figure out how to accept people as equal humans on a case-by-case basis.

    I do still belong to women’s groups, such as The Denver Woman’s Press Club. But your comments give me pause. Do I find real strength in the support of other women writers, or am I giving in to the stereotype that women writers are different as a group? Maybe both? I don’t mind not having an answer yet. I appreciate people like you who make me ask the questions.

  2. Beth Partin September 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Cara, maybe women join up with other women because they can get what they need without so much effort. For example, when I was taking Krav Maga classes from 2004 to 2006, I took 2 12-week fight classes. So here I was, in my forties, having never done any kind of fighting before, and by the 5th week of these classes I would be the only woman in the class. Most 20-something guys don’t dream of sparring with 40-year-old women. It was always a little weird. After 2 years I got tired of it. There wasn’t that much gender hazing, but I wanted more people like me in the classes, and I didn’t know where to get the kind of fight training I wanted.

  3. Andrea D. September 2, 2010 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Hey, Beth! Mike just alerted me to this posting–it’s a great one. But I’m so sorry you felt that sexism/double-standards went unchecked in one of our workshops, and that it bothered you enough to quit the workshop. We know that workshoppers, when they’re responding to a story, are bringing their own baggage, belief systems, subjectivity to bear. Readers do it, too. So if one person in a workshop says something that the rest think of as ignorant, there’s one of two ways to respond. One is to say, Well, now I know how THAT segment of the population thinks (not unlike election day, there’s inner fallout having to do with one’s relationship to a significant portion of humanity); the other is to call them out. I rarely see the second option, mostly because the agenda of any workshop is to focus on the craft of the writing, and the subjectivities of the readership are just a given (i.e., we aren’t necessarily going to change anyone). But I’d really want to know if someone in the workshop felt something like that had happened so we could address it as a group in some way. It’s murky territory, as we all know–there’s no real “should” to how someone reads, and any “should” we *can* agree on cannot be more evolved than the individual reader. For a class of 10 to have 1 person in it who isn’t quite as evolved on this issue sounds like an impressive ratio to me; it’s quite possible the instructor and other students treated that comment like one of those high-pitched tones that’s a bother but not so maddening as to do anything about it. In such scenarios, there’s an unspoken understanding that perhaps should be spoken. But what am I saying? I wasn’t there. And the double standard bugs me as much as it bugs you. I’m sorry it happened and I hope we get another chance…

  4. Beth Partin September 2, 2010 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Hey, Andrea,

    I think I took another workshop with you after the one with Viet Dinh, and I’m pretty sure I mentioned it at the time. It was about 4 years ago, before he went to Houston. That was kind of a strange workshop: one participant had some kind of reading disability and said he hardly read anything but still wanted to be a writer. I did email the man who made the “tramp” remark before I left the group, but my main regret was my lack of courage in not explaining their double standard to them. I could have taught them something useful, but instead I just faded away. It’s not the first time I’ve had difficulty with people in workshops, but usually the problem is that someone gets too vehement in their critique. Right now I’m moving very slowly through the first draft of a novel, so I don’t feel the need for a workshop. I have been thinking of taking some of the Lighthouse classes about authors, though this fall Todd is shooting a movie, and I’m helping with that.

  5. Cara Lopez Lee September 2, 2010 at 10:16 am - Reply

    It seems I’m always discovering something new from you, Beth: Krav Maga?! I had to look it up. It’s sadlly ironic to have that kind of experience in a self-defense class, where we often hear that the techniques can even the playing field – fighting field? Have you tried any other self-defense classes with more women? You do make a good point about joining groups where we can get what we need with less effort. Swimming upstream can be good exercise, but it can also be exhausting.

    I didn’t have the odd-woman-out experience in an Aikido dojo, although I did get irritated sometimes with guys either going too easy on me because I was female… or going the opposite way, and proving they weren’t going to let me get away with anything, just because I was female. Sometimes I might have appreciated those guys cutting me some slack, not because I was female, but because they had twice as much experience and were twice my size. Still, overall, it felt like a very accepting environment for all people.

    I stopped taking Aikido partly because I got excited about swing dancing. Speaking of which, I’ve wanted to take Tango, but I hear that many “traditionalists” expect women to wait to be asked to dance. I think it would make me frustrated, sitting there, waiting for a man. Thought I was done with that. And so it goes…

  6. Beth Partin September 2, 2010 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Cara, I’ve been wanting to learn to dance for years, so it’s interesting that you mention that. Todd and I took 1 general ballroom class but didn’t get enough practice time. I would like to learn tango as well, but I don’t think I’m ready for it just yet. Maybe after I get swing and foxtrot down. There’s also a contradance movement afoot; Broomfield has contradances (it’s like square dance, I think) on the 3rd Sunday at its Grange. I’ll take Todd to that someday.

  7. Catherine September 7, 2010 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    I think there are women’s groups because we’re social creatures. Men are too but they don’t seem to search it out, or at least that’s the experience of me and all my girlfriends that have male partners. They’ll get together and socialize, if someone else put the plan together for them to do that.

    I recently read a post by Evil HR Lady that talks about illegal discrimination in tech and how it doesn’t really exist. I tend to believe her having worked in tech, it’s a self-selecting group. It’s not that tech is sexist, it just doesn’t appeal to all people. And lots of those people happen to be women, so what? Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t think sexism is as rampant as it once was. I do believe it was a very real thing in business all through the 80s. But we got Clinton and enlightenment in the 90s. I was more likely to be discriminated against because of my religion when I started my tech career than my gender.

    I might have to check out this contradance movement that’s afoot. Sounds fun.

  8. Beth Partin September 8, 2010 at 10:36 am - Reply

    You may be right about Clinton and enlightenment 🙂 … I don’t know. The “so what” is that the number of women going into tech appears to be declining. So addressing the problem at the job end isn’t really going to get more women into tech; we have to be addressing the problem in middle school.

  9. Alison @ Femita February 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    If you focus attention you’ll notice that sexism is still everywhere. From small ‘innocent’ remarks and glances to the gender wage gap, it’s simply wrong and something that deserves more attention imho.

  10. Beth Partin February 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Alison, I agree, but it’s not too socially acceptable to mention it these days. At least that’s the feeling I get when I bring it up. Many people seem to think we live in a postfeminist as well as a postracial country.