Ingrained prejudices are combatted by feminism

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In The Tartan’s last issue, Anna Walsh wrote a wonderful article on Ms. CMU and its “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign. Her conclusion was that Carnegie Mellon still needs feminism because of the sexism that still exists on campus. I agree with her 110 percent. Sexism is pervasive, not just on this campus but pretty much everywhere you look.

But feminism fulfills another, equally critical function. Feminism is important because it reminds us that we learn things we are never explicitly told.

No one in my life ever said, “Chloe, when you react to something emotionally, people will probably think it’s because you’re a girl,” or, “Once you hit the whole puberty thing, people are going to start seeing you as a sexual object. Seriously, your boobs have the potential to outweigh your opinion.”

No one ever said, “It’s okay when boys have frequent, casual sex — beyond okay, it’s actually a good thing! It means he’s virile. But if you do, someone’s probably going to call you a slut.”

No one had to tell me these things because I absorbed that knowledge on my own. That’s the kind of information that filters through when people call a man who has multiple sexual partners a player, but a woman who has the same number of partners a whore, or when people look at a woman in a prominent position and say, “She’s there because she’s a woman.”

This subtle absorption of stereotypes and prejudice is the true enemy of modern feminism. The problem isn’t that boys are told that women exist as sexual objects; it’s that almost every story we hear concludes with an ending like, “And the guy got the girl in the end.” We’ve heard that phrase so many times that there is a silent “of course” tacked onto the end.

This concept implies that hard work and being somehow worthy enough will drop an attractive woman into a guy’s lap like a prize. Human relationships are not like gumball machines. You don’t insert a quarter and get a person.

Just to be clear: No one is attacking individuals over these issues. Most guys I know clam up immediately in the face of a discussion about sexism, because they feel these discussions are personal attacks. They aren’t supposed to be. Sexism is ingrained into us from birth as a social and institutional problem; everyone participates in it and perpetuates it.

When I hear about a guy who has “gone through” three girls in a single week, a little voice in my head murmurs, “He’s a guy. They’re like that.” This is not an admiring observation on my part, but it isn’t a fair one either. And when I hear about a girl doing something similar? The voice whispers, “Slut.” I try to silence that voice at every opportunity, because that girl’s life and body are not mine and therefore not my business, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with embracing one’s sexuality.

The effects of being raised in an inherently sexist system do not disappear overnight. Sometimes they do not disappear at all. I don’t care about how much sex people have. But I’ve grown up in a world that permits and encourages nosing into other people’s lives.

Feminism gives me the ability to see these prejudices in myself and to understand where they come from. In her article, Walsh wrote, “Feminism gives us the space, the vocabulary, and the strength to address [these social issues] head-on.” Feminism also gives us the means to understand how the world molds us, when we don’t even realize that we are being shaped at all.