I’m starting to suspect that the progressives might be right that misogyny and sexism are still rampant problems in American society. I’m just not sure some of them know what those words actually mean. Because, if anyone is spreading the lie that women lack the rationality and emotional strength to act like full-fledged adults, it’s progressives. One of the more recent examples is Hillary Clinton’s latest explanation of how someone else lost her the 2016 election. It was not Mrs. Clinton’s policies or rhetoric but rather the weak willed women in the middle of the country who just weren’t mentally strong enough to disagree with their husbands, fathers, and bosses. If you want to propagate the idea that women are infantile, insisting they could not even vote contrary to a man is an excellent way to do it.
This misogyny even seems to have found its way into Claremont. Last Friday, some of Pitzer College’s Resident Advisors and gym staff closed off the Gold Student Center Gym to all men during the popular work out time of 2:00-5:00 PM for a “Women and Non-Binary People’s Gym Day.” The men were excluded “so that people of other genders feel safe to explore the gym, learn about the equipment, or just workout in a man-free space.”
And I think that might be one of the more sexist statements I’ve heard in recent months, besides Mrs. Clinton’s of course. I understand it was done with good intentions, but the idea that women are too emotionally frail to negotiate a gym at a college known for its inclusivity in the presence of men is infantilizing. I sometimes do look at a piece of gym equipment and wonder what exactly a human is supposed to do with it, but that’s when I ask someone, google it, or go exercise somewhere else. I do this, rather than asking for a ‘man-free-space,’ because I am an adult and part of being an adult is venturing into the unknown and seeking to understand it. A child asks for the world to be made familiar. An adult familiarizes herself with it. And, frankly, a college gym is one of the safest unknowns to adventure into. It’s pretty ridiculous and insulting that these RAs and gym staff think the average woman will flee in tears at the sight of a man doing deadlifts.
I’m not saying it’s pretty, but I think we can handle it.
More importantly, I think that we women can handle a little moral responsibility. The idea that the presence of any man makes the gym an unsafe space is sexist and hateful. It treats men like dangerous animals, which they most certainly are not. To keep them out of a space they also use because of that lie is prejudiced and wrong. If the men on campus asked for a ‘woman-free-space,’ there would be a deafening uproar. They would be condemned as misogynist pigs and the idea tossed as chauvinists nonsense.
Now, some people will say women should not be held to the same moral standard as men because of their disadvantaged position in society. Men are the privileged group and women are the oppressed, therefore women do not need to adhere to the same standard of behavior because they do not have the power to do real evil against men. As one writer put it, sexism towards men is “literally not possible, because you are in the privileged majority.” Even though isolated incidences of prejudice or discrimination against men may occur, they have the patriarchy, so they will succeed regardless. Whereas women, in their abject state, will continue to suffer systemic oppression. This is the justification progressives use for everything from women-only screenings of Wonder Woman to breaking New York City anti-discrimination law.
There are a number of problems with that line of reasoning. One being that the evidence that women are victims of systemic oppression in modern, Western society is not all that compelling. American women have the exact same political rights as their male counterparts. When it comes to the economy, there is no evidence women experience systemic discrimination. The wage gap simply does not exist and instances in which men occupy a greater percentage of a given industry than women reflect individuals’ actual preferences, not widespread gender discrimination.
Another is that, even if there is a shadowy patriarchy plotting against womankind, it does not change the fact that discrimination and prejudice are wrong. Part of being an adult is taking on moral responsibility. It means giving up your immediate comfort in order to treat those around you well, to treat them like individuals who are worthy of your attention and care. Doing that requires strength and it requires discipline. It is much easier in the short term to snap at people who annoy you or treat someone poorly because some superficial characteristic, like his sex, makes you uncomfortable. It takes strength to push back the selfish and evil nature that resides inside each of us and instead work to be a good and charitable person.
Insisting that women cannot handle that basic tenant of adulthood, just like the idea that they could not mentally or emotionally negotiate a college gym in the presence of men, means insisting that women are fundamentally weak. I personally do not think that is true. Behaving like an adult is within the vast majority of women and men’s capacities. However, experience also tells me that people who are taught that they are weak will start to act like that is true. And, as a woman, that concerns me. Because if you want women to actually be treated like second class citizens, insisting that they have the emotional capabilities of children will get you there faster than you can say ‘cishetwhitepatriarchy.’
Photo: Flickr / Free Company Sports