Racism/Sexism Paradox

I am aware that discussions of racism or making any comparisons to racism can be a touchy subject.  I am also aware that some people strongly disagree with the perspective I express in this post.  While I am in no way trying to minimize the seriousness of racism, say that sexism is any more important than racism, or disrespect anyone, I do feel my observations at least merit consideration and discussion, and may give some a better standard with which to view sexist statements in the media.  Although I’m not out to offend anyone, I’m not one to shy away from controversy when it comes to important issues.  Through this process, maybe I’ll open your eyes to what I’m seeing, maybe I’ll open up my own eyes to the perspectives of those who disagree, or maybe we’ll find the truth lies somewhere in between.  Only time will tell.

Recently, Newsweek had a cover of Sarah Palin in short shorts, with the headline stating that she’s bad news for the GOP and everyone else. Glen Beck made a statement on his radio show to the effect that Sarah Palin belongs in the kitchen, and accused those who didn’t laugh of not having a sense of humor. Although I’m by no means saying that these are the strongest examples of sexism in the media, they are some of the more recent examples I’ve noticed, and these are just a few of the many examples of sexism in the media. All kinds of sexist remarks were made about Hillary Clinton during her campaign. Why do we accept such blatant sexism?

Often I’ve noticed little reaction from the general public to what I see as blatant expressions of sexism.  In some ways it seems like people are either less sensitive to or less aware of acts of sexism then they are to other forms of prejudice, such as racism.  If Obama was on the cover of Newsweek in a basketball outfit or baggy jeans, with an article bashing him as a politician, I can’t imagine this would go over well, and it shouldn’t. People risk losing their job for that type of conduct. Sure, Obama was shirtless on a cover of Washingtonian Magazine and people have used that as reason not to call Palin’s short shorts picture sexist. Although the shirtless picture of Obama may not have been an appropriate way to portray the president, I don’t think these things can be viewed in the same way. The purpose of Obama’s picture was complimentary; Not only is Obama great, he’s attractive. Plus, Women have a very different history than men when it comes to objectification. We can’t ignore the history of judging women based more on their appearance then intellect when we consider the Palin picture in shorts, with a headline criticizing her. A female politician portrayed in this manner on Newsweek carries a particular meaning, just like the baggy pants and basketball uniform would carry a particular meaning for a black male politician in this context. When Palin posed for the picture in running shorts, it was one of several running pictures for a running magazine, not to sell a political magazine insulting her as a politician. If Glen Beck’s statement about Palin belonging in the kitchen was rather, a racist statement about where Obama belonged, how would people react?

The only reason I make these comparisons, is because even the idea of these acts of racism seem so obviously wrong and can cause a very strong reaction in people. For those who agree, such a comparison might be useful in heightening your awareness and increasing your standards when it comes to what’s acceptable treatment of women.

If you want to insult Palin or Clinton as a person or politician, fine, but do it in gender neutral way, which shouldn’t be difficult if you are insulting them for legitimate reasons.

Too many people accept sexism as the way it is, and the way it’s always been. To end sexism, we need to start viewing sexist words and actions similiar to the way we view racism, with Zero Tolerence. Sexist actions and statements need to start making people feel as uncomfortable as blatant acts of racism do, and people need to express their disapproval when sexist statements are made. If something might be considered sexist, people need to start erring on the side of caution. As with other minorities, women are no less worthy of respect then men are.

Obviously, racism still exists, and there’s still work to do in that area. But, people are now much more afraid to publicly express their racism then ever before, which has in effect, led to less racism. Because expression of racism is so frowned upon, acting racist now carries consequences, it’s not socially acceptable amongst most people, and people risk losing their jobs and relationships for expressing racist views. Due to the consequences, it’s less frequent, and people are not only changing their behavior, they are changing their minds about the equality of minority people.

Treating sexism in a similar fashion will affect peoples’ actions, and with time, their beliefs.

I will continue to clarify and expand the ideas in this post. Feel free to comment.


“Only white people believe that displays of racism are viewed as less acceptable than sexism–only white people.”

I wanted to address this response that I recieved to the above Post via Twitter.  The reason I write this blog is because I want to open up dialogue about and bring attention to important issues, so that we can learn from one another.  Avoidance of controversy will not achieve that affect.  The only relationships I am making about racism and sexism are those that I have expressly addressed in my blog.  I am referring only to publicly made reactions of the words and behavior of mainstream media and what is considered socially acceptable behavior amongst otherwise resepectable people, obvious, outward displays of racism and sexism only.

I am a white person and I fully acknowledge that despite my desire to be empathetic, compassionate, and sensitive regarding racial issues, I cannot experience the world the exact same way a person of color does.  Because I’m a white women, I also fully acknowledge that I am more completely in tune with issues of  sexism then racism.  As a result, I am open to the possiblity that I am incorrect.  Regardless, I would like to engage in intelligent conversation about this subject matter, and would like those who disagree to take this as an opportunity to share their views with others, allowing us to learn from you.  Again, the only statements I am making about racism are those I have expressly stated in my Post, and ask you not to imply more.  All inequality is damaging and I am not comparing the damage caused by different types of discrimination.  I’m only comparing what I’ve experiences as the general public reaction to the specific forms of sexism and racism I’ve given specific examples of.

The primary point of my post is that overt acts/words of racism, even with the best of intentions, gets people fired up, and this reaction supports that statement.  Regardless of whether certain types of inequality are more or less damaging, inequality is damaging.   For those who find my Post offensive, it would be helpful if you refer to the two specific examples I gave regarding the sexist treatment of Sarah Palin, and point out any flaws in my assessments of them.  Also give examples of overt words or portrayals of racism against blacks in the mainstream media, in the past few years, that you consider equivalent, in their nature and the public reaction they recieved.  Thank you.
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11 responses to “Racism/Sexism Paradox

  1. I really wish that white people wouldn’t make claims about how much progress we’ve supposedly made with racism. It is a major sign of white privilege to be able to overlook all of the overt racism that exists in the media and focus on the sexism instead. Are you forgetting about the New Yorker cover featuring that racist picture of the Obamas? Do you need me to go on with more examples of blatant racism in the media, because there are more than enough of them out there to disprove your claim.

    • I simply state progress has been made over the years when it comes to racism, but there’s still more work to do. That’s not a controversial statement. I’m not overlooking overt racism or making any statement about the extent of racism. I’m referring only to reactions to racism in the media. Aren’t you referring to the Obama cover that a lot of people were very vocal and upset about? There’s no need to go thru examples of racism, without going thru the public responses to each, for purposes of this blog.

  2. Racism has long been linked to violent and brutal deaths, not just the fact that it emotionally hurts people and keeps them from succeeding in life. Racism is dangerous because it’s not only a thought, but is followed by action a lot of times. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to understand that the same thing goes for sexism. How many rapes occur every DAY? How many instances PER DAY of domestic violence against women do police respond to?

    Glenn Beck may think his comment is oh-so-hilarious, but it’s those same attitudes that lead to rapes, beatings, and murders. How cute that a white male (the most privileged class there is) jokes about that on national television, paving the way further for sexism to become the norm. Why is it that everything is a big ol’ joke until it happens to your mother or your sister or god forbid your wife? All of a sudden it’s not so funny anymore, now is it?

  3. Some of your points about Palin were apt, but your points about Obama did not nearly even touch the dripping oodles of racism that have surrounded his campaign and presidency. Thus your attempt to compare racism and sexism, as your post title indicates, are ridiculously short sighted. The real paradox to me is how white feminists still don’t understand how privilege and oppression work!

    • I’ve gotten some incredibly angry responses to this post. I’m not sure if people are responding without carefully reading what I’ve said or whether the strong emotional reactions are causing people to miss the point of what I’m saying in my post. I’ll try to state this in different terms. I am NOT saying racism is equal to, not as bad as, or worse then sexism. I am NOT saying anything about whether racism is more or less prevalent then sexism. Here’s what I’m saying. Based on my experiences and observations, when someone in the mainstream media does or says something that is obviously racist (to an observer like myself), it upsets people and people are vocal about how upset they are, and the actor may risk losing their job, hurting their reputation, and harming their business and personal relationships. THIS IS A GREAT THING. This type of reaction to racism (at least seemed to) have been less common in earlier times, therefore I, personally, have noticed some improvement when it comes to people responding appropriately to racism. As with many other things in the history of the world, over time, social stigma lessens undesirable behavior. Based on this theory, as social stigma regarding racist behavior increases, racism should decrease. Obviously changes of this nature take time. Because sexism is also a form of prejudice, so some of the same general rules described above would also apply to sexism. However, I, from my personal experience and observation, have not seen or heard people get all that upset about obvious words or actions of sexism. We should follow this example and show a stronger reaction when it comes to obvious displays of sexism, I give some examples using Sarah Palin, the newsweek cover of her in short shorts with an insulting headline, the she belongs in the kitchen statement. After her VP nominiation she was also called Caribou Barbie, a flight attendant, and a secretary. I did not see a strong showing of public outrage. I believe there should be.

      For those that say I’m wrong, I recieved angry messages, but nothing that really addresses the point I raised. I will be more than happy to hear anyone out who can have a thoughtful discussion on the matter, but I will not be spending any more time addressing angry individuals that don’t address the issue raised, or tell me I’m wrong without providing support for their assertions. Although this topic remains of interest to me, I may have to discuss it with people that already know me and my intentions, and won’t put their guard up before a fight sets in.

      • I do understand what you’re trying to say. Let’s take the Grey’s Anatomy incident. Mr. Washington used a homophobic slur. Whether it was directed at Mr. Knight was not the point. He said “faggot” as an insult, and he was let go from his job. Would that have happened 5, 10 years ago? I don’t think so.

        Let’s take that dicknose Imus and his sick and uncalled for insults towards young women on a basketball team. Not only was it a big deal because the remark was disgustingly racist and cruel, but it was also sexist. Would he have come under such heavy fire 5, 10 years ago? I think not.

        I understand that you’re trying to say that there are more CONSEQUENCES for people’s actions now. Not that racism, sexism, or homophobia has lessened…I think you’re just trying to say that there is now somewhat more of a backlash for these foul displays. I don’t think that racism is any less widely rejected, though, on a personal level. People still feel the way they’re going to feel. But every now and again, people will be reprimanded for it in a way they never would have been some years back and I think that’s what you’re trying to point out, no?

      • mordant espier

        Why do you think I sounded angry? Why do you think this is about a fight? Why don’t you think I understand “the issue raised”?

        I do understand that you think it’s a good thing that some people are now offended by extreme overt racism. I agree.

        I think where we’re disagreeing is about what overt racism is. I think the crux of the matter is in this statement of yours: something that is obviously racist (to an observer like myself).

        You are defining overt racism from your perspective. This is a problem because you were raised with white privilege in a racist society. If you truly want to understand and have dialogue, exploring this paradox may open some paths for you.

        There is plenty of overt racism for which nobody is fired, and no one is upset about it except the people who experience it.

        Some people clearly recognized the Palin cover as sexist. Some people are outraged.

        If I were making the call using your examples of what constitutes overtly racist behavior, the Palin cover wouldn’t qualify as overtly sexist.

        Because I think the cover is clearly sexist; I think you should rethink racism. I would say the “New Yorker” cover and the response to it that Bint Alshamsa mentioned has some interesting similarities and differences to the Palin cover. It, in fact, goes right to the issue that you raised: why isn’t there a public outcry about obviously prejudiced media attention?

        You were truly dismissive when you wrote:
        There’s no need to go thru examples of racism, without going thru the public responses to each, for purposes of this blog.

        And yet, you want to compare racism and sexism in the media and public responses to it without talking about examples of racism?

        If you want only to talk about sexism against white women, just say that. As a white woman, seriously, been there, done that.

      • If I’m understanding you correctly, you are saying the because I am not black, I have no right to share my perspective as to what I consider overtly racist behavior. I disagree, but I’ll bring this back to a discussion of sexism, the actual focus of my blog, to explain why. I am very much pro sexual equality, pro-woman. Few things make me more upset than sexism. But I am not in any way against men. I want to help women, I have no interest in hurting men. Some of the most important people in my life are men. Some of the biggest supporters of my cause are men. There are some men that care a lot more about sexual equality then some women do. Women need the support of men to reach sexual equality. A us against them attitude makes life miserable, won’t get women the support we need, and doesn’t work. I talk to a lot of men about my experiences as a women and my positions on sexual equality. I am fully aware that despite how empathetic men may be, they will never know first-hand how it feels to be a woman. Some men have similiar views as my own, some don’t, some see things in a way I’ve never considered.

        Whether I agree with a particular man’s perspective or not, I need to be aware of and understand the different perceptions that exist in order to be persausive and effective in my work against sexism. I cannot make a difference in this world if I go through life with a chip on my shoulder, with a victim mentality, or only caring about how I and those similiarly situatied feel. I cannot make progress if I’m only speaking to and hearing from people who already see things the way I do and alienating myself from men. I want men to work with women, not against women.

  4. I think that overt racism is commonplace, and it has to be way over the top to get any reaction at all.

  5. BacklesFromRacklesOnShackles

    sexism is MUCH less acceptable in white culture than racism is. When imus called black women “nappy headed hoes”… all my friends came to his defense and decried blacks for being so whiny and now some of my friends use the phrase “nappy headed hoes” as a joke for black women. BUT… if imus had said “white males are better inventors than white women are”…….he’d still be looking for a job and none of my friends would be saying “white men are better inventors than white women are”. See… white women are our mothers and they only indoctrinate us to believe sexism is wrong. teaching that racism is wrong is kinda up in the air depending on the mother. Anyways…. before white women whine about sexism…. they should spend time learning to not be racist. My asian girlfriend has some school stories to tell about racist white feminists. There is something very paradoxical about white girls who say “women are to be treated as EQUALS…. and that asian girl in my class is a dog eating pie face”

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story about Imus. That was a much different then the reactions that I heard, so again, thanks. Wow, not a funny joke. That’s terrible. It is interesting how some people can be so prejudice against some groups yet against prejudice when it comes to others. Take a look at this post on misogyny/man-hating. I’d be interested in some feedback from you: http://www.mankinirevolution.com/blog/?p=1931. Again, thanks for the helpful comment.

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