May. 10th, 2014

jedusor: (neuron art)
When I was in Chicago recently, I went to the university both of my adult brothers were attending and met some of their friends. After a particular conversation, I mentioned privately to my brothers that one guy had addressed my younger brother the entire time we were speaking--even, in multiple instances, while responding to things I had said. My younger brother thought about this for a moment and said, "Huh. I didn't notice that, but actually, you're right. He did."

My older brother rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, I get it, you don't like my friends." Then he hollered after the departing fellow in question, "Hey, my sister thinks you're sexist!"

I think, already having heard me talk the previous day about how the majority of male hockey fans I meet expect me to know nothing and express surprise or distrust when proved otherwise, my older brother was fed up with my endless complaints. To him, I seemed to be making mountains out of smooth, mole-free prairies. Quizzing a new acquaintance on a subject of mutual interest is nothing out of the ordinary, and correcting her with misinformation is a mistake anyone could make. Eye contact during conversation is a ridiculous thing to even notice, much less care about. I'm sure he knows that sexism exists, but it's something that happens when people get hired based on their gender, or in countries where women can't wear pants. It's a big deal. It's not about imaginary conversational slights nobody even notices unless they're dead set on finding something to be upset about.

Except I'm not imagining it, and sexism is about minor conversational slights. It is about the things we don't notice unless we're looking for them. Because even if we don't notice them, they have an effect. (Really, click that link at the beginning of the paragraph.) Perhaps especially if we don't notice them--because if a girl knows that these condescending speech patterns are being directed at other girls too, then it's easier for her to discount them. If she doesn't know that, she's more likely to assume she deserves to be talked down to and that her words aren't important.

This is the reason girls aren't going into science and tech fields. Overt sexism isn't gone, but it's not as socially acceptable these days, and almost all girls are told that they can do whatever they want when they grow up. They don't think they're incompetent because they're female--they each think that they, personally, are not competent enough for STEM fields, because their everyday interactions indicate to them that no one else thinks they are. It's all that little stuff, the stuff you think isn't important because you don't notice it. I can wave off the condescending male hockey fans because I know the Metropolitans won the Cup in 1917 and not 1907/the Habs have never come back from a 3-0 series deficit/Seabrook's penalty was charging, not boarding/a building designed for hockey is called an arena, not a stadium/whatever else they're wrong about today. But I couldn't do that until I developed a strong knowledge base. It's really discouraging for females of any age to start learning about a male-dominated subject, because for a while, every asshole who assumes you don't know anything is right.

This, Cordell, is why I point out minor sexist speech patterns. Because no, in the long run it doesn't really matter much that some guy told Clayton about his plans for his career instead of the person standing next to him who asked. But it matters that you don't believe it happened. It matters that you don't realize this is part of a larger, systemic pattern. And because you TA physics classes, some of which contain female students, all of whom deal with this shit on a regular basis, it matters that you don't think it matters.

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