Glass slippers, glass ceilings, glass pedestals – women have it all, and by all I mean every exciting form of oppression.
In this week’s post on the sexes, we will be looking briefly at benevolent sexism in Republican language. Benevolent sexism consists of representations of gender which at first seem positive but actually prevent women from taking on equal social, political, and economic roles. Benevolent sexism depends upon the belief that women are inherently lesser, only valuable in so much that they conform to social expectations of what a woman should be, and that they should be given reverence rather than true respect.
For a more in-depth look on this phenomenon, let’s look at two examples of socially acceptable, everyday benevolent sexism, or as I like to call them, “snapshots of the glass pedestal.” We’ll start with Mike Pence, a wonderfully composed speaker and wildly sexist legislator. (Don’t believe me? An example, fact-checked by Snopes for those who may have read more misleading articles.)
Snapshot Number One:
This statement followed the release of a video which recorded Trump making what mainstream media had the audacity to call “lewd statements” – that is, graphic boasts about his ability to sexually assault women, and get away with it – and at first seems like an innocuous, even laudable response, to Trump’s sexist, violent speech. But look at how he frames his response. He does not say that women deserve to be treated well because they, as human beings, deserve our respect; he says that as a husband and father – as a male protector – he was offended. Women derive their value only due to the roles of wife and sister imposed upon them by society, not inherently, as men do. This language is pervasive not only within the Republican party, but even within anti-rape culture campaigns. Men are urged to imagine rape victims as their mothers or sisters – people who they should protect. Even the UN advertises offering adolescent girls education as useful because of its value to others in the community who they will serve in their role as mothers and sisters – women with an education have more educated children, women with an education bring that education home - rather than advertising its value to the girls themselves. Women’s rights are human rights, y’all.
Snapshot Number Two:
Next up, Paul Ryan! According to the Huffington Post, Ryan responded to Trump’s graphic descriptions of sexual assault by saying that “women should be championed and revered.” His chivaldric choice of the word “revere” puts him in an interesting position, as to revere can mean either to respect someone so deeply that the feeling becomes tinged with a sense of awe, or to put them upon a pedestal – though the word has religious connotations, suggesting it tends more towards the latter. Certainly it is hard to imagine him using that language when speaking about men, who he would merely respect, and who he would expect to be fully capable of championing themselves. Admittedly, he acquits himself decently, saying that Trump should prove he has “greater respect for women” than the evidence suggests – though his calculated unwillingness to distance himself from Trump further, his initial silence, and his objection to Trump’s “objectification” of women rather than Trump’s admission of sexual violence… Well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking for an ally to women in Paul Ryan, and I haven’t found one.
There ends the lesson, at least for today. Watch out for benevolent sexism, in yourself, your friends, and your media. Remember that women derive our right to exist safely not because we are wives, sisters, and daughters – not because of how we fit into men’s lives – but because we are human beings, and have our own. Like anyone else, we must earn respect. Who would trade equality for a glass pedestal? God knows it’ll be twice as easy for Donald J. Trump to look up my metaphorical skirt at that height. It’s a dangerous position.
Give me the ground, any day, and let me stand on my own two feet. I would rather look a man in the eye and have him see me than be revered for what I’m not.