Unexpected attitudes

By
September 18, 2003

I left Seattle seeking reprieve from the sexist attitudes of
young college men. They were everywhere I went: in class, in bars,
as friends and acquaintances.

Being around men who have not examined their power and
privilege, and the costs they have on others, can be exhausting. I
thought that coming to a women’s college would give me time to
become stronger, maybe get to the point where I felt I could speak
up and not be shut down by sexism.

When I came to Mills, one of my first experiences with another
student on the campus was shocking. A guy my age acted differently
towards me because I was female, specifically engaging with my
father instead of me. It was pretty obvious, even to my dad.

Since then, I’ve had other uncomfortable moments with the
student, despite his overall friendly attitude. Maybe he doesn’t
realize he’s acting in a sexist way, but his behavior has been
observed by others.

I was originally going to lay the full incident out here, names
and all. After I wrote the piece, however, I was unable to turn it
in. Even though this is supposedly such an open campus, I was
afraid that exposing the incident would cause problems for me.
Maybe the incident wasn’t such a big deal, I thought. Perhaps I am
remembering the situation differently than it occurred. While that
is a possibility, the people that were with me that day remember it
as I do. If I am such a strong, outspoken woman, why am I afraid to
speak about what happened? Because I still care what others think
and am afraid of being judged as if something I did was wrong.

These are not irrational fears; often when women speak out
against something a man has done, she is ostracized by both men and
women. It is cruel, but true. I find myself silenced by the event
that occurred.

I fear that I will damage friendships I have made with men who
have not shown sexist behavior. There is always the chance that
even someone who says they are on your side will change their
mind.The thing is, the incident was a big deal to me. I was here on
campus only a short time when it happened, so my vision of all the
students here being non-discriminatory immediately vanished.
Sometimes, a small sign of oppressive behavior is a symptom of more
deeply held beliefs. Or, it can just be a simple mistake. Whatever
the cause, it happened, and it hurt me.

For some reason, I thought everyone at Mills would be above
bigoted behavior. My experiences have proved me wrong. I’ve not
only heard and seen sexist behavior from men (such as men using
offensive words to talk about women), but highly offensive and
prejudicial behavior from women as well.

It’s frustrating that some people who have taken classes about
privilege and status still use derogatory and hateful language.
Using insulting words to talk about gay or lesbian students is not
acceptable.

I’ve also heard ignorant things said about students of color,
and I find this to be just as unacceptable. On a campus devoted to
women’s education, we should be better people than that. Also, if
women are going to put each other down here, then we might as well
go to a traditionally co-ed school and take it from men as
well.

If you wouldn’t let a man call you a bitch or other abusive
names, do not use it on your sisters. And if you don’t care if
people say those things about you, well then, you need more
education. Words are not “just words,” and acting oppressively
should not be excused as “that’s just the way they (or we) act.” As
women, we know what oppression feels like, so stop perpetuating it
by damaging other women.

If you have experienced sexism, racism, homophobia, heterophobia
or any other oppressive behavior on this campus, you are not alone.
If you cannot speak up about it, at least write, even if it must be
anonymous. Women are taught to be too polite, as a friend told me,
so share your feelings with someone. If we cannot feel safe here at
Mills, then where can we?

 

 

 

 


Unexpected attitudes was published on September 18, 2003 in Opinions

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