It is written: If you want to fight a battle on the internet—like, say, "sexism is bad"—no matter how many times that battle has been fought before, you're going to have to spend a few million preliminary hours bashing your head against faux-incredulous gaslighting morons. "How can I be sexist when I love my mom?" "How can sexism be bad when it's not even real?" "How can sexism be real when HILLARY CLINTON???" "How can hurr durr de durr when HURR DURR DUR DA DURRRR!!?!??" Love your work, internet. Keep it up.
So much of these things that we yell about all day exist in weird, invisible spaces—subtle systemic inequalities, exploitation dressed up as feminism, just a feeling we have that something is fucked. That's why it's so satisfying to see evidence that stuff is definitely fucked. Like this paper, "Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace," from researchers out of Harvard (that is like the Yale of universities, you guys!!!), NYU, and the University of Utah, which finds that it is nearly impossible for men in "traditional" marriages (i.e. men whose wives don't work) to treat women equally in the workplace. No matter how well-meaning they are, no matter how much they love their moms, no matter how much they think they believe in gender equality, men who opt to live in antiquated gender paradigms are part of what the researchers call "a pocket of resistance to the revolution":
We found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
They presented male employers with identical job applicants—same experience, same qualifications, same resume—except one was named Dave and the other Diane. Then men in traditional marriages rated "Diane" significantly lower than Dave. Because, you know, vagina. Every woman has felt that—that moment when you can see a man's engagement switch off, and realize that he will never take you as seriously as he would if you came back with a chest-merkin and a handlebar mustache. But it's an almost impossible feeling to quantify, and an even harder one to communicate to people who have never felt it. An argument that can be vaporized with an emphatic enough "nu uh!" is a difficult argument to win.
It's not like there's some malicious, openly sexist douche brigade running around slapping laser pointers out of women's hands. That would be way easier to fight. But a lot of these men would probably consider themselves liberal, and friendly toward women's rights. As Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon at the Atlantic writes:
"One of the reasons why there aren't as many women at the top is perhaps men at the top tend to be benevolent sexists who tend to see women as people who should be shielded from danger and risks," says Desai. "They are probably thinking of women as fragile beings who need to be taken care of, that want to stay at home and raise kids and don't want to take risks and move to the top."
Desai notes that so many of the attitudes her work unveils are of an "unconscious nature," which makes beating them back particularly difficult. She says male leaders may think they are elevating women, not stifling them.
Essentially, these men are taking their most immediate models of womanhood—their private lives with their wives—and applying that model to the public future of every woman they meet. Now, obviously this isn't a causal relationship. If I became a housewife tomorrow, it's not like my boyfriend would instantly throw his dirty socks in my face and tell me to get him a beer sandwich. The problem is that men who seek out these types of relationships do so for a reason, and that reason is a deeply internalized belief of how a woman "should" be. There is nothing objectively wrong with being a housewife. The idea is to get to the point where any woman can choose to be a housewife without feeding into this system that stifles the success of other women.
Because this is how patriarchy fucks up people's lives. Antiquated gender roles aren't hurting the women who choose to participate in them (i.e. happy housewives)—they're hurting everyone else: Unhappy housewives who were never told they could be doctors. Professional, capable women who drag themselves tooth and nail to the top of their fields and still get treated like housewives by colleagues, superiors, and even subordinates. Male employers and team builders who, subconsciously or not, reduce their pool of potential applicants by half based on some arbitrary bullshit. Nobody wins.
So, women, if you can take a quick break from shower-crying and not being able to open jars, I think we should all embroider the following on a pillow: That feeling you have? The one you can't quite put your finger on? That's real. You are not crazy. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. Girl power and stuff.
Illustration by Jim Cooke, source photo via Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.