by Ryan Sanghavi, Staff Writer, October 2020
You have probably heard them in the hallways, classrooms, Zoom breakout groups — whether you were a victim or bystander, you have likely perceived more sexist jokes and comments from your peers than you cared to count.
Though there are a variety of sexist remarks, the ones that I hear most frequently are, “Women belong in the kitchen,” or “nobody should listen to a woman over a man.” Regardless of whether the majority of Nobles holds sexist beliefs or not, such statements can be hurtful and offensive.
Early in the school year, two peers and I were discussing how women’s roles in society have changed over the past several centuries, our conversation grounded in-class materials. After concluding our overview of the recent rise of women in politics, athletics, and other fields, a classmate stated: “But none of that matters, since women should only spend their time cooking and cleaning.”
I said nothing to refute the joke in the moment. However, I did follow up with the classmate in an email, explaining the damaging impact that sexist comments, especially casual ones, can have on the school and our classmates. Their written response was as follows:
I would never make an anti-Semetic joke, or a racist joke, but I do feel comfortable making a sexist joke because I do not view the “suffering” of women to be as high of a degree as other groups, and therefore believe that sexist jokes are acceptable, […] plus the whole “it’s funny because it’s true” thing.
To digest these words and to further explore the negative ramifications of casual sexism on campus, I interviewed several Nobles students on their perspective. “I find it problematic that these people are sticking to those outdated ideas when they are, in fact, not [members of] the marginalized group,” Claire Mao (Class II) said. She continued, “this person is insinuating that sexism is invalid, to such a degree that they feel comfortable making jokes about it with their friends. It shows that, despite the education they have received at Nobles and beyond about the prevalence of sexism in our society, they still are choosing to ignore the statistics and the voices.”
Despite the Nobles curriculum’s exploration of sexism and women’s suffrage, the issue of sexism on campus spans much further than the remarks of one student, and students of all genders are able to recognize it.
Chris Tillen (Class III) commented on the opportunity gap— a set of characteristics that humans are assigned at birth or in early life (such as sex, race, socioeconomic status) that can provide an individual with greater opportunities for enrichment. “Males have had so much more opportunity, and usually in sexism we see males saying marginalizing things to females,” Tillen said. He elaborated on his experience with casual sexism at Nobles, “If I’m being honest, there have been many times where I’m with friends, and a sexist joke will slide out, and I just discount it. I’ll think: ‘they didn’t mean it, it’s not meant to be malicious,’ and I forget about it. That’s something I want to improve on.”
Tillen further detailed the struggle of uniting groups of men on campus through sexist jokes. The trouble with forming unity around sexism is that one group is benefitting from a shared criticism of marginalized demographics. In the moment, the casual jokes may seem funny to those who benefit from the opportunity gap, even if they come at the expense of minorities that have been victimized for centuries. Nowadays, there comes a moment when humor transforms into hatred and when jokes turn into firm beliefs.
At Nobles, the Feminist Coalition, led in part by Sydney Asnis (Class I), serves as an active discussion space for issues of sexism and enhancing the role of women in society. Asnis reflected on the common, casual forms of inequity and discrimination. “The thing about casual comments is that they build up to be much greater issues,” Asnis said. She clarified, “Any form of degrading someone based on their identity is pretty damaging to that person.”
Asnis also considered the idea of locker room talk and the demeaning comments often made within that setting. She noted the importance of taking action even in secluded settings. “The idea that you can’t be held accountable for what you say because it was in a casual setting with your ‘boys’… No, that’s when you should be most held accountable,” Asnis said.
Contrary to Mao’s statements about how Nobles teaches sexism, there seems to be a lack of women in history. For example, an AP European textbook really only held one chapter titled ‘Women in the Renaissance,’ essentially excluding women from the remaining duration of the historical period. Even as recently as the 21st century, women are actively excluded from history unless specifically mentioned by name as a group.
This is a topic that leads to the highly sensitive discussion of sexual abuse, an atrocity that has been overly-present in society. Ninety percent of all sexual assault victims in the United States are women. Even casual settings, like the locker room and well-known concept of “locker room talk”, have connotations with sexual assault. President Donald Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood tapes, in which the president brags about the molestation of non-consenting women, are an example of casual sexism later defended as locker room banter. The normalization of similar sexist and objectifying ‘discussions’ as they relate to sexual assault could lead to far more concerning acceptances.
The female omission and objectification is not the fault of only one institution. On a global scale, women continue to struggle with attaining equal power, wages, and roles in society. Ideally, there will someday be an equal number of female and male world leaders, equal pay, and equal opportunity. However, until that distant future arrives, the words of students and their policies surrounding challenging sexism in all of its forms, will continue to chip away at the injustice that too many face.