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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Sexism: the funny kind of prejudice


    The truth is that in the political world I have been far oftener discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black. Prejudice against blacks is becoming unacceptable, although it will take years to eliminate it. But it is doomed because, slowly, white America is beginning to admit that it exists. Prejudice against women is still acceptable.””

    Rep. Shirley Chisholm spoke these words nearly 40 years ago as she addressed the House of Representatives on the topic of prejudice against women.

    Now, in 2006, we consider ourselves to be far progressed past the prejudiced years in which Chisholm campaigned for the equal rights that were due to her.

    In fact, we have actually advanced in the way Chisholm predicted: Racism is practically taboo for most citizens of the U.S., while sexism is still acceptable to most people.

    Our horror of racism was made obvious recently when Sen. George Allen made racist remarks during a speech. This caused what Allen’s campaign manager called a “”feeding frenzy”” – a firestorm of negative press. Though Allen’s camp first brushed off the allegations of racism, the response to his ill-considered words was so great that he gave several increasingly emphatic public apologies.

    At the moment, I can’t think of a person I know who would comfortably make a racist joke. I can’t imagine ever hearing anyone mocking someone else’s religion, either. And I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone calling a gay person by a discriminatory epithet. This new sensitivity in our society is to be praised, certainly.

    But I do hear people making sexist jokes – all the time. To other people, these jokes are not a big deal. For me to say that they were wrong would be considered an excessive response.

    When Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate, her opponent John Spencer actually said that Clinton had been so ugly in her youth that “”I don’t know why Bill married her.”” He also said that she had since had “”millions of dollars”” of plastic surgery, and that “”she looks good now.”” However, the news coverage on these sexist remarks was markedly different from that of the Allen fiasco – multitudinous, but mostly light-hearted.

    Out of every single article on the occurrence, the only ones that used the word “”slur”” were two articles from an Australian newspaper. Many headlines punned that the race for Clinton’s Senate seat was “”getting ugly.”” Articles focused on Clinton’s response that she was “”cute in high school.””

    Spencer didn’t apologize.

    Were his remarks not prejudiced? Did they not focus on someone’s superficial aspects and outward appearance rather than the content of her character? Don’t we, actually, often focus on a woman’s outward appearance rather than her character?

    Wasn’t it possible that Bill Clinton married Hillary because of her amazing intellect? She was valedictorian when she graduated from Wellesley. She went to law school at Yale. But Spencer seems to imply that the only reason a man would marry a woman would be because she was physically attractive.

    These comments were sexist. Yet the media coverage did not treat them as seriously as it would have treated an issue involving any other prejudice. To the media, as to us, sexism seems still not to be a big deal.

    It is a big deal, though – or it should be. Judging a woman based on her attractiveness is no less hurtful than judging a person based on the color of his skin or the hijab she wears. This is what prejudice is. It should not matter whether Clinton is pretty or ugly – whether she’s had plastic surgery or not.

    Clinton is a controversial figure – but her gender should not be part of that controversy.

    It is up to us to fix this. The acceptability or unacceptability of prejudice is defined by society’s response to it. If a senator makes racist remarks, and the public responds very clearly that those remarks were wrong, then this goes a little way toward abolishing racism. If a politician makes sexist remarks, and the public just laughs at what an idiot that politician is, then this goes a little way toward making sexism OK.

    Shirley Chisholm died in 2005. If she were alive, I would be ashamed to face her and say that after all this time we still don’t see that sexism is a prejudice that is just as serious as any other.

    It’s been long enough. If we recognize sexism for what it is, perhaps – little by little – we can come closer to ending all prejudices.

    Lillie Kilburn is a sophomore majoring in psychology. She can be reached at

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