Monday, August 16, 2010
My First Brushes With Sexism
The first time was in kindergarten. My class was coming back to the classroom from the gym, so three boys and I decided to surprise everyone by getting there first and greeting them when they came in. (Later when I worked at a day camp, a camper did this to us, so I figured I was paid back for torturing my teachers like this.) After several minutes, the teachers came into the classroom, frantically looking for the four of us. They yelled at us. A lot. Then one of the boys’ parents who was around admonished us.
“That was a very bad thing the three of you did,” he said, obviously referring to my three male cohorts. “Or should I say the four of you!”
The intimidated five-year-old me didn’t say anything, but I remember thinking, I did the same thing as them. Why shouldn’t I be included in the punishment just because I’m a girl?
The second time was probably the summer I was going into second grade. I was on the bus going to day camp, and one boy, three years older than me and on the basketball team, was the only one I knew. He was wearing a sleeveless basketball jersey.
“If our principal saw you wearing that he’d kill you,” I informed him. After all, I wasn’t allowed to wear anything sleeveless, since that would violate the laws of tzniut (modesty). If I was seen wearing sleeveless, I would get into big trouble. Wouldn’t he get into trouble, too?
“No I wouldn’t,” he replied. “I’m on the basketball team. The principal gave me this jersey.”
That made me extraordinarily confused. If girls can’t wear sleeveless, then doesn’t the same rule apply to boys? I don’t remember if I ever asked anybody about the discrepancy, or if I just absorbed the double standard about the difference of dress for boys and girls.
The last sexist experience I can remember was in fifth or sixth grade. While my elementary school was coed, the boys and girls were separated from fifth grade on, except for Hebrew language class. Our regular teacher was out, so we had a male substitute, a Lower East Side very right-wing rabbi that only taught the boys’ classes. He supervised while we did the work that the teacher left. Since I work extremely fast (the internship I did over the summer actually ran out of work for me), I finished pretty quickly.
“There’s no way you’re done,” he said to me when I told him. “Sit back down and finish.”
“But I’m done,” I said, exasperated.
“No, you’re not,” he said, and I went back to my seat and checked over my very much finished work. A few minutes later, a boy (one of the boys who had participated in my kindergarten escapade) said that he finished his work. The teacher believed him.
I’m glad I can only think of three real encounters (excluding all of the vomit-inducing things I’ve heard in my right-wing high school) of sexism from my childhood, but I’m still upset that such things happened at all. I was always a strong girl; my mom raised me with the mindset that girls can do anything. I remember proclaiming girls’ superiority to boys’ often to my male classmates. Because of my pride in my femininity, I wasn’t terribly affected by my brushes with sexism.
What about the girls who weren’t raised as proud of their gender as I was, though? What about the girls who internalize the sexism they encounter? What about those girls? What happens to them?