Posted by: maehem | October 4, 2007

Can women be sexist?

This conversation was really interesting to me on Tuesday. When I first started studying about sexism, racism, and other -isms, I was part of a conversation asking if women could be sexist or if people of color could be racist. The conversation concluded that it wasn’t possible because at the end of the day, a woman being sexist against a man was still the oppressed in the larger context of society and the man was receiving more privileges. Examples were also brought up of middle-class white students fighting affirmative action because they thought it was racist against whites, and men calling women sexist in similar contexts.

 More recently, my ideas have shifted toward thinking of oppression as more complex and multi-layered– that different systems of oppression interlock and manifest differently in each individuals lives. I understand how women can use patriarchy against other women, and how patriarchy negatively effects men.

 With that view of oppression, it becomes really dangerous to use blanket statements like ‘the Oppressor’ or ‘women can’t be sexist.’ At the same time, it can be really tempting, or even useful in conversation to simply state ‘the Oppressor’ without meaning a particular and complex individual, but rather a system (for example, patriarchy), or to respond to someone making an outrageous charge against a person of color acting racist for advocating efforts like affirmative action.

 This post is just to mention how our language can be interpreted in many different ways, and how our ideas are always being redefined. See you in class!



  1. I also found that conversation interesting and engaging, and you make some good points. I have often thought about the question of who “can” be racist/sexist/classist,etc. and have come to the conclusion that almost everyone can. An interesting example, and one which I have see often, is the obsession with Japanese Anime and culture that results in a complete objectification of Japanese people and especially Japanese women. Even if we’re putting a positive spin on it, it’s still a form of racism when we expect another person to act a certain way based on their race or ethnicity.

  2. Blanket statements are tempting. I often use them regarding Republicans, males, and Capitalists. In a way, I seem to have grown up into a transsexual, leftist version of Archie Bunker. I am guilty of expecting certain types of behavior based on a label.

    I am just as guilty of this unfair way of being as are folks on the right who make generalizations about my behaviors. Granted, folks on the right are often rather accurately able to predict my behavior (carrying a Molotov cocktail is usually an indicator of a pending act, usually resulting from a political opinion). Still, I might be peacefully delivering the cocktail, and the political opinion, to someone as a celebratory act. The label ‘green transbian anarchist might’ not predict my behavior.

    I think the important thing is to understand that we are humyn. We make bad assumptions now and again. By being aware of our own assumptions, hopefully we can train ourselves to be better people. We can learn – we are a reasonable species. Even an old curmudgeon like myself can (slowly) change their unfair ways. As long as we do the work, we will become better people.

  3. “Can women be sexist?”

    . . . . . . . .

    Yes, it is possible. I know it has been my mother’s experience that her mother showed favoritism toward her two brothers. And the reverse it true also that in this same context women can show unfair favoritism toward their daughters over their sons.

    I rescently watched the movie Crash and I remember toward the beginning two African-American characters (sorry not good at remembering names) having a discussion about rascism. One of the thinks the waitress and the restaurant was rascist toward them for making them. And one of them eventually says something to the effect, “and black women don’t think in stereotypes too.”

    In direct or indirect ways a large majority act in overtly or very subtle ways that reinforce and perpetuate racist, sexist, homophic and every other discriminatory -ism.

    It may be counter intuitive to think women can be sexist but it is true.

  4. It is intersting to read another person’s interpretation of sexism, in realtion to the topic. The responses have similarly matched my own thoughts, but there are a few i am looking to express. A binary response to women and sexism are polar would minimalize the variety of sexual identification within a contineuum. It fascinates me to experience the beauty and pain of sexism. Love is real, but our societies interlocking systems of oppression,are extreely powerful. It It’s potential challenges love. What I mean is that our country was founded on the same oppresive beliefs we continue to perpetuate and participate in. No one is exemt from the system of racist, sexist, ageist and socialist beliefs. A women cannot help but carry sexist ideology, (even if not acted acted upon,) Previous educated allowed me to see that it is a discriminating social foce of oppressive beliefs we carry out. The lucky ones are arwhere, and can work to make a positive impact on society. Hope is not lost.

  5. If you’ve ever felt competitive towards a woman for the attention of a man, or been blamed for something that was the fault of your friend’s boyfriend, then you have experienced sexism. Many women compete with other women every day for male attention, which puts responsibility and blame on women and subverts male accountability, therefore reinforcing patriarchy and allowing men to get away with what they want, while the women are so busy competing with each other they don’t even notice what he’s doing anymore. I believe that women can be the main enforcers of heterosexism via their competition with each other, for instead of forming female solidarities and demanding male decency and accountability, they isolate themselves and enable patriarchal systems to be both maintained and perpetuated. Simplistically speaking, the next time you feel competitive with a beautiful woman for male attention, try forming a meaningful connection with her instead of shunning her and isolating yourself. Your friendship and solidarity with her will be both powerful and threatening for you have shown that you love her and that you love yourself, and you are demanding the decency and accountability of males as well, instead of expecting and allowing them to be sneaky and untrustworthy. You are demanding that they be a better man. And you are dismantling patriarchal control one man at a time.

  6. You bring up some good points. Over the last few years I have been beginning to further understand how patriarchy can be reinforced by women. I find myself sometimes expecting certain behaviours from men and how they “should act”. It is funny how we ourselves put expectations upon men, as is also done to us. Someone posted something in the response about the movie Crash. It is important to remember that we all judge other people and play into the stereotypes, but we must first recognize and change within ourselves, before placing blame on others. It is an easy thing to do because it is hard to blame yourself for anything, but it is the first step toward chaging the systems, in my opinion.

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