To the Editor,
I was glad to read in “Sexism is not an issue for us” (Issue III) that Nadia Sawiris (’16) did not feel inhibited by sexism in the educational environment of ASL, but surely the reason these issues are flagged up in school is not simply for students and faculty to reflect on them within their community, but to prepare students for the kind of prejudices or barriers that they may face in their future personal lives and careers?
It is 26 years since I left school and I think had I encountered more vigorous debate on sexism in my final years of schooling I would have been more clued up when I watched female friends from university routinely overlooked for promotion in their jobs because they were still at age where they may take maternity leave. I may also have been able to put some of the disturbing children’s clothes you find when shopping in context: Baby vests for girls with ‘flirt’ embroidered across the front for instance, had I listened to speakers like Jean Kilbourne as a teenager.
You don’t have to agree with everything a visiting speaker says to glean useful information to reapply in life at later dates. Feminism is not some rigid organization – it is a word that encompasses a whole range of views, some moderate and some radical.
Many feminists, and others who shirk from using the term to define themselves, would agree with Sawiris’ argument that the ‘oppressed women in developing countries’ should be our central focus and I can sympathize that if peers use sexism in a glib way to conjure greater self-interest this can be exasperating. However, problems arise when we start to take a ‘we are lucky here and they are unfortunate in developing countries’ perspective – this can rob people of their sense of dignity.
If women genuinely want to support each other internationally, they need to stop criticizing other women and accept there are areas of overlap and subtle similarities in the ways we both play to our strengths and experience sexism. Sometimes the humility to see what we have in common helps build constructive relationships more than emphasizing difference.