Sexism and the Meaning of the Mysterious Evil Called “Society”

Surely at some point in your life you must have wondered what that “society” everyone is always talking about actually means. Is it everyone? Perhaps, but that might be a bit too simple. Then is it the media? Could be, except it would be a bit pathetic if society was made up only of the media, seeing as the media isn’t always equally good at what they do. You know, to state it mildly… But then what is society, and why are we always blaming everything on it?

This weekend I had an incredibly interesting discussion on Facebook about a certain YouTube video. The video starts with a rather sarcastic summary of what guys look for in a girl, and ends with a very uplifting message for all those (teenage) girls who fall victim to what they believe guys want them to be like. It is the first part that might be rather interesting, because when you think about it… is that society that tells us what guys (should) like in a girl not exactly made up of videos such as this one?

The creator of the video gives a long list of things that guys supposedly like in girls, most of them completely impossible due to the fact that they often contradict (smart but opinionated, good at sex but still a virgin, etc). Now, of course, the message of the video is that girls should ignore this (and even that guys like very different things and that everything she mentioned is actually fictional, which is 100% true), but the question remains how this image of what a guy looks for in a girl was created in the first place. After all, if all guys have different tastes, then why is this myth that they all like the same impossible thing still so well known?

And that’s where society comes in: the myth is perpetuated by the myth itself, because people talk about it, and because of that, it actually becomes reality. Guys will believe that they are supposed to like that girl with the tiny stomach and the giant breasts, because all their friends are talking about it, so it would be weird if they were any different. After all, if they were different, they might even be gay, and nobody wants that! That would be awful!

This might sound rather odd, but after about 15 years of playing football and spending at least 6 hours of my week with a group of 15 guys, this seems to be exactly what is happening. These guys, often not all equally well educated, say the most ridiculous, sexist, racist and homophobic things imaginable, all because that is what they are supposed to do. I have seen team-mates who I had lots of things in common with, who had been raised in a proper way, turn into those typical guys who have this one stereotypical image of what a girl should be like, and it changed them completely.

These stereotypes are created and shared by “society”, and that society is for a decent part made up of people who make videos on the internet. Well-meant videos, sometimes, that have wonderful, positive effects, but that at the same time also affect the wrong guys in the wrong way. Society is not just “the media” as some kind of distant and evil organisation that we don’t have control over and it isn’t just “the people” in such a way that everything we say becomes “society”. “Society” is made up of selected stereotypes that get shared around the world, whether it is to ridicule the stereotype or to support it, and while that is sometimes the society we love, it is also the society we hate.

So how do we solve that? As much as I always hate criticism that doesn’t have a solution, I’m afraid I don’t know. All I would suggest is to watch out for it, to try and avoid perpetuating those stereotypes while trying to get rid of them. But does that mean that videos such as the one above shouldn’t be made? Definitely not. Helping girls get rid of those stereotypes and making them realise that guys do have different tastes is important, even if it has some negative side-effects. If we ever truly want to get rid of sexism, these football jocks will need to be convinced as well, but for now, all we can do is to keep these things in mind, and to do the best we can to limit the damage. Because we can’t change society in a single day.

~

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More on this topic from Dean Richards:

White Students Accuse Black Teacher of Racism: Lies, Bias and Bad Media

Feminism is Losing its Touch

How To Become Textbook Healthy: A Guide For Fangirls

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About Dean Richards

A young student with a passion for writing. Aspiring author and human rights activist, but I write about anything. "If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree!" New blog post every Monday!
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6 Responses to Sexism and the Meaning of the Mysterious Evil Called “Society”

  1. Priscilla says:

    I see your point and I agree with it, mostly.
    I think ‘society’ does not necessarily represent a group of people or stereotypes, it is a sort of ‘force’ that perpetuates itself. As you said, it is necessary to talk about it and be aware of it. It cannot be solved in a single day – I seriously doubt whether the world will ever get rid of the idea at all – but by being aware of the problem, one can at least mind his own words and reconsider the ideas they first took for granted. So, on an individual level I think it is solvable. However, once, like in the video, someone tries to stand up against the system and speaks out, the people who are still trapped in that box of… Well, let’s call it ‘society-thinking’, will just see it as proof of that society-thinking and dismiss the point alltogether. So, in a way, the girl in the video just reinforces the ideas she’s trying to break.
    I really hope this wall of text still makes sense and that you get my point…

  2. Hello! This was an excellent read. I feel like humans naturally want to fit in and follow others, not everyone swims against the current, so you can see how things happen the way they do.

    I think one way to at least alleviate it is to raise kids to know that everyone is different and that they don’t have to do what everyone else does to have fun. As they get older, teen years esp, they get even more pressure to conform and be attractive to the guy they have a crush on so of course girls are gonna talk about what makes them attractive (whether they be true or not) and these instances are perpetuated in the media (tv shows and movies) where the girl is pursuing a guy and she’s trying so hard to be attractive to him that she a) forgets who she really is and what really makes her happy and b) turns into something the guy really has no interest in. Think “Mean Girls” where she starts out really unique and different, and gradually becomes a “plastic”. The same can be said for guys who want to be attractive to the girl they have a crush on.

    I feel like the “crushing” is the unavoidable part, I can’t tell you how many crushes I’ve had on guys throughout school, even as young as like first grade. I think there’s a similar issue with sexuality. If you’re a girl and you start crushing on a girl who either a) isn’t sure about her sexuality or b) is only interested in guys, it could come as kind of a shock and they’re immediately “EW NO I DON’T LIKE GIRLS!” and I think that’s how being gay or lesbian starts out as being considered a bad thing. The person crushing feels embarrassed for liking them, and closets their emotions. They might never tell their parents, and even if they did they might not tell their child “It’s okay to like girls. It’s okay to like boys. It’s okay to like both. It’s okay to like none at all!” because it still is not a widespread idea, and a lot of parents lose sight on what it’s like to be that age and explore sexuality.

    The good news is, the older you get, the more things you come to realize. You don’t have to look a certain way to be attractive to someone. You’re not a defective for being different. Not all guys are the same. Not all girls are the same. Liking the same sex is uncommon, but it’s not abnormal. Not feeling like the gender you are is uncommon, but not abnormal. The bad news is… this doesn’t happen to everyone. Sometimes people are stuck in the “high school phase” well into their 20s, sometimes their 30s, but hopefully by the time they are parents they realize how ridiculous it was of them to think that way, be accepting of who their children become and who they wind up in a relationship with, and raise them to know it’s okay to be different.

    More good news though: this is happening more and more often. It’s a slow change, but it is happening. I think it’s only going to get better. More states are legalizing gay marriage (which IMO shouldn’t be the government’s decision who can/cannot get married in the first place).

    I realized just now I may have gone off on a tangent… lol. Those ideas of “what guys like” and “what girls like” carry into the corporate world. The marketing for the products they sell preys on those “standards” and people look at those ads and take them to heart. “Hey, is that what guys really like? Maybe I should buy some make-up… maybe go on a diet… buy some cute clothes… maybe then I’ll be able to catch someone’s attention!” That’s a lot of money those businesses are going to get from that person because they feel insecure about themselves.

    People realize this and go “HEY! SOCIETY! F@#! YOUR STANDARDS!” but don’t really address the true cause of it. Even if they did, it’s not something you can remove from a situation and it gets better, it’s something that needs to be addressed to kids and teens when it starts happening. It needs to be talked about now so that future generations can benefit from it, hopefully. I think it would also help even more if people spent more time promoting what they want to see rather than ripping apart everything else, because most people don’t react well to hostility. Then they wonder why no one is getting their message. At least that’s how I feel about it lol.

    • Speaking of excellent reads, thank you for the comment! You mentioned a whole lot of things I can definitely relate to!

      Anyway, the part where you mention how it’s important how we raise our kids made me think about something… We all carry the biases of our own time, and the older we get, the more trouble we have to adjust to new situations and world-views. Now, as it happens, parents are almost always over the age of 20, and that means that many of their views might already be outdated. For example, I imagine that parents and grandparents have a much higher chance of being homophobic than the youngest generations do.

      Because of that, parenting is always one step behind. My generation will emphasise to our kids that difference is good and that being gay is not something bad, but by the time we actually have kids, there might be completely new issues already arising that we cannot prepare our children for. So upbringing is very important, but it’s also very difficult.

      Of course, now I haven’t even mentioned the fact that not everyone at a young age actually agrees with all these things, and I’m also fairly certain, to state it mildly, that not every parent is equally adept at the entire “child-raising” thing. So making sure that the children of the future are better protected against all those issues is probably going to be very difficult.

      I also very much liked what you wrote about how being gay can become a bad thing at a young age. I had never thought about it like that, but I can totally imagine the “embarrassment.” I know how crushes can be very uncomfortable and awkward once the other person finds out, so if that other person is of the same sex, that effect might be even greater.

      But yeah, things are definitely getting better. It’s going to take a while before being gay really doesn’t cause any problems, because the current generations will probably have to pass away and make room for younger generations with more updated views before that happens, but it’s definitely progressing quickly.

      Finally, I find your last point really important: people don’t react well to hostility. It’s true. Hostility has the exact opposite effect of what you want it to have, because it will turn people against you, yet it is still constantly being used. Think of the way the Western world is dealing with Russia’s anti-gay laws, or how certain activists react to people opposing them. You cannot convince someone by fighting against them, because then all you can do is force them to adopt your world view, which never works. They need to be convinced, and hostility doesn’t do that.

  3. Awillaway says:

    I agree with your post. I think it’s a two-part solution. Yes, guys in our society have to stop making women feel like they have to live up to these positive ideals. On the other hand, I think there’s an equally strong message that must be thwarted that can only be done by the power of the female population.

    It is the message that a woman is nothing without a man. It’s the search for the “perfect” husband, which often comes first in a female’s mind, instead of focusing on making themselves the best person possible. Relationships are supposed to be fallen into, not sought out.

  4. perspectivethink says:

    Wow, where to begin? There is so much detail here, it is difficult to pick a point to start. Well, let’s pick one and start anyway!

    I always viewed “society” as people living collectively- something of a dictionary definition, quite frankly. I feel that standards and norms are what makes up the consciousness of what is considered “society”. It is rather simple but it works for me. I’ll be honest, in my writings I have referred to media many times as a major player in shaping people’s consciousness- provided people allow themselves to have their consciousness shaped by it which, quite frankly, a lot of people seem to do. It’s not “good” or “bad”, it just is.

    As for the whole “girl-boy” thing, I really don’t know. I think it’s terrible the expectations men have of women. I think it is equally unfortunate that some women (underscore SOME) allow themselves to fall into the “hot chick” stereotype thinking that it is some type of free-willed individual choice when it really is a programmed response to other deeper and un-adressed feelings.

    I don’t know that people need to be convinced of anything but rather see for themselves through their own actions that what they’re doing isn’t working anymore. At least, it isn’t working for their or anyone else’s benefit. It’s like the guy who thinks being a macho asshole is going to get him respect. What will eventually happen is that people will be alienated enough to distance themselves from that person where that individual will eventually be completely alone and isolated. They may do a couple of things: recognize their error and do something to alter their state or do nothing and continue down the same path getting more of what they already have. It is up to individuals to decide what action to take.

    I wrote an article called “The Blurred Line Between Truth and Its Opposite” where I talk about how if many people or accept something it becomes “true” based on their perception of things, even though there may be evidence to the contrary. You can check it out below.

    The Blurred Line Between Truth and Its Opposite

    I think this compliments some of the things you mention in this piece.

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