The Sexist

Vintage Sexism Finds Modern Defenders

Behold a common argument deployed by modern sexists:

1. Establish your concern for the women's movement by admitting that things used to be pretty bad for chicks, back in the olden days when institutionalized sexism dictated that women couldn't vote or hold jobs out of the home.

2. Your feminist prowress now established, assert that since women are now legally freed to pursue activities beyond babymakin', all sexism has miraculously disappeared in the workplace, in inter-personal relationships, and in entertainment.

3. Declare anyone who says otherwise a sexist.

This sexist argument—that sexism used to exist, but no more—tends to collapse whenever vintage sexism rears its ugly head. Modern sexists, like moths drawn dangerously close to the flame, can't help but defend the olde-tyme sexism. You know, the kind that was par for the course back when women couldn't vote or work or take birth control or avoid being legally raped by their husbands.

I learned this lesson personally when I began posting the "Sexist History" feature, which mines the New York Times archives for the hilariously overt degradation of women in vintage journalism. Whether the vintage sexism is objectifying hordes of women, asserting that female ignorance is cute, or blatantly rejecting the idea of women's suffrage, there is, without fail, at least one modern defender of the sexist NYT reporter, may he rest in peace.

Take this commenter's response to a 1909 sports reporter's rhapsodic, objectifying, and paragraphs-long detailing of all girls in the audience. It's an account which has apparently aged well over the past 100 years:

How on earth is that sexist? I don’t see one comment that is disparaging of women. He’s simply admiring the abundance of women at the event, and his writing is actually fantastic, much better than most of the BS that’s out there today.

Or another commenter's response to a 1900 New York Times piece which admonished female Cuban exchange students for taking too many sexual liberties in America, posted on IvyGate's coverage of the story:

Heh. So now it’s sexist to notice pretty girls?

More vitriollic defenses of olde-tyme sexism can be found everywhere vintage sexism is on display. YouTube, of course, is an infamous repository of bigotry. Check out the commonts on this YouTube clip from the 1963 movie, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which posed the question about the following dialogue: "The Most Sexist Line in Movie History?"

[youtube:v=eVLKArzODO4]

"The man who will love me on equal terms. That old saying, 'behind every man is a woman'—that's not for me. I want to stand right alongside. Is that asking too much?"

"Well, now I think you're going to have to be satisfied with the vote right now," TK responds. "I don't think that will ever become a national movement."

The modern sexism was swift and barely intelligible:

From MysteryManoLove:

You are DUMB, feminism has it's good points as Nazi Germany did too, thonly parallel is that feminists are taking the rights away from every one. They arn't making more "rights" anymore, it's all privilige, affirmative action, Title ix education amendment, ect.

From LovelyYTRocks:

Women? Equal to man? Lololol. I remember in P.E., not so long ago: A 15-year-old girl needs to cover 3 kilometres in 16 minutes to receive 10/10. A 15-year-old boy needs to cover 3 kilometres in 12 minutes to receive 10/10. 0 girls has completed this task so far, and nearly all boys has completed this challenge (except the really fat ones).

From Nickyrinkydinky:

To Lowfuellevel and the rest of the whining sexist bitches.

1. My father is a HOUSE-HUSBAND and looks after my sisters and brothers WHILST going to work during the day time. On top of that MANY men i know DO have 2 jobs in order to support their families.

2. There is literally little/no sexism today. You complain just for the sake of it. Ive been brought up well by my mother and i respect women. Yet all i see is sexist comments from "feminists" nowdays.

Yahoo! Answers—and its fellow community-based advice sites—may be the most frustrating forum for even the most innocuous feminist sentiments. After user Lindseylillian asked other Yahoo! users for examples of sexism in film, the resounding response was: No films are sexist. Lindseylillian is the only one who is sexist:

Oh great another feminist taking pure entertainment and making it into something so complicated and offensive. You know what YOUR sexist, because nobody even thought of that before you, people all saw people, you saw woman being held back....you sexist.

I used to enjoy a good laugh at vintage sexism, partly because it demonstrated how far we've come. Now I know that while the films and newspapers may have aged, there's nothing "vintage" about the sexist sentiment behind them.

Photo by late night movie

  • mdesus

    alright here's the thing, Men and women are different. My real problem with feminism is that it is often used as valid philosophy that eliminates this. I can change the oil on my car, and do basic plumbing. most of my guy friends can do this. I don't know many girls who can claim the same. Why? Men tend to be more mechanically inclined. On the other hand most women I know tend to be much more empathetic, and thus much better with young children. Maybe my sample size is small, but these trends do seem to hold across all of global society (also according to my econometrics professor in uni the tendency of mothers to stay home and raise the kids accounts for almost all of the wage discrepency between men and women. Basically want to get the same pay? Then don't leave work for half a year). From my perspective some classicly imposed "roles" as viewed from the feminist philosophical perspective are biological in nature. While we are more complex than only our biology and occassionally a man may be better at the jobs that require higher degrees of empathy, and women may be more mechanically inclined in general these things are not as simple as imposed social constructs. Women, generally, are better at some things, and men are better than others. History has shown us how various cultures have identified these strengths(usually along eerily similar lines), and the often very natural roles they lead the two sexes to fulfill. Is life bigger than this? sure. We're flexible, and often can conform to fill either role that one gender normally has an advantage for. Basically I'm supporting what Lawrence Summers said, and while not especially aplicable to what you've written I believe it is applicable to the philosophical stance you're taking. Also sorry for my spelling and gramar as I'm hideously hungover.

  • ivagrey

    Based on mdesus's comment, I'd like to proposer another three-part sexist defense strategy! 1. Generalize global principles from your own personal anecdotes. 2. Admit that it may just be your own limited experience talking and then appeal to some generic authority such as your college economics teacher or what "history" has shown us (because history is monolithic and everyone sees it in the same way, right?). 3. Undercut everything you just said by admitting that men and women are equal so you can shield yourself from being called out for what you are: a sexist. If your anecdotes refuting sexism are so important, why don't you give equal credence to feminists' anecdotes (not to mention facts supported by research and literature) that sexism is very real and still alive? These kind of arguments are riddled with logical fallacies and do nothing to further the thoughtful discussion Amanda has started with this post. For shame!

  • mdesus

    yeah so you completely missed my point, but that was probably my fault. What I intended to convey is to presume that genetic differences don't count is absurd. There are massive differences between men and women. One of them seems to be that men are more mechanically inclined, and women are more intuitive. Other good anecdotes lie in engineering and the hard sciences. Despite women outnumbering men in university attendance (especially amongst minorities) these fields are still populated by male students. Whereas most every other type of graduate is more likely to be a woman (going along with the general numbers). Men and women are not equal in all things. As for the stats yeah it was a blog comment. I'm not about to look up my sources, but it came from the textbook. Those things are usually pretty accurate.

  • John D.

    Quit whining. If you go on the internet in search of an excuse to feel like a victim then you'll find it. Grow up; your fragile ego doesn't depend on literally everybody approving of you.

    Oh -- and what about the women who have falsely accused their husbands of rape? But I'll betcha don't want to talk about the false rape epidemic, do you? Yup, sexism is alive and well. It's called "feminism."

  • mdesus

    ummm what? False rape epidemic? I'm by most accounts on these boards a sexist. That's just dumb. Of course sexism (as well as racism) exists. Generalized critiques always fail.

  • http://YahooMail Thomas Jones

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  • http://www.PledgeForMoms.org Mariya

    Great post!! I do think that sexism goes both ways, though (and you know that this is true): a man is expected to be assertive and commanding, just as a woman is expected to be flighty and weak.

    I believe that men and women can never be completely equal (inherently, we're psychologically and physiologically different), but there should be no reason why men and women are not allowed the same respect, education, opportunities, and compensation. Therein lies the real issue, not in whether we're all going to be changing oil after we watch Steel Magnolias. (I wrote a post of my own about The Funny Side of Sexism here: http://www.pledgeformoms.org/2009/05/16/the-funny-side-of-sexism - my opinions are based solely on observations of popular culture and the media).

    Again, great post!

  • Kiapita

    So, mdesus, more of your guy friends know about car care and plumbing than your female friends. Hmmm, do you think this could maybe, just by some off chance, have to do with the fact that someone taught your guy friends about plumbing and car care and no one taught your female friends about it? Like, maybe the guy friends' dads said, "Hey, son, help me change the oil in this motor," when they were kids, whereas it didn't occur to your female friends dads to ask for their help, or their fathers even thought, "Girls aren't mechanically inclined, so I won't show her how to do this because it would just confuse her."

    Mdesus, there are biological and genetic differences between men and women, but ability to repair a car isn't one of them. And even where there are biological differences - say, most women can get pregnant and men cannot - that doesn't justify the notion that women should be "satisfied with the vote" and give up on being respected within relationships or at work.

  • MuthaMitch

    Socialization is they key word that comes to mind when defending these differences. @mdesus: I have plenty of text books that contain articles challenging and generally proving there is no innate difference between men and women in regard to spatial abilities, but they are instead socialized into having interest in those categories, girls are pushed into humanities and boys into mathematics and science, and that there is a pervasive foundation in the education system that upholds this difference under the guise of biological fact. So, therefore it is in a text book and holds just as much weight as what you read in a text book, correct?

    Social Norms and Social Institutions have agency in everything, including what is in our education system, including " text book history." Which is generally a pretty skewered account of history, when agency is taken into account on how it is presented and re-told. Therefore, you cannot logically use mass produced information that has an inherently sexist bias as a defense that this is the natural state of being.

    I don't even know how to logically approach the "false rape epidemic" comment, its just too steeped in misogyny to even be taken seriously. I'd like to see some factual basis for this "epidemic", but I think its safe to assume its fictionalized propaganda that has no purpose but to demean rape victims and once again retain men as the normative and neutral sex.

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