You may think you are not affected by sexist language, yet studies show that you are probably wrong. In situations where only the male pronoun is used, people subconsciously image men when hearing about "firemen, policemen, and mankind." Even though we all know many women are firefighters, police officers and humans. Or the opposite, people think of nurses as women, because of the use of the word "male nurse." Substitute with the word "care giver" and either gender might be imagined, even if women more often are care givers. So why does it matter?
In children's books where "he" is the only pronoun used, little children of both sexes, tend to imagine all man worlds. Their drawings of dogs, cats and people are all populated with males only. Ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, let's hope she can come up with something a little more self propelled than a princess like "Jasmine" of the Disney film. Aladdin was much better, he was unemployed, but at least his choices in life were under his control. Jasmine for all her feisty spunk seems blissfully unaware of how to use her wealth to further her education, start a charitable organization or build a manufacturing plant. For reasons that are never explained, she feels she needs Aladdin to complete her whole new world.
Fifty years of women's movement have certainly changed things in the way teenage girls view sex. No longer content to act coy, and wait to be "asked" the average young woman today is perfectly comfortable dressing to attract, initiating sex, and having a baby without benefit of clergy. Not exactly what Gloria Steinem had in mind. If only women had achieved financial equality before the sexual revolution all of this would be easier to stomach. Instead, we have lost the stigma of being a single parent and retained all the financial strain. The reality is, for an urban poor woman, receiving welfare benefits in addition to help from family, friends, and the child's father, may well represent a higher income than she could receive through employment. So why bother? All the rhetoric in the world about "staying in school" and "getting an education" won't impress anyone if it actually doesn't lead to that Michelle Obama lawyer job. And truly, unless a young person has attended a preparatory school, the chances of getting into an Ivy league school are slim. A community college education, may not lead the way to employment any more secure than the baby train will provide.
When I was in college 25 years ago there was quite a push for a department called (mysteriously enough) "women's studies. One wonders why there was no department for "men's studies." I can only imagine it was because every other interesting thing in the world, art, history, music, philosophy, science, and math were "men's studies."
The books I read at the time, led one to believe there had been no female painters until Georgia O'Keiffe, burst on the scene last century. So I was amazed to discover sculptors like Malvina Hoffman had studied under Rodin, and Mary Cassett had sold her impressionistic paintings in Paris salons. I thought I had stumbled onto some arcane knowledge. Perhaps we needed a "woman's history" major to write a "woman's art" book, we could get this information out to the general public. Silly me. In their day, neither of these women were unknown. It was not the truth that there was no female artists. It was only the sexist manner in the way the information was presented. Twenty five years later I am so relieved to see that women painters are now listed in general art classes. They no longer need to be segregated out as some separate study.
They aren't. Women who paint are "painters" or "artists" the same as their male counterparts. Flight attendants, wait help, they're all the same whether they are male or female. Just being a woman doesn't give you a separate history, if you have been living in the same world as everyone else. Single parents, even if they are men, still face struggles. In some ways they have it harder, being the only male at the playground, viewed with some hesitation by the mothers and nannies.
If there is a history of women, it is by no means as simple and one sided as the way it was portrayed when I was in college. They led us to believe women had been held down and oppressed until January 1st 1960 when the mini skirt was invented. I wondered in the first place, if marriage was so awful, why so many women did it. I also wondered why if women had been so oppressed there were so many primary sources showing the opposite. You can find so many female writers and poets. You look at art work and you see even in Medieval paintings both men and women working side by side on farms, in fields, as merchants in stores. So what's up with the whole portrait of oppression? It seemed only aristocratic women had the luxury of being oppressed. Middle class and poor women have been working since the beginning of time, as teachers, caregivers, maids, field hands, dairy workers, any number of jobs.
The main difference is, prior to the women's movement, women seemed stuck in the lower paying jobs. And even when they did rise in corporations, they tended to get promoted less often than men and often made less than a man doing the same job. I'm all for equal work for equal pay, which brings us back to the sexist language thing. Waiters, seem to make more money than waitresses. Why is that? Fine restaurants seem to think it looks classier to have men as servers, and fine restaurants have more expensive food thus creating bigger tips for the workers. IF we could only get away from these ideas that "actors" are the leading roles, and "actresses" support or decorate the film.