At the age of ten, the one thing I wanted to be most in the world was a boy. This was how I was first aware of the existence of sexism and misogyny.
Growing up in a conservative Asian household, I had learned that being female meant learning piano instead of Taekwondo. Being gifted with Barbie dolls instead of the requested Power Rangers action figures. And there was the silent and undisputed relegation of cleaning chores that never fell to my brother.
I wanted out of this future I didn’t sign up for so I started asking my family members to call me Tom.
To be clear, this was not the case of a tween with a gender identity crisis. Rather, it was a young girl who thought that it was the quickest way to unshackle herself from the burdens of being a female.
At 18, I would learn the words ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’. And that was when liberation truly began.
The difference between sexism and misogyny
If you grew up like I did, I hope you’ve survived and managed not to internalise any of that rubbish!
Sexism was what my parents were guilty of. It is the belief that there are stereotypes to being a female and enforcing that. Tomboy-ish behaviour is restricted while ladylike pursuits are encouraged.
It’s seen in remarks like “only girls should wear pink” or “boys will be boys”. And in the workforce, it’s heard in tripe like “my boss is such a dragon lady” or that “men are better leaders because they’re less emotional.”
— Robert 💙🤍 (@robertheslop_91) July 26, 2021
This framework is conventionally the gateway to misogyny. It is the belief that men are inherently better than women, and thus derogatory words and actions towards females are acceptable. It’s in the comments of “she had it coming” following the unspeakably evil acts of rape or violence towards women. Comments like, “she got the job because she’s pretty”, strips a women’s worth to her looks.
As broken down in Vox, not all sexists are misogynists, but all misogynists are sexists. To put it simply, if actions speak louder than words, sexism is the word, whereas misogyny is the action.
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.”
— SBS Australia (@SBS) September 12, 2021
Sexism and misogyny is the reason for the gender pay gap
In the lead up to completing her finance degree, Scarlett* had ensured to do internships to ensure she had an edge over her peers. Her hard work paid off when she scored a lucrative job in the banking industry right after graduation.
With the role came an eye-opening look into some of the most toxic aspects of the finance industry as exemplified in The Wolf of Wall Street. The boss with the wandering eye was creepy but easy enough for Scarlett to ignore. Yet it was a slap to the face to learn that a male colleague who had lesser credentials and experience was earning more than her.
#ReasonsImAFeminist #2: Because I got yelled at at work by my male boss when I presented a new idea. 2 weeks later my boss presented it as his idea in the weekly meeting & yelled at me for not already doing it.
Anyone else had a boss like that? https://t.co/ypKGgihhga
— Freya (@DSexism) September 13, 2021
Unfortunately, Scarlett’s experience is common across the world. The universal gender pay gap states that for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 16 percent less, that is, eighty four cents. In patriarchal countries like East Asia, the gender pay gap is far larger – a whopping 24.5 percent in Japan and 34.6 percent in Korea.
This gender pay gap is a systemic issue. It owes to the fact that men are more likely to fill boardrooms while women take up informal employment like domestic workers or street vendors. These low-paying unsafe working environments offer little protection and benefits trapping women in a cycle of poverty.
Women are guilty of sexism and misogyny too
Lest you think that it’s only those with the Y chromosome that are capable of such abhorrent behaviour, women can also display the same unfortunate prejudice.
When Susan* joined the entertainment industry, those who led the it drilled into her that appearances mattered. Dressing professionally and being groomed wasn’t sufficient to appease her female boss. She was taken on a shopping spree to introduce makeup to her morning routine.
Too often standards created and imposed by men become internalised and enforced by women under the guise of “it’s just what is expected”. Susan liked makeup much more when it was a choice versus being compulsory. As a result, she felt like she was wearing a second skin in that job where she couldn’t be herself and had to conform to an appearance-first mindset. It seemed to downplay her potential and talent.
Now that she’s in management and a position of power, Susan wants to create change. She wants to call out such behaviour when it happens. This is in hopes of inculcating a culture of acceptance where every voice is heard and taken into consideration. In the past, the culture of fear was present where voices of elders were prioritised over all others.
We should all be feminists
After years of fighting with their fiercely feminist daughter, my parents too, have grown. They now check themselves when regressing to sexist worldview. It’s a continuous but pivotal lesson when it comes to being better for the next generation – their grandchildren.
Make no mistake. It’s a long and arduous journey to true gender equality. But as long as each of us sheds light on the issue, never stops learning and calling out bad behaviour, slowly but surely, we all can be the better future we hope to see.
*Names have been changed to protect identities. (Author’s note: Which also tells you the sad state of affairs that women feel the need to hide for fear of backlash from telling their truth. -___-)