Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What Sexism Is . . . And Isn't

Sexism. Both major political parties claim it. Or at least now claim to be victims of it. Now that's historic.

Finally sexism is getting some attention. But what is it?

The dictionary defines sexism as: 1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles. 2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women.

What is the difference between sexism and asking legitimate questions of the candidates? Are questions about family challenges off limits? Is it sexist to ask whether a female candidate can handle the job given her family responsibilities? Is it sexism to question the party platform?

Based on the dictionary definition it is sexist to ask questions of a female candidate (or job applicant) about her family, based on the assumption that she might not be able to be both a mother and a Vice President (of a country or a company). Such a question is rooted in the stereotype of women as belonging at home with the kids. Yes, that is sexism. Especially since no male candidates have been asked this same question.

But is it sexism to question the parties' platforms? When the 2008 Republican Platform's written position on Primary and Secondary Education states unequivocally that abstinence is the only 100% effective method for preventing unwed pregnancies, does it take it too far to cry "sexism" when we ask whether this policy works in the Vice Presidential nominee's own home?

The media pundits and governmental leaders cry out against "attacks" against Gov. Palin's daughter. But I haven't seen any attacks against her. I'll admit I haven't read any trash mags or tabloids. I certainly haven't heard Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden attack her daughter in any way. Quite the opposite ("let me be clear - families are off-limits"). How do the political operatives get away with attributing "sexist attacks" to them?

The key difference. There is a difference between 1) scrutinizing the next potential world leaders on sensitive issues, and 2) participating in verbal attacks based on sex.

Let's raise the level of discourse. Let's talk about our candidates without resorting to sexist, racist, or ageist slurs.

Sexism is appalling. But it should not be used as a shield from legitimate questions about policy.

Source: Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 03, 2008).

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