Feminism has become a somewhat polarizing term. This doctrine that served as the cornerstone of the women’s rights movement has now become associated with an image of a bra-burning, man-hating shrew who feels entitled to special treatment simply because she is a woman. It’s true – women’s rights have progressed since feminism blossomed into a theory. We can vote. We can go to college, and we do (at higher rates than than men). We have access to jobs in all sectors and we are seeing more and more women at the helm of some of the world’s most powerful companies (though of course the gender gap is still striking). Yes, women are kicking more ass now than our foremothers could probably have imagined. But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean that feminism should be finished.
I’ve heard many women in my generation recoil at the mention of the term feminist. They assert that in this day in age, one need not be a feminist. You simply have to work hard, harder than men, and you’ll get what you deserve. You don’t need to be a feminist and demand special treatment, just be a good worker. I don’t fundamentally disagree with this. I do, however, think that it is taking a narrow view of what feminism is.
Feminism is not simply about raising the “glass ceiling” or access to jobs, votes, and education. Feminism is about social equality. And ladies – we don’t have that. Can we get great educations and great jobs? Yes. And can we combat the inherent sexism in our society? Yes, we can. But part of the point of feminism is to keep us aware of the sometimes subtle but often damaging sexism that floats through colloquial discourse. We are surrounded by sexism, and while laughing it off is often the easiest strategy, it is certainly not a satisfying one.
And here is where lovely Governor Christie comes in.
For those who aren’t aware, recently New Jersey Governor Christie made pretty ridiculous remark at an event for the Romney campaign in New Hampshire. He was in the middle of speaking (about something…something about rhetoric?) and a few women in the crowd began to chant, “Christie kills jobs.” Admittedly it was a relatively immature display. Fine. However, Christie, overcome with a frustration and anger that is palpable, even via video, retorts, “You know, something might go down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.” Are you serious?
Here is the video in case you don’t believe me:
It’s comically ridiculous. It’s no secret that Christie is an overt misogynist, with a history of belittling female constituents and even going to far as to refer to some of the other women in the audience as “Jersey Girls.” But even for someone with such a consistent record of sexism (take note Romney! No flip flopping with Christie!), this seems beyond the pale.
There’s been a bunch of backlash, and a movement requesting an apology for Christie’s making an oral sex joke to silence voting citizens. Christie’s supporters are defending him, saying that he only meant “something’s going down” in the colloquial sense of “something’s happening.” I’m sure that’s why the audience erupted and Mitt looked like he was going to have a conniption on stage. Nothing like a little vernacular to get the blood boiling!
My problem is not that Chris Christie seems to think a political campaign event is a good place to try out material for the open mic at the Laugh Lounge. My problem is not even with the thinly-veiled reference to oral sex. In fact, my biggest problem with this whole this is his use of the word sweetheart, and how that particular offense is getting absolutely no air time in light of the fact that he referenced a BJ at a GOP event.
If anyone reading this has ever been called sweetheart by someone in a professional capacity, you know how much it rankles. Though it originated as a term of endearment (probably), it can be powerful tool when used for evil. Want to silence a woman voicing her opinion in a meeting? Call her sweetheart. Want to make sure that female student either shuts up or drops out of your class? Same strategy. Calling women little pet names is a neat way to undermine their power and credibility without being brought up on sexual harassment charges, and it looks like our old buddy Christie’s perfected the skill.
This is why I am a feminist. Because these little tiny things happen all the time, and they add up. It’s the same phenomenon as the “Hot Chicks at Occupy Wall Street” fad. Making women into what men want them to be – either models or “sweethearts,” instead of just allowing them to be people with opinions. If it had been men chanting at Christie, he probably would have responded defensively, but I’d bet you a Chris Christie’s worth of doughnuts that the word “sweetheart” wouldn’t have been used.
For more information on sexism in the media (you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by how much material you’ll see) check out www.womensmediacenter.org or follow them on Twitter: @womensmediacntr. They know their stuff.