Sexism: The Silent Monster

  • Dominique Lanfear ’23

Madmen is a show that takes place during the 1960’s, revolving around the competitive business life of a tobacco advertising executive. The show more specifically highlights the overt sexism that takes place within the workplace, as well as the dangers of toxic masculinity. The main character cheats on his wife with two other women on multiple occasions, and his male colleagues pressure their secretaries to sleep with them. Women are incessantly reminded to “dress for the men” and change who they are solely for men’s pleasure.

Unfortunately, sixty years later, not much has changed. After seeing just one episode, I was reminded of all the times in my life where I have been doubted, judged, hurt, and ridiculed because of gender and my so-called unrealistic dreams. Throughout my life, I have experienced subtle sexism and not so subtle sexism. From being the target of incessant cat-calling and sexual objectification – such as having men follow me down the street attempting to grab and touch my body while whistling at me – to simply being prematurely judged by teachers, coaches, and other adults, I’ve seen it all.

Whenever I have expressed my dreams of being an entrepreneur, CEO, lawyer, or anything that requires multiple college degrees and or incredible smarts, I have been told, “No, you can’t.” When I ask why, the answer always remains the same: “because you’re a girl and those jobs require the leadership of a strong man.” One night stands out in my mind. I was at dinner, and all was going well until I was asked the question all adult relatives ask teenagers at some point in time: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Of course, I answered truthfully, saying exactly what I wanted to be and which colleges I wish to attend.

My male relative proceeded to look me right in the eyes, slow his speech and enunciate, word for word, “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard; women simply don’t have enough testosterone in their bodies to have male fierceness; thus, women are biologically inferior to men. Don’t worry, though, you would make a fantastic model; that way you can leave all the heavy lifting to the men.” Essentially, he told me that because I am a woman, I biologically lack the drive, competitiveness, and mental strength to achieve my dreams, and so I shouldn’t even bother.

Throughout the remainder of the dinner, he kept remarking on how morally challenging it is being a CEO and how it’s something that I could never handle. What I wanted to do in the moment versus what I was pressured to do, still haunts me today. I wanted to punch him in the face and yell, “Watch me,” but what happened instead is that I had to sit there, silent, because if I “talk back,” it’s considered disrespectful to speak to a man in such a way. At the time, I was distraught; I couldn’t believe that I allowed someone speak to me in such a disrespectful and demeaning way.

Though he may not have realized it, he was not only partaking in systemic sexism, but his words exposed the underlying biases against women that are not only taught, but rooted within many. While some may deny that sexism exists, it is a reality for all women in America, yet we are taught to endure it and stay silent in the face of this injustice. Sexism is a silent monster, toxic to our society, but change is possible if we break this silence, pushing past the fear of being impolite, judged, outspoken, absurd, or just plain annoying.

I urge you to break your silence because your voice, your story, your opinion, your strength matters; you matter. If we allow the pressure of silence to falsely lead us into believing that injustices are acceptable, it will only get worse. So, please, use your voice because it matters, and I promise we together, can make change.

Photo from Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy

By Axel de Vernou

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