My First Brushes with SexismPosted: July 16, 2011
By Talia bat Pessi (Star of Davida):
What makes a person sexist – his or her parents? Friends? Religion? Society? The media?
I know it sounds like an essay question, but it’s a conversation I initiate with anyone who’s
willing to discuss it. If feminists’ goal is to end sexism, then to effectively eradicate it, we
have to find the source and work from there. In order to figure out where I first absorbed sexist
attitudes, I tried to think back to my first encounters with sexism.
I remember the first time was sometime in kindergarten. My class was coming back to the
classroom from the gym, so three boys and I decided to surprise everyone by getting there first
and greeting them when they came in. (Later when I worked at a day camp, a camper did this to
us, so I figured I was paid back for torturing my teachers like this.) After several minutes, the
teachers came into the classroom, frantically looking for the four of us. They yelled at us. A lot. I
distinctly remember staring at the floor in shame, fidgeting with the ruffles in my red Lands’ End
dress. Then one of the boys’ parents who always hung around the school admonished us.
“That was a very bad thing the three of you did,” he said, obviously referring to my three male
cohorts. “Or should I say the four of you!”
The intimidated five-year-old me didn’t say anything, but I remember thinking, I did the same
thing as them. Why shouldn’t I be included in the punishment just because I’m a girl?
The next sexist experience I can remember was in fifth grade. Our regular teacher was out, so
we had a substitute. He supervised while we did the work that the teacher left. Since I work
extremely fast, I finished pretty quickly.
“There’s no way you’re done,” he said to me when I asked him what to do. “Sit back down and
“But I’m done,” I said, exasperated.
“No, you’re not,” he said, and I went back to my seat and checked over my very much finished
work. A few minutes later, a boy said that he finished his work. The teacher believed him.
Based on my personal memories, parents and teachers are instigators of sexism; however, I’m
just one person, an urban upper-middle class white female. I’m sure others, both from similar
and different backgrounds as mine, would have completely divergent experiences with sexism.
All in all, though, I’m glad I can only think of a couple real encounters with sexism from my
childhood. I’m still upset that such things happened at all. I was always a strong girl; my mom
raised me with the mindset that girls can do anything. I remember proclaiming girls’ superiority
to boys’ often to my male classmates. Because of my pride in my femininity, I wasn’t terribly
affected by my brushes with sexism.
What about the girls who weren’t raised as proud of their gender as I was, though? What about
the girls who internalize the sexism they encounter? What happens to them?