When Sam Querrey beat Andy Murray in their 2017 Wimbledon quarter-final match, Andy Murray went viral on Social Media. Not for anything he did in the match, but for calling out a reporter afterwards on his casual sexism. The reporter had stated that Sam Querrey was the first American player to reach a Major semi-final since 2009, and Andy rightly pointed out that surely he meant to say ‘male player’. The way that the reporter laughed, suggested that he still didn’t really get it.
We come across casual sexism all the time. For my entire life I’ve heard the words ‘I bet it’s a woman’ whenever a car driving in our vicinity did something wrong, drove too slowly, or dove too fast. And not just from my father or husband: from my mother too. It’s ingrained throughout the generations of our family that bad drivers must be women, despite statistics that demonstrate the complete opposite. Research shows that while there are more women on the road, men cause more accidents than women, and commit more driving offences. And anecdotally, more than half the times someone in my family has ‘bet it’s a woman’, it’s been a man.
Only this past weekend I was witness to an incident of casual sexism. A few months ago a wee mouse chewed through a pipe in my parents’ house, and the resulting hole meant that a heap of water seeped through into their dining room, and caused a lot of damage. Once the walls and ceiling dried out, the insurance company sent various people to carry out repairs. Including a woman, who came to paint the room. She did not do a great job, and was the subject of some complaining this weekend by my parents. Which is fine, except that they insisted on saying that ‘the female painter’ did a terrible job. When I pointed out that her gender had nothing to do with the quality of her work, my mother didn’t think she’d said anything wrong. Even though my grandmother frequently wallpapered and painted her house, my sisters do the same to theirs, and my mother herself has been involved in decorating our family home in the past!
While it may seem innocuous, a small detail not worth bothering about, it’s actually a very big deal. Because it’s sending a subliminal message that men are better than women at things that have nothing to do with gender. It also suggests that discrimination is okay. It reinforces sexist beliefs in adults, and introduces them to the next generation.
It might make things easy for simple brains to put people in boxes, and to use the label on those boxes to decide what they can and can’t do, but nobody is just one thing. I’m not just female: I’m made up of all sorts of talents, gifts, knowledge, skills, experience; all of them unique to me. And so are you. Labels make things safe for some people; the generalisation tells them what they can expect. But people can’t be generalised. We’re all unique individuals. And we should be teaching our children to embrace that. To love that, not to fear it. I can be good at driving and bad at painting, and neither have anything to do with the fact that I’m female.
I’m not saying that all men can do what all women can, or vice versa. I get that there are physiological differences between our genders. Men can pee standing up, for example, and women can grow new human beings inside of them. What I’m saying is that no person should be valued over another because of their gender. Everyone should be valued for who they are and what they bring to this world. And the beauty is in those many differences.
I know that some people will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, and frankly I don’t care. All I know is that discrimination is not okay, and once you tell someone that it’s okay to discriminate on one level, you’re telling them that discrimination as a whole is okay. Nobody’s saying that you have to become an evangelical feminist. It would make a difference just to be aware of what you’re saying and how that could be construed. We all have the right to use our God-given talents to make our way in the world, without having to worry that we’ll be judged because girls or boys don’t do that. And to be allowed to be bad at painting because we’re bad at painting; not because we’re a woman.