A Reminder of Sexism on International Women’s Day

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
– Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”

On International Women’s Day, the global community took time to appreciate the work that women around the world have done to further the cause of their liberation, as well as to recognize that which remains to be done. For many, it was a day of celebration, but it was also a day of gratitude. The brave, intelligent, and powerful women who have gone before us into the wilderness, cutting a path so that others may follow, have led us to where we are today. The view from our current location is far more hopeful and beautiful than that which our sisters saw 100 years ago. Unfortunately, old and young women alike were reminded of the long and winding road that still lies before us that day. As a high school student, I am very aware of the presence of sexism in the minds of my male peers. However, their actions during a month for celebrating women and their accomplishments, exposed their beliefs to the entire community.

There are unusually many Catholic schools in my area, relative to the local population. Of the five Catholic high schools, four are single-sex – two all-girls and the rest all-boys. On International Women’s Day, a group of disgruntled young misogynists from one of the boys’ schools decided to spread messages of sexism and hate throughout the school, extending these messages online through social media. They wrote things like, “repeal the 19th” and “all they’re good for is sex, cooking and cleaning” on the chalkboards at school. They also sent these messages through Snapchat to both female and male students. A student from one of the girls’ schools was horrified by what she saw, some of which were sent directly to her, and decided to confront these young men. Word of her retaliation spread throughout the male population at the school. They were offended at the idea of being forced to accept some sort of accountability for their horribly sexist actions. Instead of apologizing, they replied with derogatory tweets and Snapchats, among them the lovely sentiment that her boyfriend should control her better. Some even created an anonymous Snapchat account and sent her hateful messages, one of them reading, “you fucking sensitive whore, take a fucking joke.”

It is true that, in order for these sentiments to have spread, they needed to be supported by the approval or inaction of others. Other boys spread the messages or looked away. It is likely that the faculty, working for a school that fervently claims to educate “men for others” as outlined in their mission statement, met the comments with apathy and chose to ignore them. For some time, the president of the school said nothing more than that the actions of some students did not represent the school as a whole, probably in an attempt to preserve either the school’s or his reputation.  This was false, as this incident was certainly not isolated. Even those who didn’t instigate this female degradation gladly shared in the spirit and eagerly passed the other boys’ messages along. 

Around the same time as this incident, the very same students also edited a perfectly innocent photo from a female student’s Instagram account, making it appear as though it was from a video on a porn website. They took an unsettling amount of time producing this image in an attempt to damage her reputation. Just like the aforementioned sexist messages, the photo was enthusiastically shared by the male students, who claimed to be looking for a laugh at the expense of the girl. The question of whether or not they were aware of the degrading effects their actions could have, only leads to unfortunate answers. If they were aware, then they were knowingly trying to assert themselves as superior to their woman peers. If they weren’t aware, then we can assume that their sexist attitudes are so deeply ingrained through socialization that they don’t even realize how they are affected.

Even in this day and age, when many believe feminism is no longer necessary in the developed world, misogyny still runs rampant through men and women’s mind. A school claiming to develop “men for others” has instead created men who are only interested in themselves and are aggressively anti-women. Even the male students who spoke out against the actions of their peers were immediately dismissed as being far too similar to the women being degraded. After some pressure from the female student who received the hateful Snapchats, the school administration decided to punish the sexist students by making them volunteer for 10 hours at an abused women’s shelter. Both I and many other women in the community don’t believe that this is sufficient, or even a punishment at all. One can only hope that these young men will later come to appreciate the humanity of the girls and women around them, for it appears as though even that has not yet been realized. Lift your eyes to the hills, ladies, for the path to our liberation is much harsher (and farther) than we anticipated.