Women, face the real issue behind sexist sounding remarks

Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Story highlights

Peggy Drexler: Three news stories drew howls of sexism. But it's important that women identify real battles before they pick them

Dimon may have made dismissive statement about a man he disagreed with too, she says. Women should not assume victimhood

CNN  — 

Some of the more provocative headlines of the week seem to want to suggest that, once again, men feel they’ve got to explain things to women, the slower species.

There’s the news that JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon thinks Elizabeth Warren doesn’t understand the global banking system. And the story of the Nobel Laureate scientist who said that women are no good in the lab, because “they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Peggy Drexler

Over at the New York Post, there’s the critic who believes that women aren’t capable of understanding the movie “GoodFellas.”

“The wise guys never have to work…,” writes Kyle Smith, “which frees them up to spend the days and nights doing what guys love above all else: Sitting around with the gang, busting each other’s balls.” Women, he writes, can’t be around for such ball-busting, because women are the sensitivity police.

Many of Smith’s points are clearly meant to be incendiary – clickbait, pure and simple, from a writer long known to court controversy.

"By the way, I am so #distractinglysexy preparing graphene that sometimes I cry," tweeted @Daniela_BaezM.
Female scientists' message for Sir Tim Hunt
01:13 - Source: CNN

But I’m inclined to give him the one about women being the sensitivity police, given the giant uproar his short essay about a decades-old movie has generated. For one thing, you don’t hear any men complaining that Smith perpetuates the stereotype that all men want to do is sit around being crass and lazy. For another, had this piece been written by a woman arguing that men were incapable of understanding, say, “Thelma & Louise,” I’m confident we’d hear not a peep of protest.

The news here isn’t that men, how dare they, feel the need to explain things to women. Men have been explaining things to women for quite some time. The bigger problem is that women continue to get all fired up about it – even when the situation doesn’t call for so fiery a response.

Take the Dimon-Warren kerfuffle.

Who says Dimon was attributing Warren’s misunderstandings to her gender? That was the media, not Dimon.

“Jamie Dimon Wants to Mansplain Banking to Elizabeth Warren,” went a headline on Huffington Post. It’s hard to imagine this same headline would have run had Dimon lobbed the criticisms at a male politician or gotten nearly the same level of attention if Dimon had, instead, been a female CEO.

It’s important to stick up for female equality. But taking to the Internet to rally against some sexist ideas in a film critique or comments made, quite obviously, to further a CEO’s political agenda (which: the more press the better), isn’t going to make salaries equal, change the standards of beauty or lead to more female CEOs.

Elizabeth Warren Senate
Elizabeth Warren on Sexism in the Senate
01:35 - Source: CNN

It’s just going to give male buffoons even more attention, while furthering the perception that women still aren’t equal – and, what’s more, that women themselves are convinced enough of that fact, too, that they have to keep on insisting otherwise.

Sexism still exists, in many ways. Some men do think they’re superior to women, sure. But these days, it’s not so much the general consensus as an easy and guaranteed way to get heard – whether it’s the man or the media looking for the attention, or both.

By giving the single opinions of guys such as Jamie Dimon and Kyle Smith and Sir Tim Hunt, the smarmy scientist, all the weight in the world, holding them up as speakers for an entire gender, the media is only hurting the cause for equality. So what if one guy says that, in his opinion, women don’t get “GoodFellas”? Why do we care what he thinks or take it for anything more than what it is –a blatant provocation?

Women – or the media that want to speak for them, at least – need to stop being such easy targets. Because in issuing the battle cry – in feeling compelled to shout out in defense of a female politician when the criticism likely has more to do with a known adversary’s disagreement with her politics, or seek to prove all the ways in which women DO get “GoodFellas” – women only give credence to the mistaken perception that they are the underdogs in need of defending. They continue the conversation, rather than ending it.

Remember what they used to say about how to react to the bullies on the playground? Women would do well to remember that, in many cases, the best course of action may be no course at all.

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