My conception of feminism portrays it as the identification of gender-related problems according to a set of progressive values, inquiry into its inner workings and causal relations, and finally solution proposals. To be sure, there are copious branches which differ from one another both in ther interpretation of cultural mechanisms, as well as in the meaning given to the words freedom, autonomy, and justice. As a product, feminists do not always agree with each other on what behavior is sexist or is fueled by sexism (an important distinction). Thus, they do not agree neither on what are the problems to be solved, neither on how to go about solving them
But one thing is sure: there is still a whole lot to be done. To be sure, greater juridic equality has been attained, and the common citizen has lost the habit of being overtly sexist, at least in the developed countries – clearly, this has not happened outside very privileged social niches in Brazil. Society has admirably improved.
The time to cheer and celebrate, however, has long passed: a large array of implicit biases and sexist customs still reign vigorously. Comprehension of the cause behind these matters requires a detailed understanding of how culture works – which implies a careful study of psychology, sociology, and narratology -, especially the inner workings of bias nurturing. How are individuals affected by social and literary narratives? How does life experience create implicit biases, which are hard to get rid of even in feminist women? In what ways linguistic habits and metaphors can nourish sexist behavior and thought patterns? This is where most of the battle between branches of feminism is fought.
One sexism-generating mechanism that seems highly plausible is as follows: referring to high status positions using sexist words, such as congressmen, can help construct sexist thought patterns. I, for one, see male figures through something like the Halo effect. I seldom, if ever, picture the image of a woman when imagining a great orator, philosopher, poet, scientist, or inventor. Even if there is a myriad of extraordinary female minds – such as Hypatia of Alexandria, G. E. M. Anscombe, Harriet Taylor Mill, Ada Lovelace, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), and Marie Curie – culture heavily influences anyone’s thought patterns.
Rather, I picture a gray-bearded white man. I have tried to locate the origin of my deeply irrational implicit bias, and though I have no way of confirming my conclusion, I figured it came from an overexposure to Great Male Figures. When people say congressmen instead of congresspeople, I figure this exposure is happening.
When most important and cherished historical figures are men (merely because of sexist cultural reasons since women have very similar dispositions to men, as well as equal cognitive abilities), one cannot help but be affected by sexism. When people claim they are not racist or sexist, this is what’s missing in their reasoning.
There a myriad of other sexist customs I could delve into, but I shall be brief and speak only of a few. The first one is demeaning men for being feminine, which I see as much a symptom of sexism as a cause of it. Recently I have learned that βία means brutality and violence in Greek. My immediate reaction: light-heartedly making fun of my friend Bia because of this. Would this joke even make sense if there wasn’t an implicit idea that women should be delicate? This is why that joke is, in fact, a sexist joke. Sexist jokes require gender roles in order to even make sense.
Other cultural phenomena also seem to play a part on the Grand Prejudice Perpetuation. The Great Male Figures Effect (GMFE) is fueled by the fact that media figures, most fictional protagonists, and most political authorities are male. There is a terrible representation of women everywhere.
Gender roles are pernicious, as well as the GMFE phenomenon. They hinder the pursuit of human flourishing and sneer at Madam Justice. Feminism will remain one of the most important political ideas for a long time. Whichever branch one picks, these remain pressing cultural sicknesses.