While it seems that many men have an interest in defining gender inequality and what it means to be a woman, it seems few took the time to look up the definition of another word: irony.
Last week, I wrote a column arguing that the federal government should mandate health insurers also provide tampons and pads as part of their standard coverage. More specifically, I argued that this would be especially beneficial for homeless women, women living on food stamps or women living paycheck to paycheck. All women should have the right to the standard health resources they need in order to stay healthy and comfortable while on their menstrual cycle, regardless of their financial status.
But I didn’t know so many men also felt so passionately about women’s access to tampons. Quite honestly, I was blown away by the number of men who took the time out of their day to voice their opinions on this subject. I was particularly impressed by how many men focused their insults on my gender, obviously missing my point – or maybe proving my point – about the gender inequality still present in such basic areas.
I voiced my opinion on equal health care and I was told to get a hysterectomy or to get married so a man could take care of my needs. I was told to drop out of school because it seemed apparent that I wasn’t learning anything anyway. I was called a colorful array of degrading names aimed directly at being a woman. My opinion was even stated by some to be great supporting evidence to the reason for the income gap between genders.
Unfortunately, this type of criticism isn’t an experience unique to me, but it is an experience unique to women. When a woman voices her opinion or makes an assertion, she usually isn’t taken seriously and is instead faced with negative and even misogynistic remarks. This method of criticizing and belittling a woman – by looking at her weight, her personality, her family – differs from the way her male counterparts are looked at and undermines any sort of productivity, whether in the workplace or in a discussion.
The overwhelming volume of comments didn’t focus their criticism on my opinion but rather, made it clear that I was just wrong and outright idiotic because of who I am innately: a woman. Because of these implications, these comments went beyond just being offensive to me as an individual, but to women collectively.
Unfortunately this experience with sexism after voicing an opinion isn’t unique to me. Studies have shown that women face higher criticism in the workplace than men and more commonly receive negative feedback from their male coworkers than the other way around.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, is said to be nagging instead of compassionate, shrill instead of outspoken and constantly has to spend time answering questions about being a grandmother rather than answering other, more productive questions. When Sarah Palin ran for vice president, people criticized her mothering of her children. In another instance, a radio host said about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate.”
In a situation extremely similar to mine, Jessica Valenti, a journalist for the Guardian, faced similar sexist criticism for asking almost the same question as me: Why aren’t tampons free (or at least subsidized)?
Almost a year ago, Valenti asked her Twitter followers, “Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?” Apparently, this harmless question was too much for some people to handle and warranted malicious personal responses aimed at her gender. Just like my situation, not many offered any sort of constructive criticism or an attempt at an actual discussion. Rather, personal attacks just rained down on her for asking a simple question.
Hateful comments do hurt. And unfortunately, hateful comments and personal attacks just aren’t productive, no matter what anyone may think or how good you may feel after participating in making them. Attacking someone for who they are as a person just because they have a different mindset or opinion doesn’t stop them from having that opinion, and it definitely doesn’t stop them from being that person.
Women are disproportionately dismissed with hate instead of given honest consideration when their opinions diverge from the mainstream. And for what reason? Simply for being female and therefore being considered less worthy of a respectable discussion or reasonable disagreement.
An opinion, whether written or spoken, is meant to start a discussion. But women shouldn’t ever have to think twice about voicing an opinion and we definitely shouldn’t have to expect the worst after doing so, just for being a woman.
Progress in gender equality is happening, whether or not everyone is greeting it with open arms. The discussion on gender is important and needs to be continued. But with that being said, gender needs to be left out from the reasoning for disagreeing with someone’s opinion.