After an invigorating run on the treadmill with the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up”on full-blast, a few friends and I headed to the sauna in the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) for our weekly dose of ranting and detoxing. While one of my friends was clever enough to grab two towels, the rest of us struggled to maneuver one to fully cover ourselves. However, no matter whether I turned the towel horizontally, vertically, rotated it at a 75-degree angle or calculated the area of the towel for maximum coverage, it proved impossible to cover myself fully. The towels had made their message clear: This was going to be a half-naked excursion to the sauna.
I was determined to take it up with the towel designer, who had the audacity to create a towel that had the surface area to cover the body of a piglet. But I quickly realized that these towels were made with neither women, nor piglets, in mind. They were designed thinking solely of men, who only had to cover their waist when wanting to enjoy the simple pleasure of a sauna. “These towels are sexist,” I declared.
It’s obvious that that we live in a society built on a gender hierarchy that caters to men. But the towels in the KAC remind me of the role that sexism plays in almost every aspect of our lives, in huge ways and in more subtle ways which go virtually unnoticed. I can’t help but wonder: Once we’re this accustomed to a societal structure based on sexism, will we ever be able to eliminate it? Or even make a dent? And will identifying every single instance of sexism be the solution to our problems?
While it’s important to acknowledge sexism when we see it and keep our world in check, I believe that to have any shot at fighting sexism, it is even more crucial to keep ourselves in check. That is, to confront the internalized sexism unfortunately present in all of us, the terrible byproduct of living in a world that shoves sexism down our throats.
Internalized sexism is what inclines us to ask a man rather than a woman to help us get a suitcase into the overhead compartment. Internalized sexism is the voice in the head of a female student, telling her not to participate too frequently in class for fear of coming across as aggressive. And internalized sexism is the reason that the United States has never had a female president: Our population has been trained to trust a man’s intellect more than a woman’s.
I am aware that eliminating internalized sexism in my privileged group will not solve the most pressing issues facing women like sex trafficking, child marriages and education inequality — among many others. Additionally, given that women of color are targets of sexism more than white women, it is clear that taking down internalized racism will also be a crucial step in completely eliminating sexism. So, this plan of strictly focusing on internalized sexism is not completely foolproof.
But I am also aware that taking down sexism one minor issue at a time will not be the cure. We must clear our minds of the sexist beliefs ingrained in us. The foundation of our world will not change before we each transform the foundation of our minds.
The question now becomes, how can we see this shift in thinking brought to life? Rather than criticizing the Oscars for their lack of women-directed nominees for Best Picture, I would encourage women to be courageous and voice their opinions, and encourage men to find value in the visions of women. Rather than attacking the Bachelor television series for representing a narrow scope of feminity, I would urge viewers to look at their own dating pool and double-check that it is not affected by factors like race.
And rather than despising the KAC for providing such ridiculous and sexist towels, we need women to start seeing themselves as the kind of people that can effect change. Then, we can make our own damn towels.
Mia Sherin ’22 is an undeclared major from Wilmette, Ill. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.