Institutional Sexism

Without question, I am and will always be a feminist.

Although I’ve read Facebook posts and followed international feminist issues, I had never been met with the personal rage caused by sexism until last week. I was staring at my flat tire and digesting the comments made by two Huntsville Police Department officers – comments that I can guarantee wouldn’t have been made if I was a man.

As the two officers were instructing me on how to change my tire they offered comments like, “you don’t work out much, do you?” and “Come on, get some dirt under those pink nails.”

They also repeatedly referenced my Wonder Woman tattoo, which my mother and I share in remembrance of her fight against breast cancer, as if the ink on my skin directly correlates with my ability to unscrew bolts from my tire.

In the moment, I apologized for my weak arms and for the fact that my parents and I never got around to Tire Replacement 101. After the fact, I was angry. I was angry at my apology, at my silence and, above all, my fear of filing a complaint against the officers in case I ever needed their help in the future.

However, all too often racist and sexist comments go unreported, which does nothing but add fuel to our society’s institutional fire. I know the two officers weren’t intentionally being sexist, and I’m not angry with them individually. They were just trying to add some humor to the situation. What they failed to realize, though, is little humor lies in belittlement – and even small jokes can ripple into big societal problems.

So I filed a complaint and received a backwards apology from the department.

The lieutenant I was in contact with apologized if I was offended by his officers’ comments, which pinned the problem on my offense, not on their remarks.

I am in no way attacking HPD or any single police officer. I am beyond appreciative for their service and commitment to their communities. However, institutional sexism strikes both men and women every day and discrediting the victims is a power hungry and demeaning move.

This issue goes beyond Huntsville. It goes beyond Texas. It goes beyond our nation and much of the problem lies within our collective implicit bias.

Our society naturally sees women as weaker, playful objects. Female politicians are critiqued on their fashion choices before their political decisions. Female professors consistently score lower on student evaluations because assertiveness and femininity are not supposed to go hand-in-hand. The number of female directors and producers and scientists and engineers, while growing, is still embarrassingly low compared to our male counterparts.

The officers I dealt with weren’t even aware they were making sexist comments, which is the problem. The comments directed toward me, and many other young women in similar situations, wouldn’t have been directed toward a man. Cut and dry, it is that simple.

It’s 2016 – it’s the year women around the globe are to be taken seriously, from changing a flat tire to ruling a nation. Sexist comments shouldn’t be tolerated, but neither should silence. Call it out, confront it and end it.


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