On Friday, June 20, I was a guest on WMBM AM 1490 with Brian Person, host of the radio show, “Brother to Brother.’’ I was invited to discuss my upcoming workshop, “Undoing Sexism: Reducing the Violence.”
Two college students, Bridget Jones and Edward Lyles, were also guests on the program. I opened the discussion by asking each to define sexism. Both mentioned “discrimination” and “society.” Jones and Lyles provided youthful insight into what is going on today.
My last South Florida Times column, “Sexism, What part is it playing in our lives?” focused on the traditional roles of men and women, about which there is much confusion.
Jones confirmed that young women are caught between images of women in the past who were denied opportunities, and those of today, who are seated in the boardrooms of corporate America. We agreed that the sexist language that dehumanizes women must be eliminated.
Young boys are confronting equally perplexing behavioral models. Person, who is also director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami’s school to work program, pointed out that – as women are increasingly becoming the sole role models in the home – boys are exposed to anger, ambivalence or disdain toward men.
A woman may be implying that a man is not needed, that a woman can do fine by herself. A male child may imagine that he is not needed, that he represents the negatives about which the female is complaining.
We need to look at the places where attitudes are learned. We must make certain that positive values are being transmitted to children by professionals in the schools, by the media and in churches.
Messages can be subtle. If boys are given special treatment in schools, or privileges as athletes, male stereotyping will continue.
Simultaneously, if girls are expected to be quiet, and to go along, submissiveness will continue. Social conditioning begins early.
At a time when ministers are found to be wife abusers and musicians unmasked as sexual predators, we don’t have to look far to see why our youth are challenged by adult behavior. TV, video games and music expose children to thousands of hours of violent deaths and aggressive behavior.
The media suggest to girls that it is better to show more skin than less, and to gyrate one’s body suggestively, as part of the pervasive culture of female exploitation.
Lyles pointed out that girls seem to like tough guys. It adds up. It is no secret. Mr. Macho is in control, and proves it with his fist or gun in the street, at school, or on a date.
When we look at the influences that shape our youth and teach them to become men and women, we need to challenge the stereotypes of manliness associated with fighting and aggression, and of femininity with beauty and passivity.
Churches, schools and communities must be charged with supporting families. All of us, as responsible adults, can correct behaviors and foster healthy attitudes and relationships through examples of our own mindful conduct.
Priscilla Dames is founder and president of Wingspan Seminars, LLC, specializing in strengthening relationships through conflict resolution and crisis management. Her website is www.wingspanseminars.com.