Sexism, carnivorous plants, and cycling

I sometimes have problems spotting the more subtle forms of sexism. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a woman and I just don’t notice, or if it’s for some other reason. Fortunately I’m married to a feminist so I’m unlikely to be taken advantage of for being so naive about this.

What constitutes sexism? There are some obvious examples like paying women less for equal work, employing a man over a woman simply because he’s a man, assuming inferior intellect in a woman because of her sex. But there are other more subtle examples like complimenting a woman on the way she looks; is this sexist? What if it’s an insult rather than a compliment? And if this is sexist, is it equally sexist to compliment or insult a man on his appearance? I’m not suggesting it’s a good thing to make disparaging remarks about someone’s appearance, but does it constitute sexism?

If it is acceptable to make complimentary remarks about someone’s appearance, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be told they’re attractive, then where is the line drawn? I used to run in the early evenings in Auckland when it was still light, and sometimes men in cars would drive past and call out. I believe this is called cat calling and I’ve heard it said that this is sexist. Why is it sexist? I couldn’t usually hear what they were saying as I listen to music when I run, but I never viewed it as sexist. They might have been calling out “Hey ugly fat arse” for all I know. There was just one occasion when it bothered me. On this occasion, the car had four young men in it all hanging out of windows and calling out. That was ok except that the same car drove past a second time. I got a bit worried then about what might happen but fortunately nothing did. So for this reason alone, I can see that cat calling is not such a good idea if it makes someone feel nervous and vulnerable and this is regardless of their sex. But is it still sexist? If it is, then when is it ok to find someone of the opposite sex attractive? Is this something we should only tell our partners once they have become our partners? It all seems rather complicated.

On other matters, I bought Daniel a Venus Fly Trap as I’m a keen gardener and I want the kids to have an interest in plants as well. They got a plant each and Daniel chose the carnivorous one. Typical. But I’m at a loss as to how to feed the thing. Apparently it only likes living creatures and each time we try to catch a fly to feed to it the fly inadvertently dies first. We tried instead to feed it a worm we found in the backyard but the worm crawled out of its jaws at a snail’s pace and nothing happened. Talk about a fussy eater! The plant is worse than the kids.


I’ve also made some progress on the hills with Busby and my heavy load of two children. We don’t plan to buy a car here so Busby is our SUV. Lots of cars slowed down to gawp. No, they weren’t looking at me (unless they were worried I was near to cardiac arrest as it was very exhausting, let me tell you), they were looking at my bicycle which must be one of a kind for Aberdeen. A man drove past on his motorcycle at one point and spent so long looking back at the bike that I thought he might careen off into a parked car. Fortunately he didn’t πŸ™‚

18 responses to “Sexism, carnivorous plants, and cycling”

  1. If those people who catcall when you run only do so to women, then that’s a form of sexism, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

    On a more serious note, isn’t the subtlety here the distinction between sexism and misogyny. One could argue that sexism if when someone is discriminated against because of their gender. Misogyny is more to do with – for example – the objectification of women. So, you may not mind people catcalling when you run, but is it acceptable for people to catcall when the person running doesn’t feel comfortable with them doing so?

    • If those people who catcall when you run only do so to women, then that’s a form of sexism, isn’t it?

      Exactly πŸ™‚ I wonder how men would feel about that if it happened to them? That is, after they got over the initial shock.

      So, you may not mind people catcalling when you run, but is it acceptable for people to catcall when the person running doesn’t feel comfortable with them doing so?

      I tried to make the point in my post that if catcalling makes the recipient feel nervous and intimidated, then it’s not acceptable. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sexist or not because this is reason enough to avoid doing it. I still find it hard to view this as sexist but that doesn’t mean I think it’s ok to intimidate someone.

      As for misogyny and sexism, ok, there’s a difference there. I guess catcalling could be thought of as objectifying women. It is fleeting and superficial and so is unlikely to be an appreciation of a person as a whole.

  2. The problem of the cat calls is that it scares some woman and you can’t blame them that they feel uncomfortable given how some man behave. You only need to meet one asshole. Thus I would see that as unacceptable, even if some may not mind.

    I also get the feeling that there are quite some cultural differences one need to take into account. In America you have a dating circus to get couples together and I guess you could talk to strangers in a bar or discotheque, but anything outside of that seems to be suspect. In Europe man and woman talk can to each other in more environments and sometimes also express interest in more. If that would happen in a work setting in America, I have the feeling that that would immediately be seen as sexual harassment and committees for a save working place would be founded. Maybe the American readers can correct me.

    In The Netherlands it is fine to look at the entire person. I have the feeling that in Germany, where I live now, it is only allowed to look at people’s faces. Looking (too long) at the entire person is seen as “aggressive”, as an expression of interest, a bit like a cat call. It is hard to beat the habit.

    As far as I know, carnivorous plants do not need to eat meat, it is a little extra that helps them out-compete other plants in environments with nutrient poor soils, but they can also life without. No need to feed them hamburgers.

    • Victor,

      I think you’re right about the cultural differences. I don’t think Americans can even give compliments to the opposite sex and that seems a bit sad. It’s more relaxed in New Zealand and Australia and I think Australia has quite a reputation for being fairly misogynistic. We have a joke in my family that a work place without sexual harassment would be a very boring place to work. It’s just a joke and not meant to condone sexual harassment but it does illustrate how hard it can be to define sexual harassment. For instance, if I compliment a colleague on his fantastic beard, is that sexual harassment?

      I read that if the carnivorous plant is kept indoors, then you need to feed it a bug once a month. However I can’t see this happening as all our efforts have so far failed. So I hope you’re right!

  3. Rachel,

    I guess context is important. If a male/ female CEO compliments a female/ male PA on her dress/ suit, there is an asymmetry in the power of the relationship that makes it potentially sexual, and maybe uncomfortable. Whereas two friends who have known each other for years can mess around with no sense of creepiness, or misogyny.

    I was pondering the inclusion of the Venus Fly Trap in a blog on sexism … But then given the etymology, maybe this is not a coincidence – or their conflation may be subliminal! To ensure suitable balance in your piece, in line with BBC policy πŸ™‚ shouldn’t you also include a plant which, in one of Melanie’s song she characterized as “longer than its wide”?

    • Richard,

      You really shouldn’t be encouraging me as my sense of humour is firmly grounded in the toilet as it is. But in the spirit of providing some balance, here’s a plant that’s longer than it is wide:

      I don’t have an explanation for why I included the Venus Fly Trap in this post. It must be global warming influencing my albedo πŸ˜‰

  4. Bloody Nora! (Is all I can think of saying … Mind you, the two together would make quite a talking point for the new orangery … Ummmm … Am I brave enough?)

    Strange how this serious blog on sexism has morphed into a scatalogical survey of highly suggestive plants!

  5. There is the perceived motive and the real motive. They are not always the same thing. Some events are more innocent than they appear, some more sinister and some just inconsiderate. We can employ a one size fits all approach or discriminate on the basis of individual merit. The later is more complicated but more accurate and self-educating.

    Perceptive responses then help us to educate others in understanding the effect that they have. Inertia and knee jerk reactions are easy and evolution is hard, but there doesn’t seem much point in the first two.

    VFT: Try dropping something meaty in it’s maw and then tickle it like a moving insect. It’s the appropriate movement that simulates it. If it turns out to be anorexic, ask for your money back. πŸ˜€

    • What a wonderful way to put it, Graham. A considered response based on individual merit sounds much more rewarding in the long term than a one size fits all approach. I guess the danger is that there are times when we may get it wrong but mistakes are part of being human and I guess the main thing is to acknowledge and correct them.

      • I absolutely agree. Although life can be dangerous if we make mistakes in our individual approach, but so can crossing the road until we learn how.

        I’m sure acknowledging and correcting is the only way to truly evolve. Tough sometimes but it never was an easy road. Good luck with it all πŸ™‚

      • Don’t worry, I don’t plan to start wolf-whistling at any cute male joggers anytime soon. I can’t wolf-whistle anyway πŸ™‚

  6. I’m still laughing about your venus fly trap story…’worse than the kids’…haha. Loved that Rachel πŸ˜€ I need to read your Busby post now…and as for cat calls, I don’t know what to think really. The other day I was talking to my eldest son (32, yikes!) who was reminding of a tiny, rural town in California where we once lived. I would take him after school and his brother, then a toddler in his stroller, to the local post office to collect our mail. But I kept forgetting about the time and ended up going just when all the Mexican field workers were dropped off and there would be a huge queue of them waiting to spend their money on beer and chips before heading out to the park near our house. They would call out and whistle at me and I hated it becasue there were so many. My son said, ‘Mum, remember when all those men would lear at you?’ He remembered it clearly, he was 8 when we moved there. I made sure after getting caught out a few times to change my routine. Now today, if it was just one guy driving past with a wolf whistle or maybe a ‘cat call’ then I wouldn’t mind…maybe I’m being sexist, but I’ll take all I can get at my age LOL πŸ˜€

    • Haha, I’m very happy to hear it, Sherri πŸ™‚ I’m really not bothered by catcalls either and do feel a little bit of sadness at the thought that we can’t express appreciation for attractiveness in others. And attractiveness is not just limited to appearance of course. It’s about the whole person.

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