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Yes, she can be president: Casual misogyny hijacks senior tradition

Senior+Brie+Howell+worked+with+senior+Celia+Brown+to+create+a+set+of+pins+meant+to+promote+feminism+and+empower+girls.
Jae Jepsen
Senior Brie Howell worked with senior Celia Brown to create a set of pins meant to promote feminism and empower girls.

The gender wage gap is smaller than ever in recorded history. The NCAA women’s championship set a basketball viewership record unseen in women’s athletics. More women than men are attending college and graduating.

At the surface level, it seems that feminism has accomplished its mission. 

That couldn’t be more wrong.

An article from the National Library of Medicine said not only is misogyny consistently present in society, it exists at a scope beyond general understanding. 

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“There is, indeed, an urgent need for systematic scientific verification of the relationship between gender-based discrimination issued from patriarchal worldviews and mental health trajectories for children, adolescents, and youths,” the article said. 

This gender inequality is rarely more evident than in popular media, where women are regularly put down in order to elevate the men around them. Female politicians, for example, often receive excessive criticism and are the subject of sexist jokes for the benefit of their male opponent’s campaign.

Jo Koy’s viral Golden Globes monologue served as yet another example of this phenomenon as he criticized female-led-and-directed blockbuster “Barbie” in favor of praising male-led “Oppenheimer.”

Senior Jasmine Barnes recognizes how widespread and accessible casual misogyny is. “I think this idea of women’s potential being seen as ‘limited’… is unfortunately an idea ingrained into a lot of consumable media that particularly young men will have access to as they develop,” she said.

Outside of the media, the bigotry continues. Abortion legislation in the United States is stripping women of their bodily autonomy and bans on ‘radical feminist theory’ are robbing women of the very ideology meant to strengthen them.

English teacher Robyn Samuelson sees such patriarchal values  in men who are meant to be leaders and role models. “I think that in the last eight years or so there’s been a new wave of misogynistic rhetoric that has been given a lot of attention and even admiration,” she explained. 

She sees self-proclaimed misogynist influencer Andrew Tate and former president Donald Trump as promoters of such standards. “[Their words] make it feel like it’s an acceptable, or even admirable way to speak about women. That, I think, is a really big problem,” Samuelson said.

Even at Pleasant Valley, the patriarchy is alive and thriving.

When the Spartan Shield released its 2024 Senior Superlative nomination survey, editors were saddened to learn of PV students responding to the form with supposed jokes. In the “Female most likely to become President” category, a handful of senior boys wrote “n/a” and in the “Female most likely to cure cancer”category, they typed in “impossible.”

Jokes are only jokes if you can recognize and grow from a negative reaction after you say them.

— Jasmine Barnes

In a statement on the Spartan Shield’s social media, the editorial team addressed the students at fault for the trend. “To those who have proudly spoken of their sexist responses: The mere fact that this is a joke speaks volumes. Your words reflect not only a lack of respect for your peers, but also a deep-seated ignorance of the damage caused by sexism. Be better.”

It took only hours for the comments on the post to be flooded with hatred and blatant sexism by people using anonymous burner accounts. One now-deleted comment, by the username “user.food1245” said, “Honestly would rather eat s— than vote a woman into office!” Another, by user “pvfridaybeers” mockingly questioned, “Would ‘unrealistic’ be a better response?”

While it’s clear that the original responses, and their ensuing comments, were intended to be humorous, most female PV students weren’t laughing. Rather, they were tired and frustrated with this pattern of behavior.

“Jokes are only jokes if you can recognize and grow from a negative reaction after you say them. Doubling down is just accentuating your complete ignorance and failure to grow in your emotional intelligence,” Barnes explained.

Senior Brie Howell shared Barnes’s outrage. “What makes me so angry about this situation is the fact that it’s still going on,” she said.

Rather than merely watching her peers express their sexism, Howell chose to take action. She recruited fellow senior Celia Brown as a designer and the pair set about to make and distribute pins displaying the phrases, “She can cure cancer” and “She can be president.”

Nearing graduation, Howell’s decision to make the pins was rooted in a desire to improve the community she will soon be leaving. “I didn’t want to leave PV knowing that blatant misogyny is accepted here. I don’t want PV to be a place where people feel comfortable making sexist comments,” she explained.

Others addressed the issue differently, including Samuelson, who held an open discussion with her AP Literature class. “It seemed particularly necessary to address because emotions were so elevated and feelings were very hurt by classmates,” she explained. 

In the conversation, she connected current events at PV with historical literary depictions of women, opening it up to her students to express their own experiences and opinions. “We talked about how that reduction of the woman’s body to an object makes us feel… And how does it feel to see ourselves historically represented in this way?” Samuelson shared.

“Objectified and useless,” Barnes answered simply. “You just hope to see a more dominant female character because you want to look up to something.”

Barnes certainly isn’t the only senior who feels this way. The comments on the Spartan Shield’s Instagram are filled with messages of hope to combat the hatred. “We are so proud of you for speaking up and we stand with you against misogyny and the reflections of the patriarchy present here!” user @yepidemiologist wrote. “Keep standing up for what is right,” @ry.bales added. 

As discussions persist, it’s crucial for all students, especially women, to feel empowered to challenge and confront societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality.

Samuelson is proud to be an advocate for this confrontation. “One of the things I want everyone to walk away from the class with, especially women, I want them to feel empowered to combat the positioning of women as inferior to men.”

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on April 22, 2024.