Subtle sexism in entertainment
Let’s do a thought exercise. What snap judgements would you make about a girl who enjoys listening to Taylor Swift, reading the Twilight series, and watching Gossip Girl? I’m guessing your answers were along the lines of; “unintelligent, “one-dimensional”, or even “yuck”. Now, imagine another girl, except this one likes listening to Eminem, reading The Hunger Games, and watching Doctor Who. You might think she’s “fake”, or wonder “who’s she trying to impress?”, or maybe you went as far as to believe “I bet she actually has a hidden interest in girly stuff”. If this was how you reacted, congratulations, you just proved my point and confirmed how easy it is to hate the things young women like (no matter what the item being discussed is).
Or perhaps you reacted differently. Maybe you thought the second girl was cool? I applaud you for believing women can be multi-faceted, unique beings. But don’t get too ahead of yourself, your reaction is still rooted in sexism. And, while you may not think of yourself as a misogynist, there’s no denying the sexist messages we consume every day in the form of entertainment—and these messages are often more powerful than we might think!
Chances are, the music, movies, books, and TV shows you consume have been subtly convincing you to believe that traditionally male interests are better than pastimes we perceive as feminine. The same can be said of ableism, racism, religious discrimination, and any other kind of hate based on difference—I’ve focused on gender for this article because of my own context as a young, non-religious, cisgender, white female.
Why young people are often the target of hate
It’s easy to hate young people because we think we’re better than them. When we’re older than someone, we considered ourselves wiser and stronger. We have no issue in assuming youth are inexperienced, arrogant, impatient, naïve, disrespectful, unprofessional—the list goes on.
Even as a young person myself, I sometimes catch myself cringing at teenagers on TikTok, even when I’m only a few years older. But why? For me at least, I’ve realised it’s because I see my younger self in them. Hating those younger than you isn’t necessarily about them, it’s more to do with yourself. Sure, there may be the occasional classmate, colleague or neighbour that you truly don’t get along with and just so happens to be younger than you—but, more often than not, we tend to dislike the parts of young people that remind us of ourselves. More specifically, those cringey and annoying traits that we’ve grown out of.
We fear what we don’t understand
It might be easy for an old person to say they hate the way “kids these days” have no respect—it’s just as easy for a young person to say they dislike how “stuck in their ways” older people are. In the same way it was easy for me to resist Cardi B until I gave her music a chance, a lack of empathy can lead to hateful feelings. Ultimately, humans fear what we don’t understand. Hate is an easy way to protect ourselves from the unknown.
So, what do we do about it?
I’m not going to sit here on my moral high horse and pretend I’ve never engaged in hate. Usually, the person I’m gossiping with shares my point of view—after all, we live in a society where the phrase “no bond is stronger than two people who hate the same person” is perfectly acceptable. And it’s not like it’s all bad; talking to other people about things we hate can improve our social connections, help motivate social change in the wake of injustice, and even encourage our brain to release more oxytocin. The problem is when we hate without reason. Do you really have an issue with Twilight, or do you feel resentment for the book’s target audience?
I once had an acquaintance say hello to me out in public. We chatted and, after some small talk, I bid her farewell. After going our separate ways, I turned to the friend I was with and said: “ugh I hate that girl”. Having never met her, and seeing how lovely she was just now, my friend asked me why. In that moment, I was taken aback. It shouldn’t have been a particularly difficult question to answer, but I soon realised that I had no good reason to dislike this girl. Reflecting on it now, I think I found her annoying because her outgoing personality reminded me of my own—something I’ve been criticised for plenty of times. My hate had stemmed from a fight to position myself as “better” than her, in a society where nobody wants the wooden spoon.
The answer is to practice kindness. Remember that we all make mistakes and that there can often be misunderstandings when meeting new people. Don’t be so quick to judge and, when you do form an opinion on someone, ask yourself where it’s really coming from. Do you really not get along with them, or do they remind you of a part of yourself that you’re insecure about? Think about it; someone else’s love of mainstream pop, or indie blues, or heavy metal, doesn’t really have the potential to ruin your friendship—unless you let it.
You never know what’s going on in someone’s mind, life or world. Treat people with the warmth you wish to be treated with, and remember that we’re all just trying our best.
Lead image via Instagram @taylorswift.