The different expectations that different sexes face
Exploring internalized sexism at MVHS
February 7, 2020
Senior Sayalee Mylvarrapu was sitting in her Java class when her teacher asked a question. Mylvarrapu raised her hand and, after being called on, gave the correct answer. To her surprise, one of the boys sitting close to her whispered under his breath, “Oh my god! She actually knows something!”
This is one of the many experiences that have cultivated Mylvarrapu’s belief in feminism, or the advocacy for women’s rights on the basis of seeking equality for both sexes. Inspired to make a change in her community, she is the president of the Girls Empowerment Project (GEP), a club at MVHS that promotes feminism through raising awareness and hosting activities such as attending the Women’s March.
“[GEP] want[s] to educate the people of MVHS about the true meaning of feminism and equality because a lot of people think feminism is where women have more power than men, but that’s not the case,” Mylvarrapu said. “Feminism is men and women being equal and we want to strive for everyone to learn this true definition.”
Sexism is a global concept, and it is known as the prejudice of a person based on their sex. Though not always, this sex-based discrimination is often targeted towards women. It is seen in the labor industry, according to World Economic Forum, as even today, only six countries in the world give men and women equal legal work rights, such as equal pay, and the U.S. is not one of them.
Although Mylvarrapu believes that it is rare to see cases of blatant sexism at MVHS, she feels it is definitely present implicitly. Senior and vice president of GEP Naomi Desai believes that it lurks behind many interactions.
“At MVHS, [sexism] comes in really small things,” Desai said. “In P.E., a lot of the boys never pass to the girls. It’s the stuff that even if you [just] blink an eye you wouldn’t notice it. As a female, it’s those small things that really add up. A lot of people don’t notice it because they think it’s normal and that this is how it is supposed to be.”
A survey taken of 285 students found that 41% consider themselves to be feminist and 44% consider themselves neutral. Another survey of 260 students found that 73% of students have a positive view on feminism or support the movement.
“I think [sexism] is very subtle here and it’s not as outright as it might be in other places,” Mylvarrapu said. “But it is present in the sense that many people don’t think that women should be in the STEM classes, even though there are so many smart women here and even those leading companies. There doesn’t tend to be [as many] women in higher math classes here either. If [a woman] is in a STEM class, they are considered weird and we want to break that stigmatism.”
Mylvarrapu has experienced occasional sexism at home as well, also rather subtly with statements like, “Oh, you know, you shouldn’t do that. You know what, I’ll do it instead, just to ease your load” or “Why don’t you go help your mom?” She responds by refusing those suggestions.
Chinese teacher I-Chu Chang was raised with sexist beliefs but has long since tried to get rid of them in her own life. When Chang’s mother was little, her family did not permit her to continue her education past elementary school, despite being their family’s eldest child and academically strong. As a result of living in a society that enforced these beliefs, Chang’s mother came to believe that perhaps males were more important than females, and treated Chang and her brother differently.
“I think [sexism] is pretty much universal and in [around] 90% of different cultures,” Chang said. “I think it’s changing nowadays, but in the past, women were expected to be housewives, to stay home to take care of kids and not to go out to work and stepping out. Earning bread is husband’s job traditionally.”
Chang remembers a time when sexism was much more blatant and visible at MVHS. She believes that it has changed a lot for the positive over time.
“Almost 20 years ago when I asked the students, do you feel like your family [values] males over females 80% of students raised their hand,” Chang said. “But [these] couple years, only 10% of students will think that [there is sexism in their family], especially probably not from their parents but from the grandparents’ side. But parents nowadays are fair.”
However, Desai thinks that sexist beliefs still exist and are enforced. She also highlights that a sense of “normalcy” surrounds sexism.
“The problem is that people think it is very normal to think of women as less than men and that’s how society follows it, so everyone just gets sucked into this,” Desai said. “It’s hard because when you are little, adults sometimes treat you in a sexist way and you put it off because it’s the adult saying it.”
Because of how much it is reinforced in society, Desai can see how women themselves may believe that they are inferior.
“Even at school, when you’re playing P.E., a sport, the girls probably don’t get the ball that much or something like that and you kind of just assume that that just means like, ‘Oh, I’m just not as athletic as them,’ but it can also be because some people are just sexist and don’t want to give it to the girls,” Desai said. “So [sexism is] everywhere and I think you kind of just blink and forget about it a lot, so some people don’t like to think about, like, ‘Oh, is this because of sexism or is this because I’m just inferior to them?’”
Desai avoids doubting herself because of her gender, which is also something that she tries to teach other girls through GEP. She believes it comes down to her mindset: if someone doesn’t want to see her as an equal, it is their issue to deal with and it should not be something she should worry about.
After the 2016 election, Mylvarrapu also started having concerns about this sense of normalcy surrounding sexism on a larger scale, and now regards the equality of women as an even more important matter. She feels bad about the unfairness with which people treat the female sex but accepts that it won’t change in a small time period.
“There are so many women who are just as smart and capable as men in all different fields,” Mylvarrapu said. “For them to be put down and not even given a chance because of their sex is not OK. They might have the ability to do something better or make a change that would not be possible if they were not given the chance. Having those walls that women can only do this and men can only do this does not allow for change to occur.”