When Ironic Sexism Comes to Church
It's 2012, and things are different for women in the West. Women have had the right to vote for over 90 years. Women currently outnumber men in college, and more women than men now have master's degrees. An increasing number of CEOs are women—20 of the largest companies in America are led by female CEOs. And, as demonstrated by the latest political election, more women are being elected to public office.
But this historical evolution has resulted in a strange and concerning development, one I'll call "ironic sexism."
if you're a woman like me you have probably experienced ironic sexism. You may have even done it yourself. It goes something like this: You're hanging out at your house with friends, some of whom are men. You share your latest workplace frustration, which elicits the following response from a peer: "You just need to get married and have kids. A woman's place is in the home, after all." He says with a wink.
At face value, the comment is unconscionable. The remark not only fails to offer comfort, it is so dripping with sexism as to revolt. What kind of friend would say such a thing?
One who is saying it ironically.
You see, he doesn't actually mean it. He is speaking in jest because, as everyone there knows, he isn't actually sexist. He doesn't really believe a woman's place is "in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant." And because everyone there is liberated and enlightened, such remarks are not only funny but also satirical.
The woman who feigns scriptural incompetence owing to her gender. The pastor who laughingly tells female church members they belong in the children's ministry. These comments, and those like them, are intended to mock genuine sexism.
In a recent piece for New York magazine titled "The Age of Hipster Sexism," Alissa Quart explores this phenomenon in popular culture. In it she refers to the ironic use of sexism as "hipster sexism," which "consists of the objectification of women but in a manner that uses mockery, quotation marks, and paradox …. [It] flatters us by letting us feel like we are beyond low-level, obvious humiliation of women and now we can enjoy snickering at it."
In her critique of hipster sexism, Quart rightly and wisely notes how much women themselves contribute to hipster sexism. Women are just as likely to engage in ironic sexism, as evidenced by Lena Dunham's HBO show, Girls, or Dunham's recent political ad in which she likens first-time voting to losing one's virginity. Quart writes of this ironic sexism, "We get to laugh at the idea of young women so obsessed with boys and sex that they mistake voting for sex and at the same time feel cool and outrfamp;copy; for being in on Dunham's double meaning."