Discrimination is often invisible to the people discriminating. Not so much the big-scale, “God hates faggots” hate speech, but the small, institutionalized everyday acts; the kind of thing somebody might preface with “I’m not sexist/racist/homophobic etc., but…” before saying. If we’re talking sexism, my topic of choice, examples might be a man who always pays for things (dinner, taxis, drinks), a man who tells waitresses that they should smile more, or a man who holds doors open only for women. These things are invisible to the men doing them. They aren’t trying to be sexist, in fact they are probably trying to be nice! But they don’t see that their actions are furthering the male/female divide.
Lets use my first example: a man who pays for everything. I am certain that he thinks he’s being kind, or even a gentleman. He doesn’t see the negatives that his actions carry, because he doesn’t need to – it doesn’t affect his life in the same way that it affects mine. This behavior is a relic of the past, from when men paid for things because women couldn’t work and were therefore incapable of paying for things themselves. This is very much not the case anymore (although there is still a marked pay gap): women can, and do, work and are capable of paying for things themselves. Would a white person pay for a black person’s dinner because black people used to be slaves? I don’t think so.
When was the last time you saw anybody tell a male waiter to smile? A man who tells waitresses to smile is clearly thinking about himself – he wants to see a smile (ugh). But, I doubt that he fully realizes the harm he is causing with what he is saying. He doesn’t see that in asking for her to smile he’s saying that she’s more valuable if she does. He doesn’t see that he’s minimizing the rest of her job, that his comment makes it less important how well she waits on him and more important what she looks like. I’ve been that waitress, many times over. It feels horrible. But all of the above is invisible to him, because he doesn’t need to see it – he thinks he’s simply asking for a smile.
Lastly, a man who holds doors open only for women… I’m sure he thinks that it’s nice and polite. And yes, it is nice and polite to hold doors open for people. I hold doors open for everybody! But it’s not nice, nor polite, to only hold doors open for people of one gender, based on gender alone. I absolutely hold more doors open for elderly people with walking canes… because they have walking canes. This is a clear sign that they are less physically capable than I, so I assist where possible. Men doing this for women is spreading the same message – that women are less capable. This is obviously not the case. So, although the man who opens doors for women is trying to be nice, in fact he is being the opposite. He almost certainly doesn’t realize this, because he has no need to. Of course he should care about the welfare of women, and he probably thinks that he does. But truly caring would be considering his actions and omitting those that perpetuate inequality in any way.
So please, if you are in a position of any privilege (like me) take a second to think about it. Look critically at the things that you do, well intentioned or not. Discrimination is there if you open your eyes – don’t let yours be invisible. And for the love of God, stop telling waitresses to smile.