Content warning: brief mention of childhood sexual abuse, victim blaming
Genders have reputations, combinations of judgments and stereotypes. Because men wrote the original rules and most of the updates, they have a better reputation than they’ve earned. Politics has nothing on the rigged two gender system, where only two genders are even counted and one is set up to win.
Men under this patriarchal system benefit from unearned positive associations. They are thought of as strong, mature, rational human beings. Our language is filled with phrases that speak highly of them.Men of honor, men of their words, men of good standing. Man’s man, ladies man, man of the hour. There are a lot of ways to say someone is good because they’re male.
Women don’t have language so stacked in our favor. Being a female human means carrying around a reputation as a hysterical faker, and emotional wreck, and above all, a liar. The belief that women cannot be trusted is foundational to patriarchy. It’s why women are disbelieved when they accuse a man of impropriety, whether that’s sexual harassment, domestic violence, or sexual assault.
People of third and non binary genders are encouraged, sometimes violently, to “pick a side”, masculine or feminine, honored or despised. Children are instructed on their assigned gender expectations starting in infancy. “He’s such a flirt!” we declare when a babe smiles at a woman. “Keep your knees together like a lady” is the girls’ teaching, while “boys will be boys” is the message conveyed to their male peers. They are all told which gender to be, and that one is better than others.
This is why, at eight years old and female, the world was ready to believe I was lying when I reported sexual abuse. The septuagenarian pedophile was given every benefit of doubt, while I was forced to endure a rape kit exam. Even after the results conclusively showed I was a victim, the state’s attorney told me I was probably lying about the perpetrator. He condescendingly explained that I wasn’t a good enough victim to get justice. He believed a jury would find me at fault, as he did, so he refused to try the child rapist I was prepared to testify against.
The consequences women and girls face for their unearned reputation for dishonesty and treachery begin in childhood and last our whole lives. Our physical pain and symptoms of illness are discounted or deemed exaggerated. Our heart attacks are written off as anxiety or indigestion. Our lived experiences are called lies. I don’t even know how much this damages us, because I’ve never lived in a better world. I just know it needs to stop.