It seems to me that there are at least two different kinds of sexism. One is where you actually think of the opposite sex as inferior. But another is where you do think of men and women as equals, but also as different, and your behavior reflects that difference.
I've been watching the old Match Game. And I've found myself cringing a couple of times, because the host, Gene Rayburn, can be a bit sexist. How so? He kisses every female celebrity, usually on the lips, and he acts as if that's their ticket to the show. There are the occasional bawdy comments, although those are just as likely to be directed at anyone. And in once case, he kind of mock ravaged Didi Carr for about 3 seconds.
Richard Dawson used to do this on the original Family Feud. He's famous for kissing every female contestant, be they daughter, mother or grandmother.
The thing is, I don't get the impression that they think women are inferior. I mean, I don't know them, but in every other way they treat the women the same as the men. It's more like they think that women are their equals, but also desirable. And they think it's not just acceptable, but positive to express that in some small way.
Another example is M*A*S*H*. There are lots of sexist comments directed at 'Hot Lips' Hulahan. But I'm pretty sure Hawkeye thinks of Major Hulahan as his equal.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not condoning either type of sexism, and I'm sure arguments can be made that one leads to the other. I'm simply pointing out that there does seem to be a qualitative difference. Richard Dawkins can be a good guy, with just a little sexist behavior sprinkled on top. He's different than, say, Archie Bunker.
When I pick someone up for a ride to the airport, I often ask if I can help them with their luggage. Sometimes men, but mostly women. I don't really care who it is - if their luggage is sitting there and I can grab it, then why not? But I have noticed something. Most people will say thanks, but some women will add an additional comment. 'Thanks. It's heavy'. Sometimes it's a warning. Sometimes it's more of a sigh of relief. But the thing is, it's usually not that heavy. Not for me. Because I'm a weightlifter? No. I'm a fat, 48 year old who rarely exercises. But I'm a guy. And it's not that heavy to me.
Which brings me to that phrase: The Weaker Sex. I can see that being used as a pejorative. But to me it's just stating something obvious. Women are, generally speaking, weaker. Not always. I have no doubt that many, many women could easily kick my ass. But, in general, women are physically weaker than men. Not inferior - just different. And many of us were taught some basic chivalry. It's nice to help a woman with her luggage. It's a kindness to open a door.
While Ubering, I often drop off single women late at night. And I've taken to not driving away right away. I stay and watch them until they enter their building. I don't do that for the men. The women might not appreciate it. And the likelihood of anything happening is small. But you don't ever hear about men getting raped. And that's something that is also included within that phrase, The Weaker Sex. It's a call to look out for your sisters. They are not inferior, but they are often smaller and weaker and may not be able to fend off an attacker. Or they may just struggle to lift their luggage into the car.
A few years back, at my annual retreat, a few of us did this thing. There's a bridge that separates the cabins from the parking area. And as people were carrying their belongings to their cars, several of us guys planted ourselves on the bridge. And as the women walked by, we would catcall at them, like the construction workers of old. Nothing too dirty. And it was clearly meant in an ironic way. But they women ... they were blushing and smiling, and it seemed like some of them kept finding excuses to cross the bridge again.
Look, I'm not saying sexism is OK. But it does seem like we've lost something. I don't feel comfortable telling a woman she's pretty, for fear of the backlash, either verbally or implied with her eyes, that she thinks I'm some kind of predator. And that's a shame. It would be nice to live in a world where women can be treated, not as sex objects, but as appealing.