Recently, I had the honor and privilege to be able to attend a rock concert (a 12 hour festival involving 15 bands!) with one of my best friends, a wonderful man I have known over 50 years, since we were in first grade together. The concert was held in my hometown, Fort Myers, requiring me to drive for several hours from home to attend. My dear friend offered for me to stay in his lovely home on the night of the concert, due to the fact it would be ending late, making it impossible for me to drive home. I, of course, gladly accepted his generous offer. We planned our exciting adventure for months. My friend bought our tickets, in the VIP section, and I reserved a private car service to take us to and from the concert. Not only was the concert, in and of itself, a big event in our lives, it happened to be scheduled the day after my friend’s birthday, giving us all the more reason for celebration. Almost without exception, when I described my anticipation of my happy weekend to my friends, the conversation immediately diverted away from my and my friend’s delight about our upcoming event to an interrogation about my husband’s feelings, thoughts, opinions, and a range of other emotions regarding me, his wife, attending an out of town rock concert (horrors!) with a man (more horrors!) in whose home I would be spending the night without my beloved husband (even more horrors!). I found myself, repeatedly and in a tone intended to convey my annoyance, having to “defend” my and my friend’s honor by stating we have been friends for almost our entire lives, we like the same kind of music, my husband dislikes this type of music, and there would be absolutely no hanky panky before, during, or after the show! The wife of one of my other long time male friends, upon hearing about my plans, exclaimed, “You are not going anywhere with my husband!” as if to say we would be unable to control ourselves if our spouses weren’t around. As a social psychologist, I have found all of this extremely enlightening as an illustration of the fact that sexism is still prevalent in our society (or at least, among my friends). I daresay if I were male, or if my dear friend were female, no one would have given our plans a second thought. In my opinion as an expert on human behavior, my friends’ reaction of shock, followed by a feigned concern about my husband’s feelings, is nothing more than an obvious display of sexism, revealing we have a long way to go to achieve true equality in our world.
Sexism, like racism, takes many forms. This scenario is clearly sexist in that, if 2 men or 2 women attend an event together, no one gives it a 2nd thought, but if 2 people of opposite genders do, red flags go up for some people. But, why? In a business setting, co workers are often of opposite genders. Going to lunch or some social – work function is generally acceptable. Traveling out of town on business is also common, and acceptable. Why not opposite gender friendships and social engagements? Even as far as we have come from the norms of the 1950s, this appears to be a zone of discomfort for some people. I sure didn’t want to attend this particular show, despite my enjoyment of music of many types. I had “better” things to do. And, I figured if Melissa and her friend were ever romantically interested in each other they would have connected well before I ever met her almost 30 years ago. So, if is a non issue for me, why is it an issue for other people? And, why is the focus on me instead of, as Melissa said, on the concert they were going to attend? If the reaction had happened with 1 or 2 people, it might be easier to ignore, but more people Melissa told about her plans reacted in a sexist fashion than did not. People who should be more enlightened, in our age group, should not find this to be taboo, but their attitude revealed much about themselves. “What’s the big deal?” is my response. But this is a scenario that took us both by surprise and now, looking at the whole picture, it is very curious as to why, well into the 21st century, such archaic reactions occurred. It says much about how these people view the world, their lives, their friends, their work environs and more. Most peculiar.