At an LDS neighborhood Fourth of July party this week, we ate the traditional potluck mystery salads, burgers, hotdogs and a lot of junk food. All the adults gathered in lawn chairs around the cul-de-sac, while an endless number of kids ran the neighborhood. Each family contributed a big box of fireworks for a communal fireworks display to be held as soon as the sun set.
A little after 9:00 p.m., the show began. I have witnessed more than fifty Fourth of July celebrations, and for the first time, I realized the gender segregation involved in a fireworks display. The first round of fireworks was conducted entirely by neighborhood fathers and teenage boys. However, midway through the display, I noticed a young woman in the middle of the swirling smoke lighting fireworks. Of the more than fifty females in attendance, only one young woman participated in the fireworks display. This caught my attention. Why did it seem so odd to see her out there? Why only her? Why weren’t other women also lighting firework? Why, without a single word spoken, did the women clean up the food and gather the children, while the men and teenage boys organized and executed the fireworks displayed?
Unspoken rules permeate every part of my Mormon culture. This is not unique to Mormonism. Unspoken rules enforce sexist practices everywhere, but in my culture, they carry extra weight. In my culture, we are told that gender is an immutable characteristic, and all of the rules that segregate us one from the other are divinely decreed from on high.
This fireworks example may sound trivial, but it is one small example of unspoken rules that can have a terrible aggregate impact on a life. They become the unseen background of our lives. Because they are never spoken, they often go unnoticed. But, they effectively deliver the message to boys that men are the actors in our society, while girls learn that their lives are to be passive and secondary to the lives of the boys. There is nothing uniquely male about lighting a fuse, except that it demonstrates that boys “act” while girls are to sit quietly on the sidelines.
I applauded the rule breakers! I applaud the young woman, who broke the unspoken rule and placed herself in the middle of the firework’s display! We need more rule breakers. We need people who can identify these unspoken rules and intentionally break them.
Here are just a few of hundreds of unspoken sexist rules.
- Men drive, while women ride in the passenger seat.
- Women care for children.
- Women care for the elderly.
- Women cook, except when the cooking is highly rewarded.
- Men hunt and fish, while women clean up camp.
- Men are expected to work full-time jobs outside the home, while women are expected to work in the home.
- Men earn “primary income,” while women earn “secondary income.”
In the comments, please list other unspoken sexist rules. Let’s get out there are break the rules!