Double Take: Just when we thought we weren’t in Kansas anymore, sexism reared its pretty head

Wes: Last week, I dreamt I read this headline in the satirical news publication The Onion: “Kansas Senate chairman’s rules block female witnesses in revealing attire.” In the paper’s inimitable style, the funny authors pretended that a Kansas state senator had prohibited women from testifying on pending bills if they were wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts. He made no such requirement of men, or so The Onion said, meaning men could wear miniskirts and crop tops all they wanted. The senator said he had to do this because “provocatively dressed women are a distraction,” adding, “It’s one of those things that’s hard to define. Put it out there and let people know we’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.”

The Onion then quoted a radical liberal senator who said, “Coming from a man, I think it’s important that women are supported in the choices that they make for themselves.” Imagine that? A woman getting to choose? The Onion is seriously a riot.

Double Take columnists Gabe Magee and Dr. Wes Crenshaw

And that’s when I woke up.

I wondered where in the depths of my obviously perverse unconscious this dream had come from and why I was dreaming in political satire in the first place. Then I saw the Jan. 22 article with the same headline in the Journal-World … and the Topeka Capital-Journal. It was even in USA Today. Apparently everyone had this dream.

And then, like Dorothy awakening from Oz, it struck me. It was all real! Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. Johns, had actually waged this struggle against female sexuality just days before. Without a moment’s further thought, I ran to my window, threw it open and yelled out into the night: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more! Kansas Legislature, please! Just stop talking! Don’t you understand, we can hear you? Everyone can!”

Sardonic humor aside, there’s an important point to be made here. When they see comments such as this, women — particularly those in the years of sexual development, from 13 to 23 — hear this: “The only way we can take you seriously is to avoid your sexuality. So you’re only free to opine when I am, as a man, not thinking about your breasts or thighs. Please do me a favor and stop tempting me.”

The good senator has now apologized, as well he should, but parents should take these stories to their daughters and discuss how sexism still pervades our everyday life. Perhaps in this small way we can prevent such thinking from seeping into those young women’s souls.

Gabe: Droves of young men conscripted into militias. Restriction of the rights of women. Rampant religious zealotry. If this weren’t following Dr. Wes’ commentary, you’d assume I were describing a Middle Eastern country under control of extremists. While it may be hyperbolic, this could also describe a Midwestern state under the control of extremists. Thankfully, the negative response Sen. Holmes encountered shows us that such a Kansas dystopia is a still distant, though imaginable, nightmare.

The attitude offered by Sen. Holmes is from a bygone era still lingering on the fringes of the ridiculous idea that men are ravenous sexual beasts who cannot help but think about sex when encountering a woman, and the responsibility to halt their thoughts falls upon the women by making sure that no part of their bodies that could be considered remotely sexual are seen. Such a policy is the manifestation of objectification. It’s funny to me that we never see the reverse. No one requests that men cover their sexy forearms or wear hats indoors.

What does it suggest that Sen. Holmes saw a need for this policy in the first place? Did he fail to see that it is his responsibility, and not the women testifying, to maintain his focus?

This policy was not only incredibly insulting to women by portraying them as mere decorations rather than intelligent human beings, but was insulting to men as well, making us appear as less than rational people.

— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD.” Learn about his writing and practice at Gabe Magee is a Bishop Seabury Academy senior. Send your confidential 200-word question to Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.