I Didn’t Ignore Sexist Comments For A Week. Here’s What Happened.
I stopped sitting there and taking it, and started calling people out. And the results were nothing like what I expected.
A recent shopping endeavor to purchase a video game left an extremely sour taste in my mouth.
It started perfectly normal – my boyfriend and I entered the store to buy two copies of a game so we could play together online. My boyfriend bought his game first with little fuss, making casual conversation with the sales guy who was processing the purchase. Then, I stepped up to the counter.
As the salesman handed my credit card back to me, he smiled and said, “Here you go, gorgeous.”
I felt a wave of anger wash over me and wrapped up the transaction less enthusiastically than I had been beforehand. The alarm which rings in my head each time someone says or does something sexist around me started to go off, and I left the store feeling frustrated.
He didn’t say anything dramatically sexist; rather, his patronizing microagression was something many other women would blink an eye at. But, regardless, his words stuck in me like an annoying thorn in my side as I angrily recounted the story to my awaiting partner once I got outside the store.
“So, did you call him out on it?” my boyfriend asked after I’d finished.
And there was the clincher.
I hadn’t said or done a thing beyond a forced smile, as I grabbed my purchase and made a beeline for the door.
I mean, if I called out every instance of casual sexism I was exposed to on a daily basis, I’d lose my voice.
I explained to my boyfriend it would be like fighting an impossible battle, because as much as the passionate feminist inside me wishes things were different, some forms of sexism are so inherently ingrained into the fabric of society, there’s almost no point in trying to change them. Most people don’t even want to acknowledge what they’re doing or saying is problematic and sexist. And how, honestly, some part of me always thinks, ‘maybe I am being too sensitive, making something out of nothing and blowing things out of proportion.’
But even as the words escaped my mouth, they felt grimy.
Because explaining away my passivity just made me part of the problem. And there is a bigger, much more insidious consequence to continuing to be silent, or bashfully laughing off casually sexist remarks.
Ignoring the little things contributes to the greater issue of women not feeling safe or comfortable enough to confront men in sexually coercive situations. It’s why we’ve bred a culture of shame around speaking up about sexual assault and abusive relationships, and why the #metoo movement is getting bigger with each passing day.
And ultimately, I believe in feminism because I want things to change. I want women to be equal to men in all facets of life. And, goddamn it, I want to buy a bloody video game without having my appearance be bought into the equation. It’s not too much to ask.
And so I vowed to stop ignoring sexist behavior – both the obvious and the not-so-obvious kind – for one whole week. And there were plenty of opportunities for me to stand on my figurative soapbox…
Comment one: a sexist Uber driver
The first instance of casual – maybe even outright – sexism I was exposed to in my experiment week was during a short Uber drive one particularly lazy afternoon after work, when I couldn’t be bothered to walk the few blocks from the train station to my car. The driver was making general chit-chat and all was going smoothly until I mentioned I had a long drive ahead of me once he dropped me off. He asked what kind of car I drove and I said, “Toyota”, which I thought was a perfectly fine answer to give a complete stranger, unaware he was apparently after the year, make, and model of my personal vehicle.
“Typical of a woman to not know all the details of her car,” he laughed.
I could tell he thought he’d just made an absolute zinger of a joke, as he grinned at me, waiting for me to giggle along with his comedic routine. And normally, I’d probably just awkwardly laugh him off to move the conversation along. And even though I was terrified of the confrontation, I decided to stick to my pact to call him out on it; given we were only a block away from my car, so I could bail from the Uber if I got too panicked.
“The whole ‘women driver’ stereotype is actually pretty sexist, you know?” I said.
His smile disappeared pretty quickly, as he attempted to smooth things over by assuring me he was “only joking”. We arrived at my destination and I got out of the Uber and into my Toyota. I don’t know if my simple comeback really made a difference, but I hope it freaked him out just enough that he avoided making patronizing comments about women and cars for at least a little while.
Comment two: girls are gamers, too
Apparently, I made quite a mistake by having my first name in my online gaming profile, because it alerts anyone I play with that I am, in fact, a female. Some of my guy friends have even insinuated the extra attention I get online is my fault because I should have known better than to give away the fact I’m a woman.
They don’t seem to realize the greater issue is being a women means I automatically attract negative attention. Aside from the influx of sleazy ‘friend requests’ I receive each time I’m online, and the unsolicited sexual messages junking up my inbox, I’m also verbally abused and accosted, and in one instance, have even been stalked in a game by a persistent guy who followed me everywhere I went for two hours.
In my experiment week, I wrote back to one of the random guys who messaged me on my gaming profile, asking him why he wanted to become friends with me. After all, I was a stranger he didn’t know and had never interacted with, online or otherwise.
He just blocked me.
My message probably clued him in to the fact I wasn’t going to be taking any of his shit, and so he withdrew. It’s a pattern I was noticing with the guys I’d call out for their sexist behavior; they would often go silent and remove themselves from the situation the second I stood up to them. It was certainly an interesting phenomenon…
Comment three: the baby debate
It’s not only men who engage in acts of everyday, casual sexism. Women are just as prone to it, especially when it comes to breaking the societal expectation to have kids.
Because I make my decision to keep my womb unoccupied quite well-known, I find I’m constantly battling older women who disagree with my educated life choice. We end up stuck in a frustrating stalemate because I keep insisting I don’t want children, and they’re unable to grapple with the idea it’s not simply a passing whim.
Normally, when some know-it-all woman decides to tell me I’ll “definitely change” my mind one day, (because apparently women are baby-making machines, and being a mother is all we’re good for), I just laugh them off with a “Well, maybe…” so they shut up.
Not this time,
A family friend and I got into a rather heated argument when she wouldn’t accept my desire to remain child-free. I calmly explained to her that I wanted to focus on my career, I wasn’t maternal in the slightest, and above all, my own body autonomy meant that if I didn’t want to give birth, I damned well didn’t have to.
She almost instantly recoiled and changed the subject.
I noticed as the week went on that I was getting much more assertive and confident with my confrontations, especially when it was something I was passionate about – like what I wanted to do with my own uterus. The little feminist who lives inside me was absolutely living for my new-found hobby of calling out sexism, and I was all too happy to continue to feed her the shocked faces of those I was challenging.
Comment four: A housework dispute
In the past, I’ve noticed people expect me to be both a girlfriend and a mother-figure to my boyfriend.
For example, when we were at the doctor’s office getting instructions for an upcoming surgery my partner was having earlier this year, every time the nurse gave him an instruction – like what to eat and what to do beforehand, she’d turn her head and tell me that information. I wasn’t having the procedure, but instead of giving my boyfriend the important steps for his pre-surgery care, she told me, the woman, assuming I’d be the one organizing all of that stuff, anyway.
This week, I got my chance to call out this sexist ideology when I told someone I was soon moving in with my partner and his male housemate in order to save some money.
“Oh, that’ll be great for them. At least the house will always be clean now, and they’ll be eating a lot better,” a friend exclaimed at the news, immediately assuming that because I, a female, was moving in, I’d be cleaning and cooking for the two guys.
“I won’t be doing their chores for them or cooking for them. They’re adults and can do it themselves,” I found myself hitting back with increased speed and confidence.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that. I was just saying it’ll be good for them to have a feminine touch in the house now.”
What does ‘a feminine tough’ even mean? If my partner was moving in with myself and another woman, would people say to him it was good he’d bring a ‘male touch’ to the home? Not likely. They’d probably make a comment about how he was – *wink wink* – lucky to live with two women (which is grossly sexist) and how we’d be happy we have a handyman to fix things which break in the apartment. Urgh.
After some more debate, the person I was arguing with finally admitted I shouldn’t be expected to clean and cook for my two new male housemates. We were making progress.
Comment five: calling out my professor
In one of my summer school college classes, the subject of the lesson turned to sexual harassment. As the discussion died down, my professor – who I greatly respect – made a comment along the lines of, “I do feel for men, though. They won’t even want to approach a woman in a bar now because of all of this hullaballoo.”
I despise this opinion because it treats men like idiots who are incapable of reading a room. And where I’d usually just stay quiet, especially in a packed classroom setting, my eye-roll got my teachers attention, so I took my chance to challenge him.
“Going up to women in bars has never, and will never, be the problem,” I explained, as all eyes in the room turned to look at me.
“Every woman in this room would be able to tell you that we get a feeling in our guts when things turn inappropriate. If a guy comes up to us at the bar, great! If we politely refuse him and he keeps going, that’s when the ‘danger’ feeling kicks in and it becomes not okay.”
Suddenly the women in the lecture theatre applauded, and an intense discussion broke out among the group. And my god, it was such an empowering moment. Here I was thinking I’d need to tear sexism down all by myself this week, but it turns out, I had a number of allies in my fight. Girl power!
Comment six: standing up to mansplaining
Seriously, what is it with salesmen and ruining my day?
I went to a local tech store during this week to buy a cable to connect my laptop to my work desktop monitor, knowing exactly what cord I needed. While I was staring at the wall of cords, weighing up brands and prices, the sales guy sauntered over and asked if he could assist me with anything. I explained the cable type I was after, and he almost immediately proceeded to smugly tell me I’d gotten it wrong – that cable was not compatible with my laptop – and insisted I buy another instead.
Now, I understand it’s his job to make sure I leave with the correct equipment I need, but I knew what I was doing, and explained that to him. He hadn’t seen my work monitor or my laptop. He didn’t know exactly what I owned and what I required. But he just wouldn’t give up with his mansplaining.
“Well, actually,” he began, “every monitor has an HDMI port, and so this is the one you need,” he insisted, obviously annoyed I wasn’t listening to him. And the old me would have probably bought both, just in case he was right, even if I was sure he wasn’t. But not the new, confident me.
“Well, actually,” I retorted. “Our monitors have a VGA output, so I’m going to buy this one,” I declared, spontaneously prompting him to look like he’d just seen a ghost as I casually reached for the cable and strutted away to the counter.
The final comment: a lesson in language
During a family get-together on the last day of my experiment, a male relative confided in me how he’d been incorrectly accused of being a misogynist by a stuck-up woman at a bar the previous night.
The woman had overheard him telling a friend that because his girlfriend wasn’t working at the moment, he expected her to clean the house while he was at the office.
“Wait – you expect it?” I asked, suddenly interrupting his story.
“I mean, maybe not expect. I just really appreciate it. When I get home and it’s not done, I don’t really care. It’s just really nice when she does do little things like that while I’m at work. I’d do the same if I was at home and she was working.”
I laughed and explained why he’d come across as a misogynist to the woman sitting beside him at the bar. It was all about his word choice.
“You can’t say you ‘expect’ a woman, whether she’s your girlfriend or not, to do all the housework while you work. It makes it sound like you want her to be a 1950s housewife, and aren’t interested in getting her to weigh in with her own views at all.”
And he totally got it. We ended up laughing about it all night, and he told me how they’d agreed for him to be the stay-at-home dad when they fell pregnant, so she could go back to work, and how excited he was about it.
It felt amazing to be able to have a discussion about sexism, misogyny and gender roles without anyone yelling or getting aggressive. And by the time the week rounded out and I got to have this discussion, I’d been calling out sexism for seven days, so I knew how best to approach the situation.
Since my experiment week, I’ve found I do sometimes hold my tongue when I overhear everyday sexism. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight someone who I can tell is never going to change their ways – generally older people who have been acting a certain way and living in a bubble for their entire lives.
But I’m better at calling sexism out more often than I used to. I love how empowered I feel when I fight for my beliefs, and I’m slightly less afraid of confrontation than I was before.
I’m loud, I’m proud, and I won’t stand for your sexist bullshit.
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Comment: Have you ever called out someone for being casually sexist in your everyday life?