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Women don’t need to lighten up about casual sexism

I can only speak for the women of my acquaintance but talk to any group of them and each can run off a list as long as your arm of incidences of casual sexism – small, irritating things that happen every single little day and that you brush off because, taken alone, they don’t really add up to much – you know, the comment about how a female academic looks when nobody would say the same about her male equivalent, the adverts that portray women as only being attractive if they are thin, airbrushed and young, the throwaway comment to not ‘worry your little head’ about something

The trouble is that over time they drip drip drip and begin to add up to something – a general feeling that actually women aren’t really terribly well respected at all and perhaps nothing more than lip service is being given to the concept of equality

The worst thing is that you mention this to a man, even a reasonably evolved one, and invariably you are told that you are over-reacting, that these little things are just little things and invariably you need to lighten up

Simply put half of the population never have to deal with these insignificant incidents and so don’t see that they really matter and the other half of the population DO have to deal with them and increasingly believe that they do matter

And we don’t need to lighten up and take a joke, we need to get angry – nothing is going to change until we can make people realise that none of this behaviour is acceptable

Yes perhaps it should be flattering to have a colleague come onto you and to keep insisting that really you do want to go out to dinner – the reality is that actually it can make you terribly worried about how you are perceived at work (he wouldn’t be doing this to a man?), how to respond so that you aren’t portrayed badly and more importantly why he doesn’t respect you enough to let it go when you say no thank you and try to move the conversation on

I don’t want my daughters to have to think about where they stand on the tube because some men like to get a touch too close and try and grab a grope

I don’t want my daughters to feel that they have to dress in a way that doesn’t quite suit their style so they don’t stand out – to wear variants on menswear rather than to embrace their feminism, to have to try and disappear into the background rather than to stand out and proud

I don’t want my daughters to think they are anything less than equal to anyone

And if I had sons I’d surely want them to realise that often a joke isn’t really a joke – if it is something that hurts someone even a teeny, tiny bit and that perhaps they wouldn’t say infront of their own mother then not saying it might really be best and making up songs about people’s boobs almost certainly isn’t going to pass this test if you are more than 4 years old and most definitely if you are presenting the Oscars…

So how about we stop telling women to lighten up about casual sexism and start insisting that men start making jokes that are really funny

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5 comments to Women don’t need to lighten up about casual sexism

  • Well said. I couldn’t agree more. I get so angry at this stuff and it’s incredibly difficult to teach my sons about it.

  • Completely with you- especially on the bringing up children to treat everyone as equals.
    The dilemma for me in work is the perceived difference between ‘chivalry’ and sexism. So, I don’t appreciate the door being held open for me, because if I hold a door open for a man they have a real issue with going through it. So that’s feminism/ sexism… I think sometimes there needs to be more of a distinction between good manners- regardless of sex, chivalry and sexism.
    And yes, I work in construction, so most women with an opinion can only be deemed feminist!
    I think there’s a subtle way of dealing with casual sexism, it’s definitely about boundaries, but unfortunately there’s always the few…

    • Hannah Brewer

      That’s the problem isn’t it, that there are nuances and what works for one doesn’t for another

      If we could start by stopping having boys toys and girls toys and just have toys I’d be happy

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found this to be especially hard to deal with in the workplace. How many times are we supposed to let behavior slip before addressing it without seeming overly sensitive? Not only do these incidents pile up, they also allow for more inappropriate behavior to sneak in.

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