I, like all women, have experienced a lot of sexism. I’m not even talking about physical assaults or the threat of violence; I’m just talking about the jokes and comments I get from all kinds of people: bosses, co-workers, relatives, strangers in the grocery store, other women… I was thinking about how disappointed I feel with myself when I fail to respond to these comments, when I go along with it, or don’t say anything, even though it bothers me. I end up feeling bad not only from the sexist comment, but also from my failure to stand up for myself. (The more I’ve learned about this issue, the more I think that “failure” is not the right way to see this, but that’s how I felt.) I felt angry, ashamed, and paralyzed.
As I was thinking about these experiences, I wondered what might help me to react better. I’ve been interested in self-defense since I was in high school, and I’ve taken a R.A.D. self-defense class as well as some martial arts. In the R.A.D. class, we practiced simple, effective responses to common situations. A big benefit of the class was learning that you could say no, that you could yell at someone, that you could hit or kick them, that you could defend yourself. Confidence. There was hands-on practice. I wondered if maybe this principle could be applied to sexist comments. Maybe if I could role-play with other people and practice responding to different types of sexist comments, in different situations, I would improve my ability to respond to those comments.
I’ve been reading a lot, and learning a lot, about feminism in general the past year. Once I started thinking about this specific issue, I read more about the kinds of sexism that are out there, the negative and harmful effects they have on women, and the difficulties of speaking up to someone who’s being a sexist. I have more to say about all of that (and more!), and I am really excited to hear some other women’s thoughts about this stuff. I’m also hoping to gather some collective wisdom from real experiences with sexist comments and how to respond, or not respond, to them.
Not everyone is bothered by these kinds of comments, and every individual has different things that get to them. Something that offends me may not even register to you, and vice versa. If you are someone who isn’t bothered by these kinds of jokes and comments, I am not out to force you into being upset by them. I would bet, though, that everyone at some point feels a line has been crossed. It’s just that the line is in a different place for each of us. Having said that, though, I have also learned that sexism can still be harmful to women even when they aren’t aware of it. Being aware of something that can weaken and undermine you can only be a good thing, right?
The women I’ve talked to about this idea have liked it. What do you think? Are sexist comments a thorn in your side, or a non-issue? Can you relate to my struggle with responding to sexism, or do you already have a good way of dealing with it? Do you think that hands-on practice would be helpful in improving how you deal with those comments?