Everyday sexism

anneholidayThe topic for October is to be everyday sexism. What does it mean for you? Is it what you experience in your everyday life? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you think that you are tackling it head on and if so, how? What do you think that we can do about? Can we do anything about it?

I have been mulling over these questions for the last few days, since we decided on the topic and I decided to share some of my thoughts with you, in advance of October.

There have been lots of issues to think about too, over the past few days. The abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez has had to endure for running a campaign to get women (other than the queen who is not there on merit alone) onto our banknotes. The abuse that Maria Miller, coalition minister, has had to endure as a result of challenging the BBC about the behaviour of John Inverdale with his inappropriate comments about the tennis player, Marion Bartoli. As if these were not bad enough, a 13-year old girl has been called ‘predatory’ by a lawyer, Robert Colover. This was the same girl who had been the victim of a 41-year old paedophile, who was given an eight-month suspended sentence, after he had engaged in sexual activity with the girl at his home.

So, everyday sexism? Yes, in the sense that everyday many of us have to endure sexual slights and innuendo but also every day in that we also see regularly more extreme examples of sexism.

So, what to do about it?

I heard Jessie J on Women’s Hour on 6th August talking about how passionate she is about the need for young girls to be confident. She was pressed to admit that she was a feminist which she did in the end, after saying that she thought it was a scary word. What stuck out for me though was what she said about how we women need to be. She said that we need to be fearless. I believe she is right.

Heather Long wrote an article in the Guardian on 5th August entitled: “Is it time to stop telling girls to ‘be nice’?” She was writing about Catherine Newman, who had said in the New York Times that she did not want her daughter to be nice. She said of herself, that although a feminist she still “smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me”. So, even a feminist cannot help herself being “pretty and sweet in just about every situation.“

Heather finished the article by asking the question: “What advice do you have for your daughters or little girls that you know? Is it time to stop encouraging them to be cute and nice?” I believe that the answer is yes.

The article brought to mind a book that I read almost 25 years ago. It is called: Reflecting Men: At Twice Their Natural Size by Sally Cline and Dale Spender. It is about the male ego and how we women spend our time and energy massaging the male ego and the consequences when we stop. This can include anything from being perceived as rude to hostility and even aggression. Unfortunately it is more or less based on anecdotal evidence but I think that what it has to say is compelling and depressingly still relevant.

I found myself in the unfortunate position, at the time of reading the book, of working for a man whom I found insufferable. He was a racist and a sexist and I was broke and badly in need of a job. Finally I found it impossible to continue to compromise myself and stopped smiling at him. I continued to do my job but in my dealings with him, I just stopped smiling. He became very nasty and I only lasted another two weeks. Not a scientific experiment but an experience which I actually found to be scary. Should we stop massaging men’s egos and let them look after their own? I say yes.

Jane Kenyon in the magazine has become increasingly strident over the past few months about the need to be more strident. Is she right? I agree with Jane.

In the second half of the 19th century John Stuart Mills wrote about ‘The Subjection of Women’. He said:

“ I deny that any one knows or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been. What is natural to the two sexes can only be found out by allowing both to develop and use their faculties freely.”

How long do we have to wait until this is understood and acted upon? What can we do in the meantime then?

We continue to do whatever we are doing now to challenge the status quo and if we are not already doing it, we also need to:

  • be fearless
  • stop telling our girls to be nice
  • let men look after their own egos
  • be strident, after all what have we got to lose?

Annie Casey is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

2 Comments on Everyday sexism

  1. Thoughtful piece, Ann, thanks (am going to look up that Guardian article as even the snippet made me smile in anxious recognition…) and Heaven knows the male ego is certainly a strange beast. The only thing that bothers me is that, whilst I agree entirely with where you are coming from, it is depressing that we have to fight negativity with more negativity. Whilst we do need to encourage girls to stand up for themselves, perhaps be less ‘nice’ we must also ensure that just as much work and effort goes into encourage boys to be ‘nicer’ where appropriate.
    My worst bosses, by a long shot, have been egomaniac women. I should have stopped smiling at them earlier too.
    We just need more ‘nice’ people, whatever their gender.

  2. Thanks for your comments Clare. I don’t disagree with you about the negativity and it is not my default position. Karen and I also had a discussion about ‘being nice’ where she made the same point and I did not disagree with that either.

    Personally, I just want everyone to be kind to one another. What a world that would be!

    However, having listened to the response from some men (and I mean some as I know a lot of men, both family and friends who are completely on my side on this and will challenge other men’s bad behaviour) I became completely depressed at their lack of understanding of the issue. Their belittling attitude to certain issues (eg, the bank note debate) because of not understanding that it is symptomic and cannot be seen in isolation, the fact that some men still think that it is acceptable to be aggressive and violent (plenty more examples of that recently) to women and the lack of will on the part of many men to make change happen.

    I also accept that not enough is being done with our boys and young men to change their attitudes and we all have to take responsibility for that.

    What I have had to accept is that I was brought up to be a ‘nice’ girl and it has crippled me over the years. I feel sick inside if I have to deal with an aggressive situation (and I have had a few of those, mostly with men) but what I learned is that being nice did not work there. I don’t think nice is going to work now. I am absolutely not advocating that women should be ‘not nice’ but we do have to be firmer, less compliant, challenging and be willing to say what we think and how we feel. So I stand by everything I said.

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