It is both alarming and fascinating how many times we overlook sexist statements, comments, and questions on a day-to-day basis. Sexism is such an ingrained part of our culture that we do not even register a lot of what is said, let alone call it out or rebuff it. From the office, to the bar, to the home, it pays to give a little more attention to what is said and the subtext within it. Its frequency and ease will shock you!
Photo Credit: AFP; A woman poses with a sign reading 'Champs-Elysees, 3 am in the morning, 4 guys in a car whistle at us, and after receiving no response, they back up and start insulting us.'
"Can you send the notes from the meeting?"
In former jobs, I have attended meetings (with varying levels of attendee seniority) with me as the only female. It has often been expected for me to assume the secretarial duties of note taking and sharing. Often the most junior person takes responsibility for this and if that person was me, I did it happily. Often I was not the most junior and it was still my task. And I did it with no thought at all.
"Her husband/dad must be loaded!"
When I have been out with my male friends and we have encountered a glamorous, affluent looking woman – bling, designer threads, chic everything...the assumption is that it is not her money. Why don't we assume she is an entrepreneur/banker/success story herself? Would we say a dapper looking gentleman must be the result of a wealthy wife or mother? Nope.
"The hot one."
When describing or identifying someone, it is much more acceptable to mention a woman's looks. Men comment far more on a woman's appearance than we comment on men's appearance. Women are often explained as "cute, attractive, pretty, tall, blonde". Somehow it seems reasonable that a woman's looks are on the table for discussion. Notice how men often use these as personal identifiers and reference a woman's level of attractiveness when talking about them.
Photo Credit: AFP; A woman pastes a flyer with text reading 'Zone without harassment' on a wall as she takes part in a protest
"What a bitch."
Women are described as bitches when men are "assertive", "aggressive" or "demanding". This happens to female managers everywhere. Aligned with the bitchiness reference, I have heard things like, "she must have her period" if a man thinks a woman is being unreasonable. Women are much less able to show authority and give orders without escaping criticism. Female leaders are always expected to be gentler, softer, and more empathetic.
"What's for dinner?"
Think about this one. Sure – I love to cook and my husband asks me this daily, as I am the one who usually decides. But even in group and social settings - such as vacations and dinner parties - women are expected to put the food on the table. The hostess gets peppered with questions and the host is permitted to chill out. And if by chance the man is the cook – he is showered with praise and the woman told how fortunate she is that her husband cooks!
"Stop being so bossy!"
Sheryl Sandberg's "#banbossy" campaign really highlighted this one. She said, "I want all young girls to not be told that they are bossy, but that they have leadership skills." Hooray!
When there is the arrival of a newborn, the mother is always referenced as the exhausted, affected one. References to things like baby brain, sleep deprivation, and disturbed professional performance are directed much more at the woman than the dad.
Interestingly, when I discussed this topic with my girlfriends, what came up is not just what is said by men, but what is not said. When purchasing a car recently, my friend (a super-smart, savvy, and well researched buyer) said she was taken much more seriously and was given much more information when her fiancé was with her. I read about a woman looking at real estate for her new business who said the same thing – when her male friend came she received much better, more thorough service.
As intelligent, strong, and capable women we do not need to suffer the status quo – we can challenge it. It starts with our awareness. So when you hear these blatantly sexist comments, stand up for yourself and your entire sisterhood out there.