The video of Emma Stone calling out boyfriend Andrew Garfield on his “casual sexism” has been making its rounds on the Internet. While most people reacted positively, there was also a group of people who predictably thought Stone was being “too sensitive”.
Writing about gender issues has never come easily for me, yet I return to it time and again. Why? Because sexism is still an issue we face on a daily basis. Sexist behaviour may not be as overt as back in the day, but it still exists in our day-to-day interactions. From your male buddies cracking a joke about your figure to netizens posting memes like, “Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”, everyday sexism is still alive and well in today’s society.
The difficulty in calling out such inappropriate behaviour is two-fold. First, it’s not always easy to speak up, especially in our culture of “playing nice”. Second, how do you tell if the person making the remark was truly being sexist or if it was just a misguided offhand remark? This is something I struggle with often, especially when in the company of men. In a group setting where everyone is cracking jokes and poking fun at each other, calling out a sexist remark makes you seem humourless or like a “crazy feminazi”.
Does calling out sexist behaviour in a group setting make you a party pooper?
There have been times where I did speak up only to get shut down by people who said things lke, “Oh c’mon, I was just joking,” or “Don’t be so sensitive. Not everything is a gender issue!” These remarks made me second-guess my convictions and wonder if I was really being oversensitive. That was before I chanced upon this illuminating article on The Good Men Project.
Titled “Why Women Aren’t Crazy”, the male author explains why remarks like these are a form of emotional manipulation. When somebody tells you to “Stop overreacting,” they are feeding into the stereotype that women are emotionally unstable, and need only the slightest provocation to set them off. The writer adds that such behaviour is akin to “gaslighting”, which is a term to describe manipulative behaviour used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy. In other words, when people tell you over and over that you’re being too sensitive, you start doubting yourself and your beliefs. After having our opinions undermined time and again, it’s no wonder most women practice self-censorship and stay silent on things that bother them.
However, as much as we wouldn’t tolerate racist or homophobic behaviour, we should not stay mute on issues of sexism. When handled with grace and dignity, I believe we can call out everyday sexism and still walk away with our friendships and relationships intact. How?
Examine The Context Of The Statement
In early 2013, President Obama came under fire for describing California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris as “the best-looking attorney general in the country.” Many people were outraged, saying the president was being sexist by focusing on Harris’ looks. However, if you read the speech where he made that comment, he also praised her intellect and accomplishments. The comment on her looks was made almost as an afterthought. His comment may have been misguided, but it was definitely not borne of sexism.
As with the recent interview with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, I genuinely do not think he was being sexist. Unfortunately, our culture has been so imbued with traditional gender roles that we tend to have moments where we still think “this is a woman’s job” or “that is so unmanly”. Women are just as guilty of this as men. In such situations, you can choose to let it slide but I think it may be interesting to start a lighthearted but invigorating discussion (as Emma Stone did). Some people may be genuinely unaware about such insidious gender stereotypes, and would be game to exchange ideas with you.
Ask yourself, “Is it the right time?”
If you are in a group setting and you bring this up, will it cause the other person to become defensive? Or is the person in question too drunk or distracted at that point in time that they’re not going to hear anything you say? Also, will it be better if someone else brought it up? For example, given my reputation among my friends for being pro-equality, they may (once again) dismiss me as being an overreacting feminist. Sometimes, it might be better to get a sympathetic mutual friend to convey the message.
Then again, it also depends on how you raise the issue. In a recent Forbes article about calling out everyday sexism, one woman shared her experience with stopping sexist remarks in their tracks without destroying her relationships. She heard a comment in passing, turned to the two male co-workers and said calmly, “Inappropriate.” One of them responded, “Really?”
“Yes,” she said, and continued walking. The trick it seems, is in the delivery. When we hear an offensive remark, our automatic reaction may be to get shrill or preachy, or both. Don’t. Take a breath, and in a calm but firm tone, say, “Hey dude, that’s not cool.”
That’s it – no raised voices, no hard feelings, and a lesson learned.
Pick Your Battles
It boils down to how well you know the person. If you know your granduncle is never going to stop airing his screamingly sexist views, it’s probably a lost cause if you keep insisting on explaining to him why he’s wrong. As galling as it may be, perhaps this is one battle you don’t want to fight. But if the remark was passed by a friend whom you know to be an otherwise progressive and open-minded individual, it’s worthwhile taking him aside to quietly explain why his comments were inappropriate or offensive.
Because, as much as we really want to make every man understand how upsetting it is when they catcall us in public or make jokes about our figure or our abilities as women, we need to ask ourselves if they will even care. Are they willing to even question their culturally-inspired sexist tendencies? If a person refuses to even entertain the possibility that he/she may be mistaken, any form of argument is basically futile. My suggestion for dealing with such people is to mimimise interactions with them as much as possible. They’re just not worth your effort or emotional energy.
What are your experiences with everyday sexism and how do you deal with it? Share with me in the Comments section below!
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. She really hates the word “uptight”, and everything it represents. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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