Actually… how to respond when you see some sexism happening

A friend was talking with colleagues the other day about sexism and discrimination that they’ve witnessed at work. They knew what they were seeing/hearing was wrong, but felt they didn’t have the right words to challenge it. He asked me to put together those words, and TA DA!!! here are some words:

Statement: I don’t hire women in their 20s because they go and have babies.
Response: Actually, with every person you hire there’s always a chance they’ll leave because they’ve found a better job. However, when someone goes on parental leave they don’t actually leave the company, so the company benefits from the retention of knowledge.
Further: The business case for paid parental leave: Employers who provide paid parental leave show their commitment to their employees, and in return they get greater employee productivity and loyalty, higher rates of staff retention, and employees have increased job satisfaction. It’s hard to argue against that.

Statement: That’s reverse sexism.
Response: Actually, reverse sexism doesn’t exist. Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on gender. Something is either sexist, or it isn’t sexist.
Further: Sexism = power + prejudice based on gender. Any group in society can be prejudiced, but if they don’t also have power, then their prejudice can’t disadvantage anyone.

Statement: Someone tells a joke in which the punchline is sexist, or involves someone getting raped.
Response: Reply, “I don’t get it”. And keep repeating this until they explain exactly how it’s funny. It’ll make them look stupid.
Further: Some jokes about rape can be funny. This one by Tig Notaro is freakin’ hilarious (via Blue Milk). Also, telling someone their joke isn’t funny isn’t taking away free speech, because you can say whatever you want.

Statement: People are promoted on merit, not gender.
Response: Actually, that’s not true. In our society, male experience is considered the norm, and female experience is considered something that isn’t really important. It’s the case in politics, in the news, in popular culture, and in the workplace. Even when women “do ‘all the right things’, they are unlikely to earn as much or advance as far as their male colleagues” (50.1KB pdf).
Further:Yale researchers presented scientists with identical resumes for a lab manager position. One had a male name, the other a female name. The scientists rated the female applicant “signficantly lower” than the male in terms of competence, hireability and whether they’d be willing to mentor this person. The female was also offered a much lower starting salary. As Ilana Yurkiewicz writes, “We are not talking about equality of outcomes here; this result shows bias thwarts equality of opportunity”.
Further further:Exposure to sexism is the greatest threat to the work performance of women” and Hidden Gender Bias in the Workplace.

Statement: I’m a feminist and I am anti-abortion.
Response: Actually, you’re not a feminist. You can’t support women’s rights while also seeking to remove their rights. If you’re opposed to abortion, then don’t have one. But let other women make their own decisions about what is right for them.
Further: If you are concerned about Australia’s reasonably low abortion rate, then lobby your local MP for longer paid parental leave, for cheaper childcare and more childcare places, and for real flexibility in workplaces that allows mothers and fathers to balance paid work with parenting. Mind you, if you are genuinely pro-life – rather than being against safe abortion – then you’re already doing that, right?

Statement: Feminists are ugly man-haters.
Response: Dude, have you been living under a rock? Feminists are HOT!

Let’s make this list Bigger! Better! Suggestions below and I’ll update the post.

44 responses to “Actually… how to respond when you see some sexism happening

  1. You are brilliant. I think my office thinks of me as the harpy harridan, because I am frequently calling stuff like this out. (In the media etc, not, I hasten to add, in my office. Often.)

    Here’s a question. I’ve been seeing, and being on the receiving end of street harassment a lot. Favourite move for calling that out? (safely, clearly.)

  2. Statement : Its because I care about women that I keep warning them to wear less revealing clothes so that they don’t get attacked / assaulted / raped!

    Response : The vast majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victim, and frequently by people in fact dating the victim. How can clothing possibly affect something like that?

    Statement : Why are you mad about me saying nice knockers / cute ass / hot legs?? It was a compliment!

    Response : Mate, since it obviously bothered the person you said it to, it was hardly effective was it? Maybe compliments that are respecting of boundaries would go down better.

    Statement : Chemists should be allowed to refuse contraception to women if contraception is against the chemist’s wishes! There are heaps of other chemists around!

    Response : Why the heck would you take a job that involved doing something that you are so intractably morally opposed to? Its like being a copper and then saying you’re morally opposed to carrying a gun!

  3. Statement: Someone tells a joke in which the punchline is sexist, or involves someone getting raped.
    Response: Reply, “I don’t get it”.

    Awesomesauce! I’m gonna use that.

  4. I use the ‘I don’t get it’ response to all kinds of racist / sexist jokes. My other one (with blonde jokes) is “So…the point is that all blondes are dumb sluts? Hmmph”

  5. Er… you forgot an important response to the first one. “Men in their 20s might also have children – are you assuming that males will neglect their babies? Or that they won’t be woken in the night by them, making them sleep-deprived and hence less productive? Maybe you’d better not hire anyone under the age of 45.”

    We campaigned for PARENTAL (or “primary carer”) leave – and now lots of men take it. Don’t assume that just because women give birth to the babies that they have to (or want to) do ALL the caring as well! So be consistent – either employ people regardless of age and gender, or don’t employ anyone of child-bearing age. At all.

  6. Other funny rape jokes:

  7. I LOVE that Tig Notaro skit. It’s hilarious. As best I can tell, it’s funny because it’s not based on a rape joke, it’s based on a rape *culture* joke. Jokes that poke fun, ridicule or tear down rape culture can be really quite funny. Jokes about rape, not so much.

    • Exactly. It’s a good distinction.

    • It’s really a joke about the slippage between languages, a joke about speakers of English taking their nuances with them into other languages, a joke about how nonsensical this slippage is… It’s not really a joke about molestation at all, and certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with rape. But it *is* a wonderfully funny routine. 🙂

      • I disagree. Well, I agree with your point about the slippage between languages, but it’s that slippage that allows her – and us, as the audience – to laugh at the idea that the response to sexual assault being so commonplace, so normal, is that you just hang a sign on the door that says “not tonight”.

        Elissamilne, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  8. Great post, NWN. When it’s all nice and plump with further examples/responses, I’d rather like to crosspost it on the Feminism 101 blog as a Feminism Friday piece. Y/N?

  9. Statement: But I hire more women than anyone else!

    Response: OK, so you get a cookie for opening yourself to industry ridicule, but unless the women are paid as much, and hold as many positions of power as men, you’ve only achieved “less sexist than the rest of them”. Maybe we should get you a plaque “Least sexist boss in X industry”.

    Further: Pretty much the same as your “people are promoted on merit”. In fact I find these two often follow one another out of people’s mouths.

  10. Your statement that “Some jokes about rape can be funny” is inappropriate and offensive. No joke about rape is ever funny. As well as being offensive, this statement is inaccurate. Tig Notaro’s joke (for which you provide a link) is amusing, but (or perhaps because) it is NOT about rape but about molestation. As Notaro points out, to “molest” means to “disturb, interfere with, or annoy”. Rape is not about “annoyance” or “interference”, nor is it sexual: it is about power. If, as you assert, it is “about rape”, then perhaps you might like to “explain exactly how it’s funny”.

    • Just because something is funny doesn’t make it okay to laugh at it.
      It’s still funny though.

      • Tig Notaro’s joke is about a bit more than that. Molest in English includes sexual molestation. That’s why she felt uneasy putting the sign on the door – a sign saying “hey, don’t molest me tonight”. The joke is funny because it pokes fun at the assaulters, and at the mansplainer, not the victims. The assault isn’t the punchline – mansplainers and assaulters are the punchline. As Blue Milk wrote: “it depends on the context and also, most importantly, upon what you are targetting in your joke – like, is it making fun of rapists and rape apology or is it trivialising and normalising rape?”

        That Blue Milk post is a great one that goes into more detail about rape jokes. I highly recommend reading it.

  11. True story, just last night:
    Our manager referred to a female consultant (in her absence) as “the bird at the bank”.
    All women and the only other man at the meeting quickly responded: “you mean the WOMAN at the bank, don’t you?”
    We took it a step further, and requested he refer to her by her name.
    Referring to a person by name, rather than by gender, is another measure of respect.

  12. I think your article is awesome. I don’t find rape jokes, any rape jokes particularly amusing, I know what it is like to seen and used as a piece of meat. To me, this is what is at the basis of all sexism, not seeing a person, only an object. I tend to shut it down instantly when I see it by asking older men if that is how they’d like their daughters treated, and younger men, their mothers or sisters. Making it very personal tends to bring the message home very effectively.

  13. I’d love to have response for when people say that’s gay, or that’s so gay.
    It’s just wrong. How can it be anything but denigrating to Gay people, there is no justification for using this.

    • You can probably use a similar response. “It’s gay? As in actually homosexual? Or are you just using that word as an insult without really thinking about what you’re saying?” They might reveal that they do think homosexuality is a bad thing, and then you’ll know they’re a dumb jerk. Or they might say, “oh, I never thought about it like that. It was just a word that I use and that everyone around me uses”. I was pulled up a few years ago (on someone else’s blog) for saying something is lame. Lame is ableist language and there are plenty of other words that can be used without insulting someone.

  14. I’m actually very opposed to the “what if your wife, your daughter, your sister…” approach. It’s an invitation to see women as having value based on their value to the man, and an “ownership” model of male-female relationships. If you think “ownership” is a bit hyperbolic, we don’t have to go back many generations to find a time when this was literally true. Moreover, it encourages and fosters the whore/madonna dichotomy – most men are encouraged to see their mums, sisters, etc. as on the side of the angels, so it’s not at all protective against the “what was she doing going there and wearing that and just being a filthy slut in general” argument. So yeah, not a fan of that approach, and unfortunately it’s still all too common.

  15. Regarding:
    Statement: Feminists are ugly man-haters.
    Response: Dude, have you been living under a rock? Feminists are HOT!

    Can we not have an answer that privileges someone’s appearance? It’s like the part of the comment that was considered an insult is the “ugly” part rather than the “man-hater” part. Not to mention that HOT has particular connotations in our society (slim, white-appearing, feminine, etc)

    Alternative: Oh, were your poor fee-fee’s hurt because some woman didn’t put your opinion/needs/desires/etc above her own? That must have been horrible!

    (Yes, I tend to the snark.)

    Further: Feminists aren’t man-haters. They are women who want to be treated with respect and have their talents, skills, knowledge, and lives recognized on an equal playing field with men. (Or whatever definition you prefer.) Also, it’s no one’s responsible to improve the view for anyone else.

  16. Statement: Bloody feminazis!

    Response: yes, feminazis, because wanting to be treated like a human being is exactly like genocide… Or invading Poland.

    Can’t claim credit for it, saw it on a pic of a protest placard.

    Don’t post often, but read often, and love your work.

  17. Pingback: Sharing the love « The Lady Garden

  18. Reverse sexism – love your work. I pulled a male friend of mine up for using that statement. He added further clarifications to justify his point. I don’t think he understood.

  19. Pingback: Blog JUMP » Does sexism still exist? If so, how do we deal with it on a daily basis?

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