There’s a conversation I’ve had with men more times than I care to recount and it goes a bit like this:
Me: “Hey, that’s a sexist thing to say.”
Man: “ME? I said something sexist? I’m not sexist, I’m a feminist. I think you’re being sensitive. What I said had nothing to do with gender.”
Me: “You’ve done it again.”
This debate is so stale. It makes me want to stuff bits of chewed up beer mats into my ears so I can’t hear a man telling me that he alone, as a real feminist, truly knows when the spectre of sexism has entered the room.
Maybe that episode of Girls you watched or that extract of Gender Trouble you read in your political science undergrad didn’t cover this, but feminism isn’t a qualification you earn once in your life and never have to think about ever again. It’s not a title you bestow upon yourself, it’s something you express in every interaction you have with a woman. It’s an ongoing process of learning about the different ways sexism articulates itself in our daily interactions with one another. If you’re not prepared to listen, you aren’t a feminist, you’re a woke misogynist.
If you do want to be a feminist, and you find yourself in a conversation with a woman who says she feels that you have said something sexist, here’s a few pointers on how to deal with it.
First of all, if you are more upset about being told that you are being sexist than actually thinking about the problem that has been raised, it means that you are more upset about defending your own ego than validating the experience of the woman in front of you. Sounds a lot like sexism, right?
I know you think that you “get feminism”, but even feminist women mess up. I say sexist stuff all of the time. Once in a Muay Thai boxing class I said “I kick like a girl”, a comment so cliché that I am actually ashamed of my own lack of imagination. Someone told me I was being sexist, and you know what, I didn’t complain: “Oh my god, I am the least sexist person ever, I’m a woman.” Instead, I said: “Yeah, you’re right. My bad.”
You know why? Because I know the patriarchy has a nasty habit of lodging itself into your brain, and I’m really glad when someone drags it into the light.
If a woman is saying you are being sexist, you definitely have to listen, because you’ve never lived life as a woman and don’t know what it is like to face sexism every single waking hour of your life. It is so tedious. While sexism is theoretical to you, it is oh so very real to us, so at least listen to what we have to say. Be thankful that the women around you don’t think of you as a lost cause because “behind every woke man is an exhausted feminist you need to thank.”
You’re no longer in denial and you have successfully reached step two.
This bit gets rocky: you actually have to listen to the person who says you have been sexist and think about it. You don’t have to hold your hands up, get down and your knees and pray for mercy from your feminist overladies.
Maybe you didn’t realise until now that you were being sexist: that’s OK. Sexism is so deeply woven into the very fabric of our being that sometimes you can’t see it. The patriarchy isn’t something we opt in and out of, it’s always there. It’s the white noise humming in the background of every interaction. If you still can’t see it or understand it, at least acknowledge that the other person did and listen to what they have to say.
If you’re still denying it even happened then straight to the bloke-not-woke jail. Do not pass go.
If you’ve accepted that it happened: you listened to why we felt what you had to say was sexist, and you’ve taken it on board, then you are on your path to actually being a feminist. Because, guess what: feminism is something you do, not an abstract label you appropriate because women think it is hot.