One thing that the recent campaign for the American presidency made abundantly clear is that there is plenty of sexist bullshit being expressed, acted upon and excused in this world.
I’m lucky to have friends who sit in all kinds of different places on the political spectrum which means that often have challenging conversations. I’m lucky that my class, skin colour and location mean that I’ve not experienced bigotry that many people do. While there are many conversations being had about what it all means, how we got here and where do we go, I felt that, for me, the first place was to make clear that sexist bullshit and misogyny is not to be tolerated and to ask those closest to me to stand for this too.
This is the email I sent to my father and brothers today, I don’t know how they’ll feel about it and I’m not particularly concerned for that – there’s no room to apologise when you are demanding equality.
Dear Dad and brothers,
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the world is turning – the whys and wherefores and what it all means. There is a lot that can be said, voices talking at each other that may or may not be heard, concerns that are dismissed by those that they don’t touch or for whom they aren’t relevant. And I wondered what I could do that was tackling some of the problems I think the recent US election and Brexit poll have particularly highlighted. Instead of talking to people about what their political view is and how that’s the same or different to mine, I thought the better thing to do was to ask people to act and support me in some very real and significant ways.
So I’m starting with you guys, because you are my family and you should be the first people to support me.
I’m going to ask you to stand up to sexist bullshit, because it isn’t locker room talk – it is insulting sexist bullshit that shows that men think they have free access to women’s bodies and that we aren’t their equal. If people don’t stand up to it, it keeps the world a less safe place for me and my daughter than it is for you. And, in all honesty, you’ve all said something sexist to me in my life – often as a joke to wind me up, sometimes just because saying something a certain way was how the world talked about women and girls. It’s okay, I’m not holding any deep-seated angst about our family, but I am asking you to be more thoughtful in deed and word.
Here’s what you can do to stand up to sexist bullshit – and why it matters to me:
1 – Please stop criticising women and girls for how they look. Please tell people that make jokes about how a woman or girl looks that they are being an idiot.
All the nick names that I had in school – Twiggy, Stick-insect, Anna (Rexia) were not made to make me laugh or bring me joy, they were made so that others could laugh at me. I’ve been called a bitch, a pig and a dog – I’m not an animal I’m a human, you can think someone is a dreadful person and find a way to say it in a way that doesn’t compare them to an animal and deny them their humanity.
2 – Please stop making jokes about women and girl’s bodies and bodily functions. Please tell people that make jokes about these things that they are being idiots.
At high school boys would regularly try and put their hands up girls’ skirts and say they were looking for “mouse tails” – tampon strings. We were shamed for the way our bodies work. Girls that hit puberty soonest were teased for their developing bodies and had their bra straps pinged whenever they took their cardigans off in class. I was teased for my late developing body and lack of breasts – ironing board, fried eggs, etc etc etc – I’ve forgotten more than I can remember.
All through life my body has been treated as if it is the subject of some kind of comedy skit for the fellas. Nope. Not okay.
3 – If you see someone touching a woman or girl and she is clearly uncomfortable tell them to stop. If you see someone trying to coerce a woman or girl into affection “oh just a kiss on the cheek” and she has said no, tell them to stop and they are being an idiot (I’m not telling you not to do this because I’d be fucking ashamed to think that any of you have ever done this).
I have been groped more times than I can remember. I have been forced to sit on men’s knees and not been able to object for fear of losing my job. I’ve had to push hands away, work out where to stand in a group of people to avoid the gropey, creepy one and all the time I’ve been doing this I’ve been being polite because its awkward to cause a scene. I tell you what’s more awkward – being groped. Women’s bodies aren’t here for men’s amusement – tell the creepy gropey dudes that you know to stop being creepy gropey dudes, shame them into stopping. And make sure that the women receiving their unwanted attentions are okay and know that they can trust you to stand by them and stand up for them.
4 – If you see a woman or girl say no and a man ignore that no – step in and tell them to stop. Do not make rape jokes, do not laugh at rape jokes, tell people that make rape jokes that they are scum for doing so.
I am fortunate to have never been raped, many of my friends have been and virtually every single one of those by a boyfriend, husband or date.
I have had sex with someone because it was easier to acquiesce than to keep on saying no and forcing their hands off me. My no and my bodily autonomy was less important than their need to get their end away.
5 – Please don’t accept the myths that clothing or sobriety somehow justify a woman or girl being assaulted or raped. When you hear someone say “well what did she expect dressed like that / being drunk” tell them that she expected not to be raped or assaulted. The victim is not responsible for their assault – the person assaulting them is the only person responsible for the assault.
See previous points on rape and assault.
6 – Please stop saying things like “you did that well for a girl/woman” Just stop. And call out others you hear saying this. You can just say “you did that well” see not hard to miss out the sexist bit.
I have had, to my face, my ability to do my job questioned because I’m a woman. On many occasions. They didn’t realise they were doing it, they just looked at me saw a young looking, slight woman and assumed I wouldn’t be able to do the job they needed doing and that the man in the business would be the person doing the work. They were wrong. There are very few things in life where the ability to succeed at a task is directly related to the genitals a person has or the gender they present as. Tiling a bathroom, running a dive centre, hanging wallpaper, running a business and so on. It should be no surprise that a woman does these things, you are minimising our successes when you say “you do that well for a girl/woman”.
7 – If a woman or girl tells you that they think you’ve been a dick or they tell you that someone else has been a dick – don’t brush it off as unimportant.
Don’t diminish someone else’s experience – you may not have meant any harm, we all make mistakes, but if someone says that you’ve hurt their feelings, that hurt is real. If someone tells you that Fred in the accounts is leering at them and making them uncomfortable, don’t tell them to suck it up and that Fred is harmless. Fred is clearly not harmless, he’s leering and making her feel uncomfortable, and because of the way that women are objectified we don’t know if Fred is going to stop at just leering creepily or become the creepy gropey dude that doesn’t understand when we say no.
I could go on, sadly the list of all the ways that society contrives to make sure that I am not treated with respect and dignity, to not be treated with the same humanity as men is pretty endless. To be honest, I’ve got off lightly over the years, but still if I go out at night I still walk home with my keys between my knuckles just in case. I listen out for footsteps and will try to work out if they speed up with mine, if they are following me, and if I think they are I will cross a street to test my theory. This is true in Exmouth, Yorkshire, Bristol, London – all the places that I’ve lived.
Insults, catcalling, being told to cheer up, groping, assault, the threat of assault, being assumed not to be competent – the list goes on. This is my life. I’m asking you to take action and to stand up against other people’s nonsense, to contribute towards people being treated with respect and dignity.
This is about making a decision not to be someone that contributes to half the population being treated as less equal than the other half of the population.
If you already do all of these things – HURRAH! Thank you, you are awesome.
If you do some of these – HURRAH! Thank you, you’re awesome.
If you are thinking “huh, I never thought of that, I’ll give it a try” HURRAH! Thank you, you’re awesome.
Love to you all.
PS once you’ve got all this down for sexist bullshit please extend it to include people being treated with unkindness and inequality because of the colour of their skin, the religion they practice, the people that they love, the way they look, how much money is in their bank account, the work that they do, the make-up of their family.
Words matter, behaviour matter