Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
August 28th, 2012 by Mere Smith

Everyday Sexism

Everyday sexism.

Ask most women and they’ll tell you it’s a fact of life (though it shouldn’t be); it’s seen as a non-event (though it shouldn’t be); and now it’s a website (which it absolutely should be), called The Everyday Sexism Project.

Tell you what.  Do the entire female gender a solid and go check out the site right now.  Call it a mini-field trip.  Spare two minutes.  That ought to be enough to either open your eyes or start grinding your jaws.

Go on.  I’ll still be here when you come back.

Hey.  Glad to see you again.

How you feelin’?

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Like this?

 

Good human.

See, I know the vast majority of my female readers hear the words “everyday sexism” and think, “Well, yeah.  I put up with that shit all the time.  That’s why they call it ‘everyday’.”

In fact, it’s so “everyday” that before writing this blog, I tried to come up with examples from my own life, and all the “everyday” ones just sort of blended together into one long LSD-trailer of images and sounds and feelings of shame and disgust.

My shame and disgust.

Which is exactly what those sexists were aiming for.  And of which I’m not proud.

What I could recall clearly were the instances of Fucking Egregious Sexism.

You know Fucking Egregious Sexism.

It’s those moments you’re still talking about 5, 15, 30 years later – because they either scare the piss out of you, enrage you to the point of wanting to do violence, or so upset your worldview that you have to renegotiate it completely.

That’s Fucking Egregious Sexism.

Everyday sexism, on the other hand, is like the sky.

It’s always there, hovering.  Never goes away.  It’s only on rare days – crackling lightning days, hot summer days that suddenly unleash hail the size of golfballs – that you look up for a second and go, “Oh, hey, right: sky.”

Because if I had to list every time a guy…

grabbed me, groped me, cornered me, pinched me, rubbed up against me, called me a “bitch,” a “whore,” a “cunt” (and I love it when they append “stuck-up” before the noun; as if that’s the insult), called me “opinionated” (’cause… women shouldn’t have one?), “confrontational,” “unladylike,” told me to shut the fuck up, told me I could never be good enough, that I was stupid, fat, ugly, that I “ought to make more effort in the looks department,” that I should wear clothes that “emphasize (my) assets,” that I “should have kids by now,” deferred to my male companion, spoke mostly to my male colleague, ignored me entirely or deigned to talk down to me, assumed I was incapable, assumed I couldn’t learn, treated me like I was deaf, or mute, or an idiot, or an object, catcalled or whistled at me, acted as if I were nothing but a disembodied pussy and tits, talked over me, shouted me down, looked past me, looked through me, tossed off a sneery “whatever,” took credit for my ideas, thought “no” meant “oh jeepers, shucks, I meant ‘go ahead’,” tried to infantilize me, tried to shame me

…seriously, y’all.  We would be here FOREVER.

And that’s just the everyday sexism.

In my next post I’ll tell you a story about my latest experience in Fucking Egregious Sexism.  Partly because I thought it was funny at the time, and partly because of what I discovered about myself once I was free of the situation:

I didn’t think it was funny at all.

At last — at last — I realized that laughter is merely my defense shield — against both everyday sexism and Fucking Egregious Sexism.  Granted, as far as defense shields go, it isn’t bad; nothing wilts a penis faster than female laughter.  (This is often where the “stuck-up bitch/whore/cunt” yawnfest begins.)  Unfortunately, that’s not how I’ve always used this shield.

Having been through an emotionally abusive relationship, I developed the shield in order to ward off danger, just so fights wouldn’t escalate and get uglier and more injurious… as they invariably did if I stuck up for myself.

And two weeks ago, during my last encounter with Fucking Egregious Sexism, this is what finally dawned on me: while laughter can act as a defense shield, it also tells the offender – whether partner or stranger – that what he’s saying or doing can’t be that big a deal, if the woman he’s saying or doing those things to acts like it’s funny.

Even if we’re only laughing out of self-preservation.

And this is where my own culpability comes in.

< I’m-prepared-for-the-flames section >


Attention, Women:

When it comes to sexism — either everyday or Egregious — your reactions are your responsibility.

Now before you freak the hell out about me playing blame-the-victim, allow me to state my belief that the only way to be truly victimized is to give up your right to react.  Women who have ceded all their agency, all their power, all their free will — the shut-down, the closed-off, the damaged-into-silence — those are the women I think of as “victims”.

I should know, because I used to be one.

However.

Being a “victim” is not a life sentence.

You should know — know — with a deep, utter certainty — that devictimizing yourself is ALWAYS an option.

But no one can do it for you.

You have to reclaim your power, your will — because you want it, you need it, and because it is your inalienable right to have it.

Once you’ve done that, you are no longer a victim.

You are now a survivor.

A survivor can speak up.  Stand up.  Speak up and stand up for somebody else.  If a person pulls misogynistic shit, call the motherfucker out on it. Chances are everyone already knows the person’s a raging asshole — they wouldn’t call it “everyday” sexism if it was hidden away in a dark little cupboard somewhere — so rather than taking power away from you, it’s more likely the raging asshole will end up losing power to you.

That’s karma, baby.

So be brave.

And as a survivor, I repeat: remember that your reactions are your responsibility.

When it comes to everyday (and Fucking Egregious) sexism, your reactions are your only responsibility.  Rarely can anyone make sexist fuckwads into non-sexist fuckwads, much as they may want to and hard as they may try.  The only things you can control are your reactions to said fuckwads.

Because should misogynists try to make you feel like crap?

Of course not; but they try to do it anyway.

Do you deserve their dismissiveness, abuse and disdain?

Of course not; but you’re going to get it anyway.

So should you be forced to monitor or alter your behavior around them?

OF COURSE NOT;

BUT DO IT ANYWAY.

And I’m not saying, “Be timid like a little mousie so the big bad bully doesn’t see you.”

I’m saying, “Get in that bully’s face and verbally punch him in the fucking mouth.  Preferably in front of a cheering crowd.”

Metaphorically lying there, thinking of England, while some creeper shoves his sweaty fat fingers into your crotch on the F train (yes, happened) won’t do shit for you, his next victim, or any other woman these sexist fuckwads try to cow into fear and submission.

So stand up.  Yell.  Point fingers.  Be “confrontational,” “unladylike.”

Try to scare the piss out of them for once.

Of course these rules go all wobbly when a threat of physical violence or sexual assault is involved – self-preservation is automatically triaged higher than moral outrage – as proven by my own “adaptation” – but as I eventually learned: even walking away is a reaction.

A first step.  A reclamation of free will.  An autodevictimization.

After which you should vow to yourself:  I will never again cede my power to anyone else.

And that’s the first step to fighting everyday sexism.

< / I’m-prepared-for-the-flames section >

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Next Post:

Fucking Egregious Sexism

Comments

19 Responses to “Everyday Sexism”
  1. THREE CHEERS FOR UNLADYLIKE BEHAVIOR! Loved this post, Mere. So powerful!

  2. Thanks, lady! (Oh, wait, no — I mean UNLADY!)

  3. Good rant. It is sobering to realise that everything you listed in that paragraph above has happened to me – and probably every other woman I know. We get so used to it that it’s almost background noise, something that happens that you shrug off and go on to the next time, but once you stop and think about it, it adds up.

    I remember a few years ago after a staff meeting, one of my (female) co-workers and I were standing talking with two of our managers – also female. Somehow the topic came around to sexual assault and one of us said something about the statistic of ‘one in every four women has been sexually assaulted’. (I think that number is actually higher.) One of the managers said, “Oh, do you think it’s really that high? I don’t know anyone that’s been sexually assaulted.” My co-worker and I looked at each other and then both said, “You’re looking at two right now.” Afterwards the manager realised she did know someone else, but the fact is that even women don’t acknowledge how widespread the problem is. Sexism and sexual assault are two facets of the same problem – disrespecting women and their rights.

    I think I will rewatch Buffy S7 – “it’s all about the power”. :)

    • Your story about the post-staff-meeting rings so true. I’ve had this exact conversation with some of my female peers, and they, too, have been surprised to find out that not only do they know more women than they think who’ve been sexually assaulted, they’re equally shocked to find out that the unwanted gropings, rubbings, etc., ARE sexual assaults. I don’t know what the hell else you’d call them (though the UK’s George Galloway has had the giant rusty balls to call some things “bad sexual etiquette.” The fuckwad. If some random guy came up and grabbed his scrote, I wonder how he’d feel about it then). Bottom line? “Sexual assault” doesn’t ONLY mean “rape.”

      Additionally, I agree with you that sexual assault is woefully underreported — sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of shame, sometimes out of denial — and I think a lot of the underreporting also has to do with confusion, and what the assailants see as the “gray area”: the maximum rights-violations they can get away with without being arrested. Women have been conned into believing there’s a “gray area,” too, when in truth… there’s no fucking gray area. If you don’t want him touching you, and he’s touching you — that’s ASSAULT.

      Those creepers should go try it on a police officer, and see how not-gray the “gray area” really is.

      (Uh, and just to be clear? That was satire, not an invitation to assault law enforcement. Please don’t arrest me, NSA.)

  4. alchang8 says

    As a female teacher, it is one of my many goals to model this for my female students and to not tolerate it from my male students.

    • First: welcome to the blog! Glad you’re here! Second: thank [insert deity or non-deity here] for teachers like you! I still remember my 7th (and 9th) grade English teacher, Ms. Wasson, putting her foot down when it came to the usual boys-will-be-boys crapola. Not only did she teach me it was okay to be a non-girly girl, she encouraged my writing and told me she believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Now I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade, and I never got a chance to thank her. So if you’ll allow me to address you as a proxy, alchang8, THANK YOU for showing me (and your other female students) that we can be braver and stronger than we ever imagined. It’s because of teachers like you that students like me can pursue our dreams.

  5. I can’t sleep when too fucking angry, I will go do my duty tomorrow. You probably have heard or used this one but I have a sheltered life and I liked it very much, read it somewhere yesterday. “If I wanted to listen to an asshole, I’d fart.” I wish I was quick enough to zing.

    • I’m not very good at the in-the-moment zing, either. I think we should both stockpile a few classics and then (if you’ll pardon the expression) whip ’em out next time. Let me know if you use one, and I’ll let you know the same!

  6. This made me so furious to read that I had to read it in two goes. Can’t imagine what your Fucking Egregious post will do to me. But yay, you – great post, and not just ‘cos I agree with it. I’ll just take *two* BP pills tomorrow…

    Yeah, it’s daily. I have so many fucking examples that we’d be here all day and all night if I listed them, and when I read (and added one on) The Everyday Sexism Project, steam came out my ears again, because just grab one at random to read and it’s probably happened to you and I and any woman we know.

    Over the years, I’ve had phases when I’ve said something at each and every instance, and times when I Just. Can’t. Do. It. Every. Time. The last time I was employed by someone else (never again, dude. Never again…) I reached a point where I’d say something, and co-workers, including women, would fucking roll their eyes at me. What a bore! A woman reacting to sexism. How very… inconvenient and annoying. (They would always tell me later that they were feminists, too, but the *particular* example I’d reacted to wasn’t sexism. It never was. Apparently.)

    Speaking up has always made me feel better, and I no longer give a flaming fuck what anybody thinks. I’ve reacted to A.’s family, neighbors, clients (I’m gentler there ; ] ) and the man in the street. Care-o Not-o, as my people say.

    Thanks for writing this.

  7. Silly woman, always complaining.

  8. […] the term “bitch,” and in Mere’s, two that dealt sexism. The first was about Everyday Sexism and connected to the Everyday Sexism Project while the second had to do with the equally […]

  9. Modwild says

    This bugs the shit out of me. Why is it okay to call people DOUCHE? The whole purpose of the disgusting things was to make men okay with women’s private bits, but then years later they have the nerve to make it a derogatory term? Why am I the only one who is bothered by this?

    Am I crazy?

    • So here’s my thinking about the word “douche,” Moddie.

      Douching came about because misogynists made women feel “unclean” (see: every culture that’s ever sequestered menstruating women ever), as though their vaginas needed washing up inside (they don’t), as though any vagina that smelled of anything but lavender was disgusting (it’s not), and so yet one more manufacturer could profit off the societally-imposed insecurities of women (fuck those dudes — and you know they’re dudes).

      And FYI — douching, itself, was used as one way to “clean out” the vagina so that men could have sex with menstruating women without getting any of that nasty blood on their precious little penii. Fucking wimps.

      For me, reclaiming the word “douche” is akin to reclaiming the word “cunt”. Misogynists don’t like to be reminded that women, too, can redefine a word with connotations that express the exact opposite meaning than the misogynists intended. For example, most of the time when I use the word “douche,” “douchebag,” “douchenozzle,” “doucherocket” (personally, I love the word for its versatility — kinda like “fuck”) — when I call someone any variation of “douche,” I’m almost always referring to a man. Very rarely will I refer to a woman as a douche. Likewise, when I use the word “cunt” in a derogatory fashion, I’m also usually referring to a man. (However, I use “cunt” in a positive fashion when I’m referring to strong women, such as, “Amanda Fucking Palmer — I’d follow that cunt anywhere.”) Now granted, I have a rather twisted sense of humor, but I find this switchflip funny as all hell — due mostly to its subversive transgression, but also because I love the idea that we, as women, are hoisting the misogynists on their own petards.

      So think about it next time you want to call a guy a “douchebag”. Men called you one first.

  10. […] – Mere Smith on Everyday Sexism. (highly recommended post) […]

  11. Yes, absolutely. I took a self-defense class and the first thing they taught us was to yell BIG from deep down. The first yell we learned was NO. Shortly after I took the class, this lone construction worker waited til I was just past him on the sidewalk to mutter “Nice tits you’ve got there.” I took 2 more steps, turned, and began a verbal assault about WHAT THE HELL GAVE HIM THE RIGHT at top volume. He got so scared he threw his shovel in his truck and RAN away. It was quite satisfying.

    On the other hand, a friend got her breasts groped while she was sleeping on an airplane. She didn’t say anything. I thought, man, I would have made SUCH a scene – it’s a perfect place – he’s captive, there is law enforcement on board, and stuff that happens on an airplane is a federal crime.

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