One of the other graduate students in my lab occasionally makes comments that I feel are sexist - just barely so, but sexist nonetheless. How do I deal with this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I (female) started graduate study in biochemistry in January. Another (male) student started last September. Since we're taking a class together, doing a smaller project together, and we're the newest students to the lab, we have to work with each other quite a lot. Over the past few months, he's made a bunch of just-barely-sexist-maybe? comments that maybe aren't really enough for me to feel justified in being annoyed - but I am annoyed nonetheless, and I don't know how to respond. I've tried sort-of disagreeing, but he just shrugs it off.
- when someone mentioned that the lab next door goes rock climbing together often, he said "oh, you mean the guys do, right?" (I said, "why would you think that? the girls look like rock climbers too")
- when I mentioned wishing that being a girl guide had involved more building fires, camping, etc. and less sewing and afternoon tea, he said, "gee, don't be such a tomboy"
- when I told him the new undergrad we'd be supervising was a guy like he hoped [our lab has slightly more women than men, so he'd joked that the new student should be male], he said "well I wouldn't have minded a girl either, a guy would be more headstrong and less willing to listen" (I said, "well, some girls can be unwilling to listen also...")
- when we were out with a bunch of other students for st. patrick's day and I was having a conversation with another about whether sexism is still a problem nowadays, he jumped in and said "well, women are just too emotional!" and when I asked why, he said "[other lab member] told me she cried after lab meeting when someone criticized her work" (to which I responded "maybe that's because she's [other lab member], not because she's a woman")
- he mentioned that in his relationship, he feels like he gives a lot more than he takes - and then followed it up with "but that's true of all guys, really".
That last instance was today, and I finally burst out, "sometimes you can be so sexist!" to which he replied "oh, I didn't really mean that". Then, a few minutes later, he said, "so are you a feminist?". (I said, "I'm a humanist...and I'm not a misandrist. I guess you could say I am a feminist." Wishy washy, I know...)
I'm ashamed of myself for bursting out like that (we weren't the only people in the room, and another woman asked me the same question about being a feminist later). I'm sure I'm seen as the humourless, oversensitive feminist now - and I know I shouldn't be, but I am really bothered by the thought that now half my lab is mentally dismissing me with that label. I just got here!
And I'm probably overreacting, aren't I? I look back at what I've written and it doesn't really seem like such a big deal. But sometimes I feel like I spend half my life trying to prove I'm not incompetent or harpy-like or overemotional merely by virtue of being a woman and yet this still goes on. And I feel like every time I keep my mouth shut, I'm betraying myself and any hope of improvement. If I don't call this stuff out, how will things ever change?
I just don't really know what to do from here on out. Go back to trying to keep my mouth shut and swallowing my irritation? Am I overreacting? Is said irritation totally unfounded? Maybe I've lived such a sheltered life that I just don't have a proper baseline of what's sexism and what isn't. Have the ways I've tried to respond been misguided? I'd be grateful for any advice. You can also email me if you'd prefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note, because I realized I might be misinterpreted - I like feminism. I would say that yes, I am a feminist (though I guess apparently not proud to be one, and don't imagine I'm not disappointed in myself for that). I don't think that feminists are humourless or oversensitive. I just feel that that is a common popular perception and I fear labouring under that label.