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Wait, I'll take the blue pill!
October 30, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Within the last year, I've come to consider myself a feminist. I haven't felt this impassioned by anything in a long time. But my new perspective doesn't mesh well with coworkers and friends, and I'm constantly aware of things that never used to bother me. How can I cope with the frustration?

I am a 20-something female who studied and now works in a very predominantly male field. I've always felt I could be one of the guys; I'm pretty outspoken and my personality fits in well where I work.

I grew up distancing myself from my female-ness and frankly resenting women and their associated stereotypes. I've always had female friends and roommates, but they were the "exceptional" ones. I used to be the girl that said "guy friends are just so much easier!"

Earlier this year I got turned onto Ariel Levy's Female Chauvenist Pigs and it completely changed my perspective. That book, coupled with the influence of some strong female coworkers, made me realize that I do not want to be "one of the guys" anymore.

I've since read some other books, most notably The Feminine Mystique, and also picked up some blogs (Feministing, Feministe.us, Jezebel).

It's been enlightening to find this missing piece of myself. It's like someone turned on a lightswitch. I finally have the vocabulary to describe my experiences, but my life hasn't changed. Now almost every day I'm fuming over some incidence of sexism. It's like I've been given a sixth sense for it, and I can't shut it off.

Outside of work, my guy friends still crack chauvinist jokes. Some of them are downright hostile when I mention feminism. It never used to bother me if my SO went to a strip club on occasion--hell, sometimes I would go with. He's been wonderfully willing to listen to my rants, but I don't expect him to read Feminism 101 and swear off Hooter's either. (Although more and more I think I would like it if he did.)

My question is twofold: one, how do I cope with friends, co-workers in real life and let them know that {sexist word, remark, behavior} is not okay, even if I used to be cool with it? When do I just keep my mouth shut?

The second question: how do I reduce the frustration I feel when I recognize the sexist bullshit going on around me (that everybody else thinks is A-okay! "Why are you being so sensitive?") Mantras, mindsets, online resources... I would especially love any feminist blogs with a positive slant or humor that don't leave me feeling angry and combative with the kinds of people I interact with daily.
posted by ista to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your eyes have been opened. Expect change. Do what you can about what you can. Sometimes people say "you're being too sensitive" when what they mean is "shut up" or "just let me get away with this".

Now it's up to you if you want to let that stand.
posted by softlord at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think the important thing is for you to figure out what level of feminism YOU are comfortable with, and embrace it! Make it *yours*. Feminism is not a monolithic movement where everyone believes and dislikes the same things. (Example: Ask anyone who knows me, they'll tell you I'm a hardcore feminist, but I could not care less when my partner goes to strip clubs.) So you have to figure out what's okay *for you* and not assign it to a movement. If it bothers you when your SO goes to strip clubs, tell him that -- tell him it bothers YOU, not that "that's anti-feminist" or "that's sexist". Because it's your personal boundary, not one made up by the Board of Feminist Directors.

Similarly, you have to observe your own behavior and see where you sort of fall down, and realize that even the best-intentioned of your friends - male AND female - will sometimes forget too. As an example, I am extremely guilty of calling people pussies or telling people to grow a pair. I am happy to do so equally to men and women, but fundamentally, those phrases have the meaning they do because of our sexist, misogynist culture, and continuing to use them in that manner propagates that subtle misogyny. So I try not to use them. But the fact is, I do occasionally, when I'm really angry or tired or frustrated. You have to remember that with your friends too. Yes, you've seen the light, and you've told them all about it, and I'm sure they appreciate it, but it's hard to change your behavior overnight. Gentle reminders -- "Hey guys, remember I told you it bothers me when you make sexist jokes like that?" -- are what you want to go for at this stage, not frustrated "I TOLD you not to say that!" Simply becoming a feminist does not make you the thought/speech police. It just makes you another agent of change.

Other suggestions: find other feminist friends, particularly in your field, to have a good rant with (my closest feminist friend and I call these Rage Drinks and we try to schedule them regularly to vent about the sexism we so often encounter). Blogs are nice and all, but nothing beats having other like-minded people to discuss this with.

If you're noticing sexism in your workplace, you have a variety of ways you can deal with it, from politely confronting people the first time, to angry confrontations (generally not recommended at the workplace for any issue), to going to your boss, to going to HR (if you have HR). You don't have to get angry every time something happens; you just have to Do Something. Quietly raging that others are so stupid not to have had the same epiphany you've had does no good. We are all products of the culture we were raised in, and some can adjust their ways of thinking more easily than others.

Also, never read the comments on any article, YouTube video, blog post, etc on the internet. Just never do it. Never, ever do it. (I mean, it's generally good advice. But it's also REALLY good advice for someone already having frustration-management issues around feminist topics)

And as for when to keep your mouth shut? As with any issue, it's up to you to pick your hills to die on. Treat it like your big family holiday dinner where your entire family has political views in direct opposition to yours. (This is my life) When they get all veiled-racist on Obama, do you argue over the turkey and stuffing? Or do you just give a polite smile and enjoy the pumpkin pie? It's no different here. It's up to you to decide when it's worth it and when it's not.
posted by olinerd at 10:33 AM on October 30, 2012 [32 favorites]


I think when anyone first encounters some new philosophy, way of living/thinking, she or he tends to go all out, and thus, sees signs of whatever it is everywhere. Personally, I think The Feminine Mystique has aged poorly and bears little resemblance to anyone I know, including my mother, aunts or grandmothers. I work in a male dominated field, and while I'm quite a bit older than you, I've never held back from expressing myself, my opinions and my options in a forthright way.

But constantly catching others at being sexist/crude/stupid is equally tiring and just sets you up for being discounted as the office nag/firebrand. Frankly, I think embracing feminism means respecting women's choices, including working at Hooters as well as sitting on the Supreme Court.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:34 AM on October 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Your frustration is partly due to the novelty of your experience - which would be true of many conversions of recruitments to a cause.

Perhaps one way of looking at it is that activism of any sort - regardless of its merit - can be very boring for people who aren't into x. Rather than get frustrated, consider yourself a semi-professional activist for your cause. With a proactive, rather than reactive strategy.

Rule 1 of this is that you can't recruit or convert everyone all the time.

Rule 2 is you need time off from it, and this doesn't mean you're compromising on your principles.

Rule 3 is choosing how and when you fight your cause for the maximum impact. Choose your battles and remember that wars of attrition have their place but that place is rarely one-to-one or one-to-many interactions. Discretion is the better part of valour.

Rule 4 is that the medium is the message: you can battle your cause with acerbic comments, one liners, protest, gentle nudging, letter writing, calm exchanges, frothing rants, changing your own behavior etc etc. This is your toolkit, so use it. But use good range of your tools.

Rule 5 is that you get to make your own rules. You don't have to take feminist activist lessons from a man on the internet called MuffinMan.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I highly recommend shakesville and it sounds like you could relate especially to this post. I'm not sure it's possible to reduce your frustration and once your eyes are open it's impossible to shut them. But I feel better than I did when my eyes were closed and I feel like I'm a much better person as a result of just being aware. Maybe that realization will make up for all the negatives.

And the whole "why are you being so sensitive"... try this.
posted by threesquare at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I was really steeping myself in feminist theory, I came across the idea of living "post-patriarchially". I'm having Google fail right now at finding a good link, but basicially the idea is that while you know things are really unfair and wrong, you act as if they aren't. You assume everyone will treat you as an equal until they don't (then deal with it). You assume that everyone sees you as a complete person until they do not (then deal with it). You surround yourself with people who act in this way as well.

And when you see things you don't like, you choose your battles. This does not mean letting things slide, but it means saving your energy for the things that fighting will provide you with the most value. With one off comments that I hear from people I don't know superwell, my response has usually been to ask a question, "What makes you say that?" You'd be surprised how often it makes someone question themselves and take apart their assumptions.
posted by Kurichina at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Go read Caitlin Moran's "How To Be A Woman." She talks about being feminist in a boys' room work atmosphere and how she handled it--VERY funnily.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2012


I finally have the vocabulary to describe my experiences, but my life hasn't changed. Now almost every day I'm fuming over some incidence of sexism. It's like I've been given a sixth sense for it, and I can't shut it off. ...

Welcome to what C. Wright Mills calls the Sociological Imagination. Once you've got it, you will, as far as I know, never be able to turn it off again. You may be feeling it particularly acutely right now because it's new, but I've had it for years and it still needles me daily.

As much as it sucks, this is something that even your closest, most understanding guy friends cannot truly understand on a fundamental level. They can get it intellectually, they can be feminists and feminist allies, they can have comparable struggles through being gay/black/transpersons, whatever, but there will always be a slight difference between what they experience and what you experience. I'm not knocking men here-- they can be amazingly validating, wonderful, respectful, supportive (and, by the way, if your male friends are not being these things, you should find some new ones.)

But ultimately you may find you, for the first time ever, need women friends. And that can be a weird transition if you're used to being 'one of the guys' (it's happened to me, too.) Sometimes there is absolutely no substitute for the camaraderie and story-sharing that happens when you go over to a female friend's house, in tears because of the street harassment you suffered on the way over. And it's not like it's got to be all-female safe-spaces or anything. Good, respectful male friends will realize they shouldn't dominate a conversation about an experience that few of them have had, and they may provide the shoulder to cry on while you and your friend Jessica yell about all the times men have masturbated at you in parking lots.

Your romantic relationship may change, drastically. It was a major factor in realizing that I was done with my last boyfriend when he dealt very poorly with me calling him out for a horrible, trivializing rape joke. And he was more aware than most! I think your boyfriend will either accompany you on this journey, or you may find yourselves growing apart (or maybe not! I'm not in your shoes.) My current beau is so, so different than the type of person I thought I'd be dating in so many ways-- but one of the major factors that made me fall in love with him is that, when I say he's missing a nuance of social interaction because of privilege or something like that, he listens. Now, I try to present it with kindness, because it is not exactly his fault that he's never seen it from my side; but miracle of miracles, he doesn't get defensive, and he doesn't tell me that I'm not qualified to speak about my own oppression.

And really, that's the kind of person you want to surround yourself with. You may find that it limits your friends circle, or you may wake up one day and realize that all your close friends are pro-choice, and you might worry that you're lacking diversity. But don't worry too much about it. These communities we create for ourselves are not exclusive little cliques, they're survival strategies against the constant grind of the injustices of the world (and not just against women! I'm not even personally affected by issues of racism, but I still find it hugely wearing to be around people who are unapologetically, casually, insidiously racist.) Speaking of, you may want to broaden out your reading to include people like bell hooks, Audre Lorde and other intersectional scholars. Feminism ala the 80s and 90s is very white and cis-woman centric, and while it's a great place to start, it's not all that's out there.

How do I cope with friends, co-workers in real life and let them know that {sexist word, remark, behavior} is not okay, even if I used to be cool with it? When do I just keep my mouth shut?

I am still learning this, and I think we all might be. My rule of thumb is, usually, "Am I going to be worried or angry about this in a week, or is it going to fade into the background of general I HATE SEXISM JESUS CHRIST anger that I always feel?" Pick your battles, be kind to yourself and realize that you can't fix this problem on your own-- but don't not say anything if it means you will think significantly less of yourself later on. I have to play a sort of bargaining game, sometimes, just to keep my job. "Okay, I won't raise hell about the Miss [University] Beauty Pageant scholarship fuckery... but I'll go to the Slutwalk (or the V-Day Parade, or Take Back the Night, or organize a vigil, or SOMETHING) later this week."

Take the time to regularly surround yourself with people who understand, who will let you be angry, and who see or experience many of the same things you do. Also take the time to listen to those even less privileged, and realize how good you've got it in comparison (and make sure you're not contributing to their oppression, or at least as little as possible.) Basically, when and where you can, be among your allies.

Also, never read the comments on any article, YouTube video, blog post, etc on the internet. Just never do it. Never, ever do it. (I mean, it's generally good advice. But it's also REALLY good advice for someone already having frustration-management issues around feminist topics)

WORD.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


one, how do I cope with friends, co-workers in real life and let them know that {sexist word, remark, behavior} is not okay, even if I used to be cool with it? When do I just keep my mouth shut?

This probably depends on you and on your friends. Are verbal battles worth your friends? How would they react? There have been a lot of good scripts written on in AskMe and Metafilter for specific situations. Humor usually helps. And what are you comfortable with? Feminism isn't a monolith of ideas.

how do I reduce the frustration I feel when I recognize the sexist bullshit going on around me

Drinking? But, seriously, I look on the positive side. I look at what I can do, and what I have done. I look at what my mother fought against, and what I do not have to fight now. Feministe is a pretty good resource-- I don't agree with all of their contributors/commentators, but they do a pretty good job of introducing both serious news and funny news. I try to read up on articles around salary negotiation/diversity/family leave policies in my field along with research articles; facts are always useful, but I also just like seeing how attitudes are changing. Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran, mentioned above, often have very funny takes on this that address serious issues.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2012


Don't be the pendantic, preachy one. The newly converted are always the most convicted.

So many women your age take for granted the things women my and my mother's age worked hard for. The word Feminism is so loaded these days and frankly, although I wish this weren't so, it has negative connotations. Try not to use it.

Also, don't embarrass your friends and co-workers. That's no way to win friends and influence people.

Express your opinions when appropriate. Think about stuff that you'll let go.

One thing that used to drive me insane is that I'd be the woman engineer in the room, about to do my presentation, and some dude would ask me to make the coffee. I always drew the line, but I didn't make a big deal out of it, "Can't. Joe over there is the last to present, ask him."

Then there were the jokes. "Okay guys, I'm sure your wives and mothers would love to hear this too. I'll leave and when you're done, ping me and I'll come back for the meeting." Or if I wasn't in the position to do that, I'd ignore it by playing on my phone. A lot of the guys don't like it any better than I did, but they felt like they had to go along to get along.

One thing now is that guys will apologize for cursing in front of me. Not really sexist, but not really not-sexist either. "It's okay, I say Fuck too."

As for Hooters. It doesn't bug me. They have good wings there. If you've talked to the waitresses, they're really nice for the most part and just doing a job. If it bugs you, say something to your boyfriend though, because that's kind of a respect thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Part of your question may be unintentionally insightful to you:

"It's been enlightening to find this missing piece of myself. It's like someone turned on a lightswitch. I finally have the vocabulary to describe my experiences, but my life hasn't changed. Now almost every day I'm fuming over some incidence of sexism. It's like I've been given a sixth sense for it, and I can't shut it off."

Surprise, you've always been a feminist. It's not actually a new part of your identity. Only the word and framework is new. Likewise, you're not a new person. Your friends are still your friends because they like you.

So when someone says something that raises your hackles, you say, "I wish you wouldn't say that. It makes me feel bad." Not, "That's sexist," or, "That's not female-friendly." Use your new sources of knowledge (blogs, books, networking) to be able to articulate why it makes you feel bad, and prepared to answer, and own the answer, don't apologize.

I encourage you to look into feminist literature and blogs written by men. It gives you a perspective from a source that you probably haven't hit yet, and might really get into. I personally recommend Hugo Schwyzer, who is a polarizing and controversial figure in the feminist community. He has a blog and gives lectures.
posted by juniperesque at 10:46 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, and, one last thing: get used to complicated, contradictory ideas of how society works. It's so hard to divorce them from patterns of sexim and economics and capitalism and personal freedom and body politics, I've been thinking about it for years and I'm still not sure if strip clubs are personally empowering or structurally oppressive. I think they might be both.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:49 AM on October 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


So I think there are a few things here it'd be useful to tease apart: First, recognizing that there's a bias. Second, believing that the culture needs to change. Third, figuring out how you can personally best work to change the culture.

Frustration occurs when my mental model of how the world works doesn't match up with the reality of how the world responds to what I do. "I keep beating my head against the wall, but the wall doesn't fall down".

One of the things that has happened to me when I've had a realization about society, and thought I saw a way forward to a utopian future, is that I didn't check my premises deeply enough (oddly, this occurred when I was in an Ayn Rand phase of my life, where the mantra of the other True Believers around me was "check your premises"). In my case I was basing my utopian society on my belief that humans were logical rational people, all at least as competent as I was. Hah!

So: Try building some other mental models of why we got into this sexist culture, and how we might move from here to there. For instance, we often have sexual responses to things that are ... damn, I hate to use the phrase "politically incorrect" because it's become so bastardized and loaded, but... sexual responses to things that are not in-line with our expressed rational model of a perfect society. For instance: I like to think I'm incredibly egalitarian and all, but, let's face it, power play in sex can be really really hot.

Acknowledging that, do you want a relationship where your SO can tell you that going to a strip club is arousing, and you can explore why that is and better understand human behaviors in the context of strip clubs and transactional eroticism? One in which both of you have a veneer of "acceptable" fantasy? Early on in our relationship, my sweety and I went out to hit the strip clubs on Columbus Ave, and found it one of the least erotic experiences either of us had had (well, okay, we agreed that the Lusty Lady was kinda hot, but neither of us ever said "ooh, we've gotta go back there"). If both of us hard started with "strip clubs are sexist" we'd have never seen that strip clubs can be remunerative, empowering, and kinda dull, as well as all those other things.

That's more at the personal level, then start looking at what you can do to better broaden the influence of your new philosophy. As others here are pointing out, being directly confrontational will usually just get you dismissed, and the best way to spread an idea varies very much by the culture into which you're trying to spread it, but I look to things like Jessamyn Smith's "What she really said: Fighting sexist jokes the geeky way!" as a model for how to take a tired joke catchphrase, educate and entertain, and change attitudes and opinions.

And be ready to re-strategize: If you find your ideas getting dismissed by your coworkers (or your SO), don't try more of the same. Maybe the right thing for the circumstance is making "the boys" uncomfortable by ogling someone in their presence. Finding ways to turn jokes around. Communication is a two-party thing, and as frustrating as it can be, often the trick to being heard is in saying it in a way that can be heard.

Also: Beware metaphor. It's easy to cast everything into the myth by which you're currently interpreting the world. Holding a door can be a favor, or an oppressive gesture, depending on the cultural and specific circumstances surrounding your passage through that portal. Your interpretations of the events are not the events themselves, and I've occasionally found myself in the trap of interpreting everything in the most negative light possible, when many other interpretations were also valid.
posted by straw at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take personal pleasure in the things you like.
Take personal offense to the things that offend you.

Three Reasons:
1. Claiming offense or injury "on behalf" of a group has some uncomfortable condescending/stereotyping problems of it's own.
2. While it may seem empowering to have a big group of imaginary people at your back "look! on behalf of the LGBT community..." it actually weakens the argument. All people need is one anecdote about how one person in that group disagrees with you and you are suddenly having a silly and circular argument.
3. When confronting/challenging friends and coworkers and boyfriends your feelings are what matter to them the most anyway. Your opinions and needs are going to resonate the most keenly with them.

You don't want a boyfriend who goes to strip-clubs or hooters? (personally I think hooter is worse, weird weird weird place. I mean strip clubs don't have kids menus) that is great! don't have a boyfriend that goes to those places! it doesn't matter whether it is feminist or not.

You don't want people making racist or sexist jokes around you? that's great! be offended because you are offended!

The difference is subtle but powerful

That is an upsetting statement.
That upsets me.
posted by French Fry at 11:07 AM on October 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I do not know how enlightened it is to go around "fuming" every day. It strikes me as unhealthy, in fact. That does not mean that you cannot have principles, but it is not beneficial for the zeal of the newly converted to make yourself miserable at every perceived slight. That is how you reduce your frustration. (your second question)

To use myself as an example, my principles and beliefs require me to strive to follow a way of life that is fundamentally at odds with the mainstream world. I suppose I could go around every day fuming, ranting to friends, and reading books and blogs that inflamed my indignation, but to what end? That would only poison my own mind and harm my relationship with others. I suppose I could remove everyone from my social circle who does not "make the grade" as determined in my own mind, but I am not that great.

Thus, the answer to your first question is to know when to let things slide. You can be "correct" and alone or endure the occasional slight and have your friends. Your work friends are still the same people they were. Becoming the hyper-vigilant humor police is a good way to stop being invited out with the gang very quickly.

To this point, it is also helpful to maintain humility. The books and blogs that have "opened your eyes" are not Qur'ans that dropped out of the sky as infallible sources of knowledge and moral good. You are not always going to be right.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:11 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we could call guys out on their sexist comments and expect a fair, respectful hearing, we wouldn't need feminism in the first place, would we? You can expect that being vocal about it will draw some male allies in unexpected places, but others will either excoriate you furiously or quietly write you off. What is really tricky is that while misogynist attitudes and comments are always harmful, the ones who are most blatant are not necessarily the most dangerous. There are Hugo Schwyzer*-style sociopaths and sexual predators who have co-opted feminist rhetoric for their own purposes. There are men who are charming to women's faces and only unleash their misogyny when around other men.

So pick your battles and realize there isn't enough time in the day to correct every clueless bro. Sometimes you just might have to leave the room when someone starts a sentence with "Well, I don't think anyone deserves to be raped, but..." It is awesome that you are kicking ass in a male-dominated field; have you looked into mentoring or tutoring younger women, organizing or attending women's networking events, volunteering at a crisis center, etc.? That might be more productive than constantly trying to pierce your coworkers' privilege bubbles, which I can all but guarantee they do not want popped.

You might also consider how you would have viewed someone who took offense to you saying things like "I'm just one of the guys" or "Guys are so much easier to be friends with." Did you ever encounter a woman who called you on this? Did anything come of it? If not, how could she have said something in a way you think you might have heard without becoming super-defensive?

*I wrote this before I saw him mentioned above. He is a polarizing figure, but I think my example still stands. There are people who can talk the talk, or who feel guilty that they have victimized women in the past and either have failed to make amends or continue to do so, and they are not necessarily feminist allies just because they can eloquently deconstruct sexist behavior. There are plenty of traditionally- and internet-published women and men who write great stuff for a fraction of the recognition that Schwyzer gets.
posted by ziggly at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to make a measurable impact. Realizing this has helped me choose my battles more carefully while also giving me a plan for creating more equality in a society that privileges one gender over the other. In other words, I feel empowered because I have a set of goals I will actively work on to make things better for women. It makes me less fighty about words because I know I am doing other things to fight back.

So: donate to PlannedParenthood, volunteer with your favorite feminist cause, build firm relationships with other women, and encourage women to know their rights. If you're in a position to, promote and mentor qualified women. Encourage workplace policies that are family and women friendly. Speak up when you see a younger woman getting bullied or talked over; give her room to air her opinions. Teach women to negotiate (and don't forget to do that for yourself!). Take a woman seriously no matter what she wears or what weird sexist opinions she holds. Take yourself and your life seriously. Raise your kids to respect men and women equally.

Don't spend too much time getting into arguments over cultural phenomena that you can't change without changing a woman's role in society. Yes, there's a lot of bullshit that you can get angry about--everything from how a woman's contributions get downplayed to the way a guy will casually rip into a woman for being overweight. These things are pretty infuriating and can occupy endless amounts of your time. They're also really hard to fight on an incident-by-incident level. Most people don't have the patience required to sit down and unpack all the baggage associated with their sexist behavior with you. You can quietly correct them with humor, once. Pay attention to how they react and why. If you start a fight with them, they'll probably stop taking you seriously. If you want people to listen to you, you have to show you've listened to them and that you respect them as people. Which leads into my next point, which is this: men and sexist women are not the enemy.

They participate in and benefit from the sexism of our society, but they are not doing this out of malice and they are frequently as lost and confused about how to be good people as we are. If you treat them like the enemy, they will treat you like an enemy and discount everything you say. If you want to win this fight you're going to have to win them over to your side.

My cheesy ass mantras:

Honey attracts flies better than vinegar.
Is this the hill I want to die on?
Ask for help.
Give help.
Be honest.
Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.
Be the change you want to see.
Speak softly and carry a big fucking stick (stack of evidence, financial resources, social capital)

Best of luck, and thank you for asking this question.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:18 AM on October 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is something I've been negotiating for the past few years. I was talking to a male friend about it recently. I don't think he identifies as terribly feminist, but he told me that he thinks I come across as "very confident" and not like a jerk, despite the fact that I am a very outspoken feminist and don't try to hide my disdain for certain humor/points of view/etc. I think like most strong views, you have to remember that you also came by them by actively swimming against the cultural current, and so they are jarring to other people who just accept the status quo without context. Even other women hold views that are sexist. That sucks, but it shows how cultural programming works.

As for dealing with people in your everyday life, I definitely don't just ignore sexist bullshit when I hear it, but I know when to fight my battles and how. Sometimes humor is the best tool, it works well for me in my work environment where I am one of very few women. The men I am around probably just don't *think* about how sexism is embedded in the things they say or do, and I think I've actually been able to make some of them more thoughtful by using a combination of humor and earnest conversation. It helps that I am a hard worker and they know they can count on me. If people respect you, regardless of gender, they will be more likely to listen to you. Thankfully, many men in my age bracket (mid twenties, late twenties) grew up with enough feminism as a "given" in their lives (girls on sports teams, girls in classrooms with them, girls in leadership positions, girls in student gov, women teachers/professors, etc, even if it wasn't *enough* women in those positions, at least they existed) that they will examine their unexamined assumptions if you make yourself someone who is well-liked and trusted. I have had some conversations that have been wonderful and really led to moments of understanding and solidarity with feminist struggles with men whom years ago in my undergrad feminist zeal I would have just written off and ignored. I'm really thankful for that because it comes back to my underlying belief that people are good at heart and ignorance is not incurable.

I think you have to pick your battles. The most virulent assholes are hardly ever worth talking to. They are misanthropes and misogynists, and just generally not worth your time. These people get their jollies off of being offensive, and I don't engage with that. In my opinion, if you behave in a completely insane and antisocial way, I don't dignify that with a response. Thankfully I have very rarely had people like this in my life who were un-ignorable because they had a position of power over me, etc.

As for people who make casual remarks--disarm with humor, and maybe take the time to explain your feelings in a heartfelt way later. This works well for me. If my life is any indication, you will get better at these conversations and better at not being angry about it all the damn time. And yes, sometimes a little righteous anger is the way to go. Used sparingly, it can be powerful.

Sending you solidarity and good thoughts.
posted by araisingirl at 11:27 AM on October 30, 2012


This is something I experienced when I took my first women's studies course. And when I taught intro to women's studies, my own students described feeling this way too. Once you see things, you can't unsee them.

So, because I've gone through this and worked with others who have gone through this, I have some suggestions for your question #2: "How do I reduce the frustration I feel when I recognize the sexist bullshit going on around me (that everybody else thinks is A-okay! "Why are you being so sensitive?") Mantras, mindsets, online resources..."

Personal mantra #1: "Many activists have taken small steps that have had a big impact."

Sometimes it is easy to fall prey to discouraging thought traps such as "There is so much sexism/racism/[other -ism] in the world and nothing ever changes. Fighting inequality is overwhelming and ultimately pointless." But as Allan G. Johnson says in The Gender Knot, to downplay the enormous steps we've made toward equality is to diminish the efforts of all the people who have fought for equality in the past and are still doing it now--for example, the activists who fought for and won the right to vote, to sit on the bus, to be paid the same wage, to have gay marriage, etc. It's important that while we keep working for equality, we remember to acknowledge those who have done this work before us.

Personal mantra #2: "Change is slow but it does happen."

Sometimes it helps me to think about how different things are for women now than they were when I was born. Two major examples for me are 1) when abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 as unconstitutional, and 2) the enactment of Bill C-127 in 1983 that criminalized sexual assault by a spouse. It is amazing that during my lifetime (and I am not that old!) women's rights activists fought to change sexist, oppressive laws and they won!

Is the fight over? No. But it helps to look back and see what we have already accomplished.

Best of luck to you and welcome to the (very diverse!) fold of feminism!*

*I always describe myself as a feminist because I think we need to demystify the term for people. It helps that I don't really match many of the stereotypes that tend to go along with the word and that I have had a lot of practice explaining my own definition of feminism. YMMV.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:44 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Get some new friends. I don't mean drop your old friends, but get some friends who are on the same page as you are with regards to feminism. Join at NOW, Planned Parenthood, any (progressive, liberal) organization in your city geared to women's issues. Internet feminism and feminist books are great, but it's not the same as having people in real life that you can hash out your questions and concerns with regards to feminist issues, which it sounds like you can't do with the people in your life now.

With regards to work, is there a women's professional association in your field? Join it and try to find feminists there. Try to form closer relationships with your "strong female coworkers", especially if they are like mid-30s or 40s. Women that age usually have enough experience to know how to deal with sexism on the job.

but I don't expect him to read Feminism 101

Why not? Why don't explain to him how Female Chauvinist Pigs helped you change your perspective and ask him to read so you guys can talk about it.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2012


You can often times draw peoples attention to comments that they maybe shouldn't have made with a polite "Really?" As in is that what you really think? You don't have to go into a rant and be angry, just quietly draw peoples attention to the fact that what they are saying isn't right. Grown ups in a work environment know how to act, and if what they are saying is truly offensive and they really don't care or know what is right then arguing with them won't do anything anyway. Just quietly go to HR and raise the matter there.

A lot of what you are feeling is because you're newly aware of what is going on, and maybe that's a good thing, in time you'll find you form a few callouses and be able to pick your fights more carefully. Also as others have suggested start to cultivate some female friends.

Having said that an occasional "Fuck you asshole." or "Shut up your ignorance is showing" have their place to.

Also I say embrace the word Feminist, revel in it. A lot of woman fought long and hard for you to have the choices you do now under that banner, do it for them and to not allow the people that would shut you down to define what the word means.
posted by wwax at 12:08 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was like you for a long time. I finally just had to stop reading feminist blogs cold turkey - it felt like I was getting angry about the same things over and over. They provided me with articulate arguments to defend my positions, but it's not worth getting angry unless you are going to do something with that anger (volunteering, donating, etc.).
posted by chaiminda at 12:20 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's not worth getting angry unless you are going to do something with that anger (volunteering, donating, etc.).

Actually, I think the best revenge is action--be your best feminist self, everyday, every way. Embody the principles that inspire you--which does mean that you have to give up certain pre-conceived notions about women, men, what equality means and all that stuff. Walk the walk means more to me, and I think most people, than talking the talk (and blogging the blog.)
posted by Ideefixe at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know exactly how this will translate to your experience, but for me one of the most effective and least annoying ways to support feminism is to simply not bring up sexist topics or use sexist language.

People tend to mirror the language use of those around them and by not bringing up sexists topics or using sexist language I exert a subtle, non-instrusive, and seemingly more powerful for it, push to not use sexist language or about sexist topics.

I haven't had a "Come to Jesus" talk with any of my friends, but they got the message that "this is just not something to do" even if they don't realize it.
posted by bswinburn at 12:53 PM on October 30, 2012


Like chaiminda, I had to take a break from reading feminist writing for a while because it was just too much. I cancelled my Ms subscription years ago because I started to dread reading it. That anger and frustration will stay with you--and they should--but you don't have to spend all your time fanning the flames. That's no way to live. I would suggest consciously seeking out things (music, nature, art, non-feminist writing, whatever) that make you feel good, in order to balance out the anger. And limit the amount of feminist writing that you read so that you can stay strong and positive and not feel overwhelmed and helpless.

And bswinburn is right that you can have an impact just by changing your own language and setting the tone. I've also found that for someone like me--easygoing, good sense of humor, gets along with most people--simply not smiling or laughing at offensive jokes is surprisingly powerful. When I'm with people, my face is smiling or at least looking pleasant most of the time; when the ends of my mouth go down and I look unhappy all of a sudden, people really notice. It doesn't change minds, but it at least gets people thinking about what they might have said and it discourages them from saying things like that again. I've been really reluctant to call people out on offensive things they say because it rarely seems to go well; in the conservative area where I live, I usually just get ganged up on. I pick my battles and it often seems like I can do more good if I am sparing with my criticism; if people dismiss what I say because I'm "that feminist bitch," it doesn't do anybody any good. Do what feels right to you.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:26 PM on October 30, 2012


As far as how to talk to friends and coworkers, I try to make critiques as practical and non-judgmental as possible. I avoid the idea of "offense" entirely, because it's so vague -- it's basically "some people don't like that," but in a way people find hard to hear. So (as a man talking to another man) instead of saying "calling women 'girls' is offensive to women," I might go with something more like "y'know, if you call women 'girls', some very cool women are going to decide not to work with you, because they'll feel like you don't take them seriously." Possible followup conversation: -- "Hey, I call women 'girls' the same way I call men 'guys' -- it doesn't mean anything." -- "I know, man, but lots of women have been called 'girls' by some real assholes. You just don't want to go there."

What I'm going for here is, I don't want to invite an argument about whether they actually think whatever sexist thing is implied by what they said, and I don't want to ask them to buy into (or rebel against) some objective standard of offensiveness. I'm just asking them in really practical terms to see the transaction from the other side. And maybe what's cool about feminism is that equality truly is better for everyone, so it's often easy to appeal to self interest as well.

As far as reducing frustration, I wonder if it would help to give yourself permission to take breaks from the blogs that do leave you feeling angry and combative? Like, if they're energizing and motivating and educating you, great! If they're leaving you angry and tense about things far away you can't change, it's OK to put them on hold for a while. Those kinds of things can start to feel like a duty, but they're really just a resource you can take or leave. (Maybe I'm misreading and this isn't an issue -- just throwing it out there.)
posted by jhc at 1:32 PM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I remember going through this in a big way when I first read Gloria Steinem's book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions*. I was really, really angry that I had to deal with myriad ways in which sexism in our society circumscribed my life. I think this is a normal reaction to realizing that this pervasive influence has shaped you and you had no say in it. But now you know. That's a good thing, even if it is also a troubling thing.

My own strategy is to find allies where I can, and I try not to rise to the bait with people whom I know are just trolling me. (Sometimes easier said than done.) Humor is a big help. Check out Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, and Wanda Sykes for some examples.

*BTW it's an okay book though very much 70s feminism... for example, her take on transwomen is really misguided.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:29 PM on October 30, 2012


Thanks SO MUCH for the comments so far. I have been stuck at this juncture for a while and frankly feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing. It's so empowering to hear how YOU cope.

Big takeaways so far are putting these little day-to-day interventions on a human scale and recognizing that people act this way because they, like me, were brought up in this world not knowing any better; giving myself permission NOT to read a blog post or news report that will trigger my frustration; and being open with the people I care about, especially my SO, and allowing him to share in the journey if he is interested in doing so.

Also thanks for the pointers towards more third-wave (I think?) reads. Definitely interested in diving into how these positions have evolved to encompass race/class/transperson issues.

I've marked a handful but please feel free to keep the anecdotes/advice/recommendations coming... I appreciate it!
posted by ista at 3:33 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you get called feminazi,call them American taliban.
posted by brujita at 4:33 PM on October 30, 2012


I'm a bit of an outlier here, in that I never had that feminist awakening. I come from political families, and both my grandmothers were fairly active in the feminist movement in their own ways. It never occurred to me that women might not identify as feminists, or that feminist means any given thing.

I find that this upbringing helps me give a lot of slack to folks who aren't on the same page as I am.

Both of my grandmothers were pretty radical for their upbringing. Yet they got it wrong on a lot of issues dear to my heart. One grandmother is uncomfortably eugenic in her pro-choice beliefs (the poor shouldn't bring children into the world since they can't provide for them), while the other hasn't been able to give up her Catholic beliefs enough to consider abortion an option. Both are fairly conservative when it comes standards of beauty, dating and marriage.

Growing up watching them unable to change with feminism, I recognize how difficult change is. And more importantly, I also recognize that I will probably fail some groups of people even while trying to keep up with my liberal beliefs. I certainly won't mean to. But I've studied enough about ideology and demographics to know that it's hubris to think otherwise. All I can do is try my best, and be as understanding as possible when the next generation improves on my generations short-comings.

I try to treat folks as I hope to be treated in those scenarios: Strong boundaries regarding what how they find my behavior both appropriate and not appropriate. And a lot of compassion and understanding that I am trying the best I can to treat people with the respect they deserve, albeit through an outdated and limited world view.
posted by politikitty at 8:42 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


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