Everyday Sexism: Minimising Yourself Is Holding You Back
Why you shouldn’t say “yes” or “maybe” to things you don’t want to do
Everyday sexism reinforces the status quo that it is in fact a man’s world. This isn’t about hating men, it’s about acknowledging that society allows men to behave in one way and get ahead whilst if women were to act in the same way would be a detriment to their character, (a.k.a gender based hypocrisy a.k.a sexism). Women settle or more often than not settle for less and by doing so minimise the opportunity for their best life to take place.
Did you know that women are more likely to accept what they’re given rather than fight for what they want? It’s true. The majority of women in work, at home and in the bedroom are less likely to place their feet firmly on the ground and ask for exactly what they want and how they want to receive it. This is down to one big bad societal construct, sexism.
From birth, women are told to be careful, to be quiet and to be modest. Why is this damaging? Because it plays into the purity myth. This is the idea that women must remain pure, unsullied and virginal to hold worth, value and credibility. Patriarchal society accredits these attributes of extremist modesty as a way to control the mobility toward gender equality. It teaches us that as women you can’t be a boss, you can only be a bitch and you can’t be a stud, only a slut.
Our language is dictated to us and the way language is spoken in regards to us is another form of repression and oppression. A woman who fights back is venomous, conniving. A woman who is free is reckless. There’s no winning either because even women who behave modestly are pinned as prudes. This is sexism at its worst because it tells us that no matter which way we move, we’re going to hit a wall, or a glass ceiling. That we are limited by our gender and in some cases persecuted for it.
So, what can we do about it? How can we fight sexism and sexists? Well, for one we can be smart, and change the way we speak about ourselves to others. And another thing, we can ask for what we want without compromise. Here’s how to do it.
I’m going to write out 3 sentences and in bold I’m going to outline apologetic and minimising language to show you how the way we speak affects the listener, or in this case, reader.
I’m pretty good at this vs. I’m good at this (read the confidence)
I just feel that the way you said that made me a little uncomfortable vs. The way you said that made me uncomfortable (read the power)
Maybe I could vs. I can (read the positivity)
When we use words to soften the blow of intention, we soften the intention itself. When we apologise for our point of view we dilute the point entirely. The worst part is most of us do this unconsciously. From when we are very small, we are told which language to use that is more suiting to our gender. For the most part, this is to keep us small. Small in the sense that we don’t take up too much space in the physical and political world. This can be structural, as most languages have a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’, (we’ll get into that at a later date…), but a lot of it is entirely dictated by societal teaching and normalisation.
Women are told to smile, to be agreeable, to say thank you and to be accepting and gracious to all sorts of nonsense. Let me tell you a story about when I was last at the gym.
I’d gone with my boyfriend, we were in the same room on different equipment. I was trudging my way up the mechanised steps, or as I like to call it; the booty destroyer. I turned to get off, a little wobbly and was met with the face of an older man, who said quietly with a smile; “You still have a great arse”. This was the second time that this man had approached me with a comment like this and let me just say that I did NOT take this as a compliment. But, you know what I did, both times? I said thank you, smiles and internalised my discomfort.
When I disclosed to Pete what had happened he asked me why I hadn’t told him that his language was inappropriate and that it had made me uncomfortable. I said simply; “It’s just easier.” I minimised my absolute repulsion because in that split second I thought of 3 different ways it could go. They were:
- I say thank you, walk away and say no more about it
- I tell him that this is inappropriate, sparking a fuss and potentially an argument
- I tell him that this is inappropriate and he attacks me verbally or worse, physically
The likelihood of option ‘3’ was pretty minimal in this instance, however, that didn’t stop me thinking of how I could best be safe, not embarrass myself and walk away unscathed. I didn’t want to “cause a fuss.” What I realised was that I didn’t think that anybody would be on my side. To this day I haven’t confronted that man, but let me tell you when the gym reopens we’ll be having words. I’m doing this because by accepting the ‘compliment’ when I should have said ‘no, that is inappropriate’, I reinforced and apologised for his behaviour. When it’s safe to do so, I owe it to myself to correct sexism when I encounter it and stand up for myself.
This is by far the tamest form of objectification I have ever had the displeasure of being subjected to. For a lot of women, when it comes to work and sex we generally think about these three pathways. How can I diffuse, how can I not feel shame and how can I stay safe.
We need to teach that giving into sex is not consent because giving in is not seduction. Being harassed is not a compliment because it makes people feel unsafe and self-conscious. Asking for what you want doesn’t make you a bitch, it makes you focussed. Arguing your case doesn’t mean you’re poisonous, it means you have an opinion.
Don’t let the language of people force you into submission when you have the right to say No. No is the most powerful word a woman can use. No, I can’t take on any more work because my resources are stretched. No, I don’t want another drink I need to go home. No, I will not forget about it because you want to keep it quiet.
It’s uncomfortable. But, we need to get used to saying no to the things we don’t want to do because nobody will say no for us. Holding yourself accountable to your wants and desires will only see you flourish. It will never see you falter.