I made a list of sexist incidents over one year of my life and here’s what I found
Now, let’s be clear: I don’t keep obsessive daily logs in exercise books of how I’ve been wronged by the patriarchy. But nor do I believe that gender inequality was killed by shoulderpads and the Spice Girls in the 80s/90s. Sexism is not simply a near extinct beast, only spotted once in a blue moon when a man over 60 calls a barmaid ‘Sugartits’
I picked out a few personal examples of gender stereotyping or sexism against women AND men. None are breath-taking or law-breaking (well, maybe one is). But maybe they show that how we act and talk is still affected by gendered views, despite the huge progress we have made in respect of gender equality.
1) I am out without my kids. I’m asked questions my husband tells me he never gets asked.
“Who is looking after kids?”
“Is your husband babysitting?”
“Will he be ok?”
I normally say yes he is and he’ll be fine. Occasionally, I’ll say something like ‘yep, he’s parenting tonight and he’s been doing that since they were born so he should cope’ with a big smile lest I seem too much of a moody prig.
2) In a similar vein, a friend staying over for a few nights, after we waved goodbye to my husband, turned to me and said
“You’re so lucky, he’s a great Dad. I saw him changing Ben’s nappy last night, just getting on with it, no moaning! I mean obviously I expect you do more around here, but you know.”.
I agreed that my partner is great. And I know she was being nice. But I silently grumbled. She was remarking on him being ‘good, for a man’. I love my partner but why should he get special recognition for deigning to do work that really we all know comes more naturally to women? I really appreciate him but I’m not giving him a medal for becoming a parent who is willing to… parent. Unless I get a medal too. We’ll take big solid gold ones.
Is my friend sexist? No, but I think she is (and we all are) a product of a culture where it is, still, more remarkable for a guy to be doing all that grunt work and thinking of all the little things you have to hold in your head — ‘make sure they’ve got sport’s kit, note for the teacher, clean socks, homework, remind them not to pick their nose…’.
I see Good Mums doing this every day. Good Dad is no different. It’s only that it’s more common to see Good Mum doing it, and most other forms of unpaid work for that matter. An OECD study (Miranda Veerle, 2011, ‘Cooking Caring & Volunteering’), albeit a decade old, showed that Denmark had the greatest amount of male unpaid working time. Norway had the lowest female unpaid working time but the men in Denmark still spent less time on unpaid work than women in Norway. Studies over the last decade including this one tend to show that women do the majority of unpaid housework, life admin, childcare etc irrespective of how much they earn or carry out paid work.
3. While waiting for an appointment I listlessly flicked through the leaflets on show, including an NHS leaflet about the measles vaccine. This leaflet told me that the levels of vaccinations dropped ‘when the MMR vaccine was mistakenly associated with autism. This led to some mothers not getting their children vaccinated and so measles is now spreading rapidly.’
I am pretty sure some dads take their tots for measles jabs too. Like most of the things in this article, it’s not front page news, it’s not even news. It’s no doubt nothing more than an absent-minded comment by its author. But still, it’s a hangover from the persistent idea that mothers bear (or should bear) more responsibility when it comes to unpaid admin like the kids’ health.
4. I was with friends talking about dads taking leave under the shared leave scheme.
One of the friends listening works in an environment where the testosterone level is so high the air quivers with repressed emotion. There is so much back slapping and throaty shouty laughs about how ‘up for it she was’ that the employees have permanent vertebrae dents and vocal chord bruising. It’s old-school macho. My friend is not particularly macho but can put on a suitable front when needed. His colleague recently made the mistake of having a healthy attitude to parenting in front of The Guys. He revealed that he was considering sharing the parental leave with the wife when their baby arrived. Cue ‘under the thumb’ and ‘who wears the trousers’ and other supportive comments.
Although legally fathers have the same rights to parental leave as mothers the law means little if they feel uncomfortable using it due to peer pressure and concerns about their career.
5. In a similar vein, a friend’s husband, when leaving slightly early from work (as he did weekly and as previously agreed with his manager) was asked, again, why he was doing it and why his wife didn’t collect the kids? The wife works full time too.
I do not believe a working mum would get asked the same thing. Dads shouldn’t have to go to extra lengths compared to mums to justify taking part in childcare and being afforded the same flexibility a woman might be. Or, looking at it another way, the assumption should not be that women will or should sacrifice their work more readily and the man’s job will be given primacy.
6) Another comment-at-work example. My friend worked hard in a high powered job and had ambitions of making it to partner. She was also married and in her mid 30s. When discussing her position and the future a colleague said “I do hope you’re not thinking of having kids in the next few years if you want to make partner”.
You might, generously, say it’s just a bit of honest advice! And something she could, legally, ignore completely, of course. But the point is that the same comment would never be made to a man her age. Many women are aware of the dual pressure to convince their boss they’re still committed and to have kids before the clock runs out. It’s quiet background music that many working women have, that gets louder as they hit their early thirties. Men simply do not have this soundtrack in their work lives. (Despite the fact that legally men can take the same parental leave as women; employers know they often don’t).
7) We had some building work done recently. The builders wanted to know how to finish part of a window. My husband gave his view and said he would fetch me so I could give my view too. This was met with laughter, rolling eyes and various comments about being pussy whipped blah blah. I’m not too bothered but I felt for my husband. If I was a male, say a business partner, I cannot believe the same reaction would have been elicited.
8. My friend is deep in the world of internet dating. Recently she showed me a new guy knocking on her online door. On this particular app you have to complete certain sentences to create your profile. Under his picture was written ‘Don’t hate me if…’. I guess a lot of people complete it with something cutesy like ‘eat your dessert’, ‘hog the duvet’. This guy said ‘Don’t hate me if I’m not completely honest with you’ followed by a winking face emoji. That was the sentence he’d chosen as his tag line, his brand.
He was going for the ‘boys will be boys and I’m a loveable rogue’ vibe. It’s part of the pile of old clichés I grew up with:
Women are always desperate to ‘tie a man down’ or ‘tame him’. Once they do they become a quasi-mother figure. A wide-hipped matron asking him where he’s been while cooking his dinner or giving him an indulgent smile as he tells her another white lie.
This guy’s comment belies an assumption that follows these clichés — women just put up with a bit of good ol’ fashioned deceit, that’s how it’s always been! And, in fact, often they kinda like an incorrigible cad! They can’t help but love their feckless man-child!
My husband’s view is that you just wouldn’t see this on a woman’s profile. He said “I think guys reading that on a woman’s profile would just think ‘What? Does she mean she’s lying about… her age? The number of kids she has?’”. My male friend summed it up succinctly “I’d be worried she was nuts”.
Look, I know seeing a prat on a dating app is not a big deal. But I added it to the list as an example of a certain prevalent view of relationships that is not great for women and also patronises or enables men.
9. Last but not least, I was chatting with a few people about shaving and body hair at a work-related lunch. A male friend noted (as if it was just a truism, like ‘vitamin C is good for you’) that obviously women with hairy legs are unhygienic. He’s a bright thoughtful guy in his late 30s. I pointed out that my husband has twice the hair on his legs than most men let alone women. He must be a walking germ pit.
My friend fumbled about with ideas like ‘it’s different on women’ and also ‘it’s suggestive of lack of hygiene elsewhere’. His view is absurd but not uncommon. I changed the subject. No one wants me to get started on pubic hair at a polite lunch.
Yes, this is a moany list of tiny moments, often a single sentence, sometimes with little obvious consequence. The point is that for each example the experience is unfairly specific to one sex; sometimes men and often women. Many say these are small peepholes into a bigger picture of a societal imbalance that often negatively affects women and sometimes men too. But maybe you think they’re simply small blips in an otherwise equal society. Based on my small experience I think it’s probably the former.
I should say that any sexual assault/pervy type incidents were not included on this list. I’ll bang on about that list later.
(If you found this vaguely interesting, then go on, give me a clap. If not, message me and be nice please!)