Confused? Here are ten easy steps.
(Trigger warning: some people might find some of the content in this post difficult.)
Stop consuming toxic information. Don’t buy magazines that compare women’s levels of cellulite, then advertise pills and creams to make you skinnier. Skip songs where so-called artists label women whores and bitches and glorify assault. Unfollow and unsubscribe from ‘news’ sources that paint entire groups with the same brush and highlight the religion of crime perpetrators in a generalising tone. There’s a rich white man somewhere making money and gaining influence from this crap – don’t let him. Don’t give this toxic content another minute of your time or penny of your money.
I was listening to an enjoyable podcast recently, where two women discussed the phrase “it’s not your fault, but it’s your responsibility” – albeit in the context of access to entrepreneurship opportunities. Being disrespected isn’t our fault, but it is our responsibility to stand up to sexist behaviours.
I was having lunch with a colleague of mine outside the campus cafeteria last week. An older, married (!) man she knew was also having lunch with us. Out of the blue, he told us that when he was getting his food in the cafeteria he was checking out “a fine piece of ass” (or words to that effect) and when the objectified body parts turned round it happened to be my colleague. He might have been trying to be nice, but it was not. We were both gobsmacked at the time and talked about feeling uneasy about it after he left the table.
My friend was upset and was reconsidering wearing those trousers again. Firstly, no, there is no need to adapt one’s outfit to others’ primitive behaviour. Secondly (and this is the most important): don’t be that guy! When in doubt, don’t comment on people’s appearance. If you still want to give a compliment, choose something less creepy, such as “you look well!”.
I am annoyed with myself (and the other man sitting at the table with us three) for not stepping in and pointing out the behaviour as unacceptable. If no one questions it, it becomes acceptable and will happen again. It can feel awkward, but if safe to do so, please intervene in this kind of situation. Some of my favourite short responses are “excuse me?!”, “wow, that’s inappropriate” and “that’s not okay”, but feel free to share yours in the comments.
If I see him again on campus, I will definitely tell him that what he said to my friend was inappropriate and made us both feel uneasy, in the hope that he’ll maybe think twice next time.
It’s unfortunate that a lot of activism involves appearance-shaming. I can’t recall specific examples, but for instance the Women’s Marches in January featured many placards mocking Trump’s appearance. Not only does the importance of what he looks like pale into insignificance when compared to how his politics are messing up the lives of thousands of people, but this also displays elements of the very behaviour he has shown throughout the years.
Similarly, too many people who advocate the beauty of larger women do it at the cost of skinnier women (and vice-versa). There is definitely a need to fight fat-shaming and unrealistic standards, and to promote the full spectrum of beauty. But calling only some people “real women” (as opposed to imaginary women?) and making jokes and memes about other people’s bodies to me doesn’t fit in with the “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes” idea that the body-positive messages should embrace. As my mum says, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.
Learn more about unsung heroes
Take International Women’s Day (or any other day if you’re reading this later on) as an opportunity to pick up a book written by a woman, or to learn about great women left out of history books and those who fought for our human rights. The first link is to Women of Discovery, one of the first books that I will read to my unborn children. The second link is to an illustrated introduction to feminism, which provides bite-size insights into the history of women’s rights and feminism. It’s the kind of book that should be prescribed to misogynists who declare that “all feminists” do this or say that. It’s also nice to dip into for inspiration to take things further.
Information today is indeed available in books, Wikipedia articles and the occasional Google doodle. The next step is to make the celebration of women’s accomplishments mainstream, so that my aforementioned future children can name more historical figures than only Joan of Arc and a couple of queens.
Do your share
I often say that I am quite lucky that my man-friend takes part in the everyday tasks that keep the flat clean(ish) and the fridge stocked – probably even doing a larger share than I do. But the fact that I use the word ‘lucky’ is a bit alarming. This scenario is indeed the exception rather than the norm. Not only do women around the world get paid and valued less than men for the work they do, they also often put in a second shift when they get home, spending many more hours than men on housekeeping, grocery shopping and looking after children.
So, firstly acknowledge the efforts of the person who is pulling the most weight in your household, whether it is a parent, a spouse or a flatmate. Secondly, contribute your fair share! And don’t expect a pat on the head for doing the occasional chore or letting your partner take a break. As I overheard recently about a husband: “he’s not babysitting – it’s his own child!”. Help out because it is the right thing to do, not because you want a little gold star. That being said, gratitude does help in relationships too of course.
Don’t be an antagonistic arsehole
This should go without saying, but there are still people who engage in this behaviour. I don’t know if they are trying to be funny or clever, but I do know that what they say is harmful. For instance, don’t be the person who asks “so when’s men’s day then?”. Every fricking day of the year, that’s when. Men are less likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted, and more likely to be respected and well remunerated for their work every day of the year, even on International Women’s Day.
That, and other antagonistic, I-haven’t-thought-this-through jokes aren’t big and aren’t clever. Worse still, this sounds obvious but apparently it’s not: ‘rape jokes’ – not funny; telling people not to ‘get butthurt’ – not clever; joking about paedophilia – still not funny. First of all, they are wrong in any situation, but secondly, you don’t know who is around you and what they have experienced when you are trying to be a hilarious misogynist.
I’ve personally been witness to ‘rape jokes’, felt triggered and not known how to react. Normalising rape culture and leading someone back down the path of suffering isn’t worth a few moments of the making the ‘lads’ laugh.
Lean into the discomfort
On women’s day especially, but on any other day too, women and members of other groups that are discriminated against will speak up about their experiences. And that might be difficult to listen to. But resist the urge to blurt in with “but I would never do that” or another similar defensive reaction. It is not about you.
The person you are listening to is going through difficulties that you may never have experienced and that you indeed may not have directly caused. But we all have privileges that some do not possess, and benefit from the position we occupy, willingly or not, consciously or not. The least we can do is give people the chance to voice their opinions without being interrupted by our ego. There is a lot more detailed information out there on how to go beyond this and be a better ally.
Have some tea (or don’t)
Watch this video about tea and consent, show it to others and share it widely!
Show your cracks
No, not like that! By that I mean be brave enough to show sides of you that aren’t completely in line with what is expected of your gender. Women don’t need to be pretty dainty princesses and men don’t have to be emotionless macho men. Choose vulnerability and do what you want to do without worrying about being perfect. Last Sunday I finally made it to the pool, after three months of procrastinating. I felt I looked like a lesser spotted pregnant potato turtle – unlike the images of ‘perfect’ models running or swimming we can see in the media – but it felt so good to swim and run at last.
Take care of yourself
There’s a reason why we’re told we should adjust our own oxygen masks first – you can’t save the world if you’re not taking care of yourself first. Get some sleep, eat your greens, spend some time outdoors, and then smash the patriarchy. 🙂
This is a non-exhaustive list, please do share your own ideas below.