First things first: I have no idea what it’s like to be a woman in a patriarchal society. So the last thing I want to do is "mansplain" to women how sexism makes them feel. But it's imperative that men open up dialogues about this topic in order to normalise it among their friends. And frankly, it's on men to help change things – it's time for us to stop being passive participants. So, this International Women’s Day, I’m going to give it a go.
Marking the 100-year-anniversary of the Suffragettes winning women the right to vote in the UK, AND the first IWD since recent "people are finally realising just how bad shit is" campaigns (hello #MeToo), today feels like an important chance to take stock of how far we've come – but it's also important to realise how far off we are from extinguishing casual sexism. Men: we've got start doing more to stop shit.
Men harassing women isn't "casual" in nature, but it is in the sense of how prevalent it is in women's day to day lives.
What do I mean by "casual sexism"? I mean things that are so commonplace they can slip by unnoticed, as they’re so heavily ingrained in films, advertising, music and culture, as well as prevalent in women's day to day lives. I'm consistently shocked when my female friends discuss their experiences: many say they expect to be harassed by at least one man on a night out, which is incredibly unfair. It's also unfair that men who hear these stories are shocked by it, as it's not something they'd ever expect to experience (or something they have to be confronted with daily).
Next time you’re getting told to stop “being a pussy” and down that dirty pint during pre-drinks, think about what those words really mean.
“Casual” sexism isn’t just limited to the objectification of women. It’s also in our everyday language. It’s as simple as an older man calling a young waitress, “sweetheart” or as subtle as sayings such as “you __ like a girl” or “man up”. Stuff like this is so common that the real meaning behind it gets lost, but next time you’re getting told to stop “being a pussy” and down that dirty pint during pre-drinks, think about what those words really mean. Young men need to start thinking critically about the way society allows them to behave, for the sake of the women around them and their own development as people. It’s a vicious and toxic cycle which we're all affected by.
Thankfully, there are a lot of young men who know this behaviour isn’t acceptable and are fighting against it. But the fact is, there are also a lot who don't. These are the people we have to start calling out. Yes, I know – easier said than done, right? It can be super awkward, and no one wants a confrontation. A friend recently decided to go to a new barbers, and though his hair ended up looking *fire*, the guy spent the whole 40 minutes reeling off a literal checklist of misogynistic dickhead soundbites. My friend sat in awkward silence. Because, how are you meant to start an argument with someone who literally has a razor to your throat?
Remember that by letting someone's bad behaviour slip, you're condoning it – what incentive is there to change, when there are zero social sanctions placed on them?
But we still have to try. The key is to try to get the people around you to think critically about what they say and do. If you overhear someone you know calling a girl a sl*t for acting in a way which a guy is praised for, be brave enough to say that it isn't ok, and explain why. Calm logic is your friend here – don't let them draw you into a fight. If you see someone you’re hanging out with harassing women on a night out, take them aside, tell them to stop being weird. Explain why their persistence isn’t charming, it’s creepy. Remember that by letting someone's bad behaviour slip, you're condoning it – what incentive is there to change, when there are zero social sanctions placed on them?
If it does get into a heated debate, there are published findings on the best ways to get people to change their minds too. The New Yorker recently did a deep dive into the psychology of changing people's beliefs that explains how to hack your way around confirmation biases. A recent study from Cornell University also summed up key factors in changing people's minds: too much back and forth, for instance, can be a bad sign.
Above all, remember to listen to women. Read articles, ask to hear stories and prepare to be quiet and absorb it all.
Like I said though, it's not always easy. But one of the best things young men can do is understand how the system we live in is unfair, and then apply this understanding to our daily lives. And above all, listen to women. Read articles, ask to hear stories and prepare to be quiet and absorb it all – women can tell you exactly how they want to be helped, and how men should and shouldn't behave.
Opening a dialogue between young men and women is also incredibly important, which is why I took to the streets to talk to some past and present students about their perspective on the issue...
Georgia Mae - Graphic Design, Brighton University
“I think it’s just a case of needing to be more educated in what they’re saying. There’s a lot of comments that people will make that they may not realise are disrespectful. Putting this kind of subject into the education would be a good step”
Jim Reed - Art History, Brighton University
“I think we should do more (everyone should to be honest) especially if younger lads hear older lads “this is what you should do, this is what you shouldn’t do” that would definitely help.”
Patrick, Claudia and Lucy - Sussex University
Patrick: “ Young men definitely need to call out their peers, but more people need to aware of why what they’re saying is wrong, as it just becomes part of the culture as you’re growing up”.
Claudia: “There’s no one straight answer about how to fight sexism, but I think time is the biggest thing, changing media and changing education systems so that over a long period of time it will change the way sexist guys think.”
Susy Campbell - Politics and International Relations Graduate
“Sexism in our society is at its most dangerous when it’s subtly institutionalised. However, I feel that we choose to ignore it and this is the problem. Raising awareness through education is so crucial to our society, ignoring it will only legitimise it further”.
How do you help to prevent everyday sexism in your day to day life? Tweet @shstreet_ and let us know!