Picture this. You’re at work and your colleague Bill jokes about how Mary is sure to sign that new client because her legs look awesome in that new skirt suit. Not out of the ordinary. The adult version, one could say, of a t-shirt that reads “I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework.” What do you do? Do you laugh at Bill’s comment? Do you roll your eyes and walk away? Or do you confront him?
A lot of women claim that they would confront people over sexist comments, but when put in the situation, many of them don’t follow through. As Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote on Forbes Woman:
While we’d all like to believe that we would confront anyone who said something sexist (or otherwise bigoted) to us personally, the truth is that it rarely happens. For instance, in one study, 68% of women said that they would refuse to answer sexually harassing questions in a job interview, and 28% said they would openly confront the interviewer. But when the interview actually happened, all of the women answered the offensive questions, and not one confronted the interviewer.
Women face a lot of sexist comments in the workplace. They range from sexually degrading to assumptions about what women like or don’t like based on their gender. In the Forbes Woman article, Halvorson wrote:
A lot of the sexism that women encounter in the workplace [are] comments that are not necessarily meant to cause insult or discomfort, uttered by otherwise decent enough male coworkers who you generally like. But they are harmful nonetheless, because they perpetuate stereotypic views of women’s preferences and abilities.
That is the bad news. The good news, however, is that confronting men about their sexist comments actually makes them treat you better. According to a study from Loyola University Chicago that was mentioned in the Forbes Woman article, men who are confronted for sexism are actually nicer to and report liking the woman who confronted them more than those who are not confronted. The men who were confronted also reduced their use of sexist language.
For some people, it takes a lot of guts to speak up and call someone out. This study demonstrates that it may not be as bad as you think. However, an article by Anna North on Jezebel notes that while the results of this study are encouraging, there are plenty of situations where people do not react well to being called out:
Many have learned through harsh experience that starting a conversation about sexism opens them up to social stigma, hurt feelings, and unpredictable consequences, and it’s going to take more than one study to convince them otherwise.
What approach do you take in your own life? Do you call people out when they make remarks that are sexist, racist or otherwise prejudiced or do you remain silent? Are you more likely to speak up in some situations than in others?
Photo credit: casey west on flickr