Picture the scene. I’m chatting with some men at a networking event, who I each know to varying degrees. First of all, the one I’ve only just met starts putting his arm around me and won’t let go and starts a sentence where he tries to pay me a “compliment” but is somewhat too tipsy to finish the sentence. Another man present, who I’ve met before, sniggers and suggests that perhaps this man is “appreciating my assets”. With a snigger like that I presume said assets are something physical rather than anything to do with my mental capacity.
The conversation then moves on and we’re joking about my hunt to find a husband (FYI I’m not actually serious when I say I’m looking for a husband, I’m a bit of a commitment phobe – I’m really looking for a cook). The sniggerer then comments that of course I’d drop my career and all my aspirations for a husband in the cavalry and then as an aside to the other men present in a big stage whisper – “bet she’d drop her knickers too”.
Right, where do I even start with the sexist bullshit going down in that scenario??
No one would ever think that when a man says he is looking for a wife that he will be quitting his career to be a stay-at-home husband.
These gentlemen would also not dream of throwing their arms around any of the senior level men at that event, who they barely knew, and making sexual comments about them.
I felt so small – in their eyes I was clearly just something easy on the eyes with not much substance so not to be taken seriously. I didn’t fit into the ball-breaking, manly-looking, scary career woman stereotype, ergo I was just a bit of candy. Obviously just doing this journalism malarkey as a hobby while I waited for a man to make my life whole and present me with his dirty laundry to clean up for the rest of my life.
(And I am not putting down women who do want to be housewives – I’m furious that these two incorrect stereotypes of women exist and we must all belong in one camp or the other.)
I know that their view of me is utter bollocks. But I still for a while, cheeks burning, felt like this was a correct summary of me. It made me very unsure of my place in the world, briefly, and I’m pretty thick skinned. And all I did was brush it off because I didn’t want to be seen as making a fuss or lacking a sense of humour.
Sexism comes in many forms. Be mindful of the subtle ones phrased as “jokes” – if enough people laugh at them, it’s amazing how easily the butt of that joke starts to feel that maybe it’s the truth.