Originally published on Emily’s Gold Standard
There are many kinds of sexism in the world and the variations rear their sexist heads in many different ways. One in particular, something I call Friendly Old White Men Sexism (FOWMS, if you’re into acronyms), can be tempting to overlook because there appears to be an absence of malice. This type of sexism is by no means limited to Old White Men, but in my personal experience it seems to be defined by a common old white guy mentality: they’d never claim that women are less than men, just that we are the more fragile of the species. You know the men I’m talking about. The ones who call you sweetheart instead of asking your name, who give you a wink and a nod when they make comments about buying cows and getting milk for free.
This kind of annoying sexism flounders on the line between tolerable and intolerable depending on my mood and the severity of the offense. When you are female and you work in the service industry, you develop an outrage monitor that allows you to do your job as a friendly professional in the face of mild to severe insult. You have to. As a result, FOWMS can seem harmless when compared to politicians who believe that something like “legitimate rape” exists.
But an egregious example of FOWMS makes it clear how dangerous it is–-and how it’s only a few steps away from the bigger, nastier kinds of sexism.
I am in the incredibly fortunate (and stressful) process of buying a house. Like, a real (small) house, like a real, (big) grown-up. Being the semi-responsible, possible soon-to-be homeowner that I am, I wanted to give my current property manager a little more than the 30 days’ notice required about my departure.
Our email exchange went as follows:
There are three possible reactions I imagine one might have right now.
1) WHAT. THE. FUCK. (This was mine).
2) That seemed like a fairly amiable exchange. Why is this a thing?
3) Wait. Did I miss a step? What “lucky guy?”
To which I say to you, Respondent #3, EXACTLY. What lucky guy?
I mentioned exactly ZERO dudes in my email to my property manager but he assumed that this big, important step in my future must be happening because of a man who’s…what? “Lucky” enough to have sexy times with me?
So this is obviously fucked up, but there is a difference between fucked up and damaging. Over the days following the email, as my rage ebbed and flowed, I was left wondering if and how I should respond. My instinct was to simply respond with “what guy?” and hope to shame him into realizing the arrogance and inappropriateness of his assumption. At the same time, however, the problem isn’t a result of any one individual. It’s the fact that there are so many men (and probably women, but I think it’s safe to argue the attitude is more prevalent in men) are conditioned to have this perspective. That, as women, we are told to think of them as “old and harmless” and act as though their sexist attitudes don’t breed a younger generation of sexist attitudes. That we are discouraged from calling out the sexism of an older generation, as though age grants someone immunity from growth and social responsibility. That being polite to our elders means letting them think that a woman can’t take a step forward in her life unless a man gives her a reason to do so.
The rationale for discouraging us from calling out this kind of behavior is precisely the kind of conditioning that engenders this kind of sexism: women should be polite, shouldn’t make waves, should be forgiving, respectful, and, above all, silent.
We can’t be afraid of calling out sexism when we see it. We may not change anyone’s opinions on the matter. My property manager may continue to make assumptions about women that are hurtful and damaging, if well-intentioned. But when we call out a sexist assumption or attitude, we’re not doing so to shame the individual who made it. We are doing it to stand up for ourselves and for other women who may be on the edge of believing the false narrative that they are incomplete when independent. We are doing it to chip away at this harmful patriarchal paradigm so it becomes increasingly flimsy and unappealing for the next generation. We are doing it until people say, as a friend said to me after reading the email from my property manager, “wait, you’re moving? Who’s the lucky house?!”
Many thanks to Emily for letting me post my rant on her blog (which is way more popular than mine, for good reason). You should check it out, too, at http://emilysgoldstandard.com/