Subtle Sexism: Why We Need To Address Its Prevalence In Society

by Rachel Farnham

When I told my friend I’d never experienced sexism, she told me I had, and every woman had because we live in a patriarchal society.

The term "patriarchy" was spat out like it was toxic on her tongue, and I resented being told my perception was ingrained to not notice gender imbalance.

I based my experiences of sexism on my right to vote, divorce, work, speak my mind and never feel intimidated around men. I realized sexism need not be overt to be present.

It’s like a sunburn; it can be tinged pink and cause the slightest of concern, or be an angry shade of red, powerful in its pain. Irrespectively, it exists, just in varying degrees of noticeability.

My life is teeming with subtle sexism, as is true for my friends, my mother and my sisters.

The essence of something being subtle is it’s simple to dismiss or not notice. Yet, why should we ignore an incidence because it’s considered "normal" or not a big deal?

If you add up the small occurrences, they’ll accumulate and fester, which teaches young women that a man saying "nice tits" is a classic case of cheeky boys just being boys. This isn’t about man-hating; just as all women aren’t intuitive and nurturing, all men aren’t responsible for acts of sexism. But, the ones who are should be told.

Subtle sexism is multi-faceted. You don’t need to be told you didn’t get the job because you have a vagina; it can be a belittling work attitude, catcalls and public remarks.

If the reason to ignore this form of sexism is a fear of harm, then silence is understandably a method of safety. However, if it’s easier to ignore or is perceived as normal, then defend your value and make a stand because, as a human being, you shouldn’t have to put up with the alternative.

Let’s start with the workforce. One of the menial tasks painted with a subtle stroke of sexism is the male voice silencing the female voice. Taken out of the gender imbalance issue, it’s just plain rude.

Put it back in and you have a man who consciously or subconsciously believes he possesses superiority over his female colleagues.

One of my male colleagues tended to prevent me from replying to a customer’s question by interrupting me mid-sentence. Yet, I was hesitant to label it sexism because he was such a remarkably warm person, and maybe I was being hypersensitive.

Being silenced, whether frequently or intermittently, is damaging to self-esteem. You’re told your voice isn’t as loud, and isn’t as valued when the only person who’s allowed to determine that is you.

My friend was recently told to "put on a bit of lippy" at the office, which was confusing because as far as I’m aware, lipstick doesn’t increase her IQ. Also, to my knowledge, none of the male staff received the same request.

Catcalling for (most) women is an uncomfortable experience. I’m not sure if the men participating genuinely believe they’re expressing compliments in a language of lewd sentences and whistles, or if it’s just fun to see a woman tug her dress down an inch further.

It’s sexism masquerading as an acceptable form of flattery. There’s a distinct difference between a man striking up conversation and commenting on your "nice tits."

It’s public humiliation in its most accepted manifestation, and why should you have to continue walking, pretending to be impervious to a man’s vocal assessment of your ass?

I’ve witnessed successful counters from women experiencing this, who mirror back the sexual remarks, and it creates a better silence than a mute button on a remote. Again, the threat of aggression is a major player in such a scenario.

One time, I was out with my friend, and we stood in line at a bar, shouting in each other’s ears, competing with the live band to be heard, when a young guy inserted himself between us and grabbed her breast.

He told her they were "beautiful" and he wore a grin like a badge of bravery for his ability to be forthcoming. After she grabbed his junk in retaliation, he wore an expression of surprise perfectly.

Another time, I was out with my friend and we started chatting with two charming men who bought us drinks and told us tales of Scotland.

By the time I returned from the bathroom, they were gone and my friend told me they’d maturely left after she declined an invitation for us to go home with them, muttering something about how we’d wasted their money.

I’ve been called a "feminist" in response to politely declining sexual advances and similarly a "slut," for the reason just mentioned. If a man, who didn't get what he wanted, used your body against you, it’s sexism.

It’s a miserably common experience, but one that shouldn’t just be dismissed as a man’s way of expressing his wounded pride.

We shouldn’t ignore subtle sexism because we shouldn’t have to. If you can defend your value, do so. Maybe, one day, our daughters will live in a world where being a feminist isn’t an insult, and more importantly, they won’t expect it to be.