A couple of months ago I wrote an article where I explored my first hands-on experience with a man passing a sexist comment and my conversation the day after with some women that were affected by it. I mainly explored what might be going on for the person passing on the sexist comment, and now, to close the loop, I’d like to explore what might be going on for the person on the receiving end of the sexist comment. My intention with creating the full picture of the situation is to support everyone in connecting in a challenging situation like this. It is usually an unpleasant experience for everyone when communication breakdown in these circumstances happens.
Here are a few things that I discovered were going on for two of my female friends:
- They were uncomfortable, unsafe and afraid. Lots of times sexist comments create lots of dismissal and pressure to conform.
- They were in pain. Objectifying, sexist comments are a pretty painful experience. Mainly because women’s safety is commonly not addressed and attended to.
- They think they are treated unfairly because they are in a position where they have to speak up and defend themselves. For many women, an act of respect would be if the man would know better than say the sexist comment. He has already done the damage and now the woman has to do additional work to explain to him what happened.
If none of the above get recognized and addressed, women’s state can furthermore feed into anger toward a man who passed the sexist comment. Unfortunately, lots of times attempts to address the sexist comment seem to end in a screaming match. Imagine a situation where a guy with an arrogant, insecure, ignorant and sarcastic behavior utters an indecent, sexist comment toward a woman who is unsafe, in pain, has had enough of being treated unfairly. This blog further explores how one can resolve this situation in a loving way. Here’s a message to all the men who are being addressed when making a sexist comment and are thrown off by it: strive to see what the other person is saying.
Understand that even though you might think that you are fully justified to say what you said, there is likely to be pain, unsafety and unfairness for the other person. If they are angry, don’t take it personally. Recognize the message under the angry comments, even if they are thrown directly at you as a person. And if they are attacking you, understand that they are really attacking the language you are using, and not you. And understand that this language needs to be addressed unapologetically and assertively so that there could be fairness and acceptance between people. Even though assertiveness can sometimes turn into aggression, understand that your unintentional (or intentional) sexist comment stimulated this person’s unintentional (or intentional) aggressive attitude. The intention is to hear the person out and understand what’s is going on for her.
To further this dialogue, these problems in my opinion are not between men and women. They are between people and we need to start thinking of us being in this all together, rather than creating camps and making it a “men vs. women” issue. This issue involves both men and women to communicate between each other and both parties can equally contribute to the disconnection depending on their approach. We need to recognize similarities and differences between the sexes and then embrace them both, respect them both, and do our best to work on starting a dialogue where everyone’s needs are heard, without assigning blame to who started it first. When people connect in this way, they end up wanting to contribute to each other’s well being. I am surrounded by many people (men and women) with whom I have a relationship like this and we consistently have differences in beliefs, times when we say things out of line and we restore it by creating a communicative environment amongst ourselves.
The actual problem is not the people involved. It’s the language that we all use that is a product of our culture. No one started it “first”. We are again, all in this together and we both have to work together to address this issue. I experience situations similar to these firsthand myself as I come from a culture that is very different from the western North American ways and I also happen to think more directly and speak less candidly. As a result, many times I find myself unintentionally saying things that trigger people and come across rude when it was last of my intentions. And usually people attack me by saying that I should “know better”, and that I am “rude”, “insensitive” or “wrong”, where I would have preferred if they addressed the actual expression that I said and how it affected them or made them feel, and what needs of theirs were met.
Then again, I remind myself that it is also not about me either, I need to navigate around this issue and figure out what’s going on for those people, and what it was that is triggering them, what needs of theirs were unmet and how they are feeling. In conclusion to both blogs that I’ve posted on this topic, when you find yourself witnessing a sexist comment exchange, remember: The person uttering a sexist comment is not an arrogant sexist asshole, he is simply uttering a sexist comment that needs to be assertively and actively addressed and that there are different things going on for that person as a human being; nor is the person who is responding to a sexist comment an aggressive feminist bitch, she is simply reacting to the sexist comment and doing her best to address it and educate on proper ways of creating understanding, safety and acceptance and that there are different things going on for her as a human being too. The main culprit is the comment itself and the types of language it introduces for everyone and we all have the opportunity to own up to our own part and how we contribute to the outcome.
Any anger that we introduce ourselves into the discussion fogs the mind. Women’s intentions need to stay on making sure they are clear in their communication on what was said and how it affected them, and also be interested in understanding what’s going on for men who say it, so that men can connect to it and would want to change their ways out of care and respect, instead of becoming uncaring and defensive, or start not saying these kinds of comments out of fear of punishment. Furthermore, men need to also listen more to what women are wanting to say to them if they happen to say a sexist comment, which would support them in getting the women’s point across, avoid creating angry exchanges and more connection for everyone. It’s a big mountain to climb, but not the first nor the last one we’ll ever have to climb together.
Here is also a very compelling perspective on sexual objectification by Karen Straughan that offers an overall perspective on this topic.
Thanks for reading and please, do share your thoughts and comments.