Monday, 11 September 2017

What do you say to that?

One thing I am really struggling with is everyday sexism. While it’s relatively easy (and tedious, stressful, annoying…) to point out bias in terminology, i.e. policeman, generic ‘he’ etc., I find it much harder responding to less obvious prejudice and exclusion. For example, in a recent work situation I guided a group of people (all male) to a workshop and during the general welcome chit-chat the following occurred*:

Participant 1: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from Germany
Participant 1 (to participant 2): You've lived in Europe, haven’t you?
Participant 2: Yes
Me: Whereabouts did you live?
Participant 2: In Latvia and Poland
Me: Oh great. How did you like it? Where did you like best?
Participant 2: Hmm
Participant 1: Haha Where the prettiest girls lived of course

Now, some might argue that nothing particular happened in this interaction. That all was perfectly harmless and normal. But it is precisely this ‘normality’ which bothers me; that it’s perfectly ‘everyday’ to make such remarks. Just think: if the reverse just sounds plain weird: Where the prettiest boys lived... why should reducing women to a country ‘highlight’ be okay?

In an all-male environment we might have had a brief chuckle or even a shared bonding moment. Power would have been affirmed. But as myself, a woman in an all-male group, I felt self-conscious. Othered. Ashamed. Disrespected. No longer the group co-leader but a mere body. Moreover, I felt silenced – and not only because the comment seemed inappropriate, but also because I was in a work situation. And work situations come with their own norms and regulations, i.e. it’s much harder to say ‘f-off’!

So readers I need your help! How do you deal with these situations? What do you say to that?

*The above conversation is recorded from memory. While the words might not have been spoken in this exact order, the sexism is remembered perfectly.


  1. Hey, nice posts on here. I know exactly what you mean! I often get remarks about my culture because I come from England (where is your mini-skirt, do you feel at home because its raining) and the best way to respond is something as equally silly, but lighthearted, about their culture. Best way to win back the attention from these people just throwing in cheap or sexist remarks where they can.

  2. Hey, thanks for your comment! You're right, it's best to respond in a similar way. My problem is that I am often completely 'baff' as we say in German when faced with such remarks, i.e. I don't know what to say. And even afterwards, I can't really think of a response. But I'm just thinking, perhaps the whole point is that such remarks are meant to silence me. Or at least they're not meant to include me. As a woman I am not a subject in these interactions, I am an object. And objects don't speak. Which brings me to the really annoying bit - by being silent I support this power dynamic! What do you think I could specifically say in response to the 'pretty girls' comment, for example, to disrupt or subvert the male=subject, female=object hierarchy? All suggestions are really appreciated!