I recently watched the French short film reversing men’s and women’s roles in “everyday sexism”. When I got to the end, I have to say it got me thinking about the everyday things that I experience and that I don’t even really notice anymore let alone complain about: The woman often in front of me in the line at the coffee shop who will try and flirt her way out of paying if a man is serving, but will be downright rude if it’s a woman. The bus driver who, if he’s stopping for a cigarette while parked and I walk past him on my way into the office, will always make a comment along the lines of “Hello again, beautiful.” The van which beeps as it drives past. The women shaking their heads and tutting at the woman with her stockings slightly showing through the slit of her pencil skirt as she walks to work.
We’re coded to judge people when we first meet them, it’s an evolutionary trait which helped us not get eaten. But making that first mental judgement doesn’t mean you need to act on it, much less comment to a friend. With International Women’s Day recently passed for this year, I started thinking about why certain groups deserve special mention for their achievements, while it’s assumed that for the majorities, every day is special. I recently had a heated debate at work with a colleague about whether a white, Caucasian, heterosexual male could be ‘harmed’ by something someone said to him. I pointed out that offence can be caused for any number of reasons, and being in the majority doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings, or that you are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic or anything else. I also pointed out that while he is constantly preaching ‘don’t judge someone on how they look’, isn’t that exactly what he was doing? I suddenly realised that the difficulty I was having wasn’t with the judgements themselves, it was with the labels being slapped all over them.
There comes a point when frantically putting labels all over your social interactions and acquaintances just starts hampering your vision of the world. It’s probably an incredibly naive and idealistic notion but wouldn’t it be better to just talk to someone? Maybe find out a thing or two about them before you start shaming them for being a “Slut – in that skirt”, or a “Toff” or a “Hipster”. We all know that when you say you’re a feminist, it’s a dirty word for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean you should judge them for being ignorant. Educate them, don’t preach, don’t talk down, just ask them if they think that people should be equal. If they answer yes, they’re on the same page as you.
Labels help us categorise the world around us and particularly the vast amount of information now available to us through the internet. It’s tempting and very easy to start labelling everything around us in a mental chart of our personal slice of the world. I know I do it, but the key is keeping those mental labels adaptable and ready to change. Discrimination happens for any number of reasons and in an intelligent species, there’s really no need for it.
NB: Just as an aside, while reading through the comments afterwards I couldn’t help but notice the number of people who jumped on the term everyday and were criticising the film because the really aggressive physical abuse doesn’t happen to most women on a daily basis. No, you’re right, it doesn’t. But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen every day in every city in every country, and that doesn’t make it any less horrific. It is everyday sexism in that these are acts committed in ‘civilised’ society to thousands of women each week, often at the hands of people close to them let alone from strangers. The message of the film was what was important not the title.