I’m not very good at knowing when to stand up for myself. I’m not even good at determining my rights in certain situations. I’ll be one of the first people to call someone out for telling a sexist joke, but when it comes to my own self, I don’t want to seem too entitled. Too self-important. Too demanding.
As a kid, I wasn’t aware of the stereotype that assertive men are leaders, and assertive women are bitches. My mother was my advocate when some of my elementary school teachers didn’t accommodate the conditions of my IEP for anxiety, OCD, and Tourette’s. I wasn’t afraid to do it myself, necessarily, but it felt awkward to correct someone I’d been taught to respect as an authority figure. And plenty of authority figures abuse their power to make you feel stupid for defending yourself at all, even if your reasons are legitimate and your words are polite.
I’ve gotten through many difficult circumstances by reminding myself that things could always be worse: my boyfriend abused me, but never to a point that I had to visit the ER; that stranger at the coffee shop, that college professor – both men – asking me why I’m not smiling could have said far worse things (though I did ask that professor if he would ever make that comment to a male student, and got no response).
Things could be a lot worse. Obviously one man’s dumb comment isn’t as bad as a physical assault. But aren’t the worst offenses piled on a foundation of smaller ones? Can all acts of sexism, big or small, be traced back to an unhealthy sense of entitlement?
Is it possible that the man who isn’t called out for being rude by telling women how to express their emotions will feel entitled to push things further by making ruder comments in the future – comments that could very well be considered harassment? Or that the man who emotionally manipulates his girlfriend into having sex she doesn’t want will escalate to physically damaging violence?
Whatever the case, in both scenarios, you have men asking or outright demanding a woman to do something for their benefit, not hers (do you honestly know anyone who smiles ALL THE TIME? I sure don’t). If something is offensive enough to make a classroom or workplace awkward or uncomfortable, it should be called out, even if it’s “not that bad” by most people’s standards.
Does my life have to be threatened before I can stand up for my right to a healthy relationship, a safe learning environment, a harassment-free walk down the street?
Back to the “really bad” stuff: there’s not a lot of difference in attitude between the man who gropes a cocktail waitress and the man who tells her he likes staring at her ass without ever laying a hand on her. The man whose rude comments are allowed to slide is only working his way up to the kind of man who assaults women. The problem isn’t just what some men say, but the attitude of entitlement they feel while saying it.
Take, for example, this brewery owner’s response to a customer he recently banned from entering his establishment. This patron never physically assaulted any of the bar employees, but thankfully the owner wasn’t going to wait for that to happen before issuing the ban:
In January he made several sexist remarks about the female staff that were working. He told them to their faces that that he liked looking at their tits while they washed dishes, and their asses while they were pouring drinks. He was told to leave and not come back. He came back last month, and was told we wouldn’t serve him. He came back yet again today, and when told he wouldn’t be served demanded to talk to a manger.
I sat with him for a few minutes as he explained that what he said would have been okay 20 years ago, and that it was just some off colour remarks. He told me he had apologized, and that he guessed my servers were too sensitive. He then told me that if what he said was a problem, then I should tell them not to wear low cut shirts, and that I should face the dish washing sink away from customers. But since he apologized, he should be allowed to drink in my establishment because he lives in the neighborhood and will bring in business.
I told him flatly that wasn’t happening, and that what he said to those ladies was incredibly offensive. The simple fact that he couldn’t understand that just because they were were working didn’t mean they deserve his disrespectful language. That these ladies were part of my family, and were human beings that deserved respect. They aren’t objects, and they certainly shouldn’t have to wear different clothes because he can’t be bothered with showing them any decency or respect. “But we’re men and they’re females. Is cleavage just not a thing anymore?”
The world needs more men like this.
Of course, the average man who tells me “I bet you look real pretty when you smile,” or something of that nature, probably isn’t, and never will be, a harasser or a rapist. He may think he’s being polite by giving me a compliment. But I don’t know who he really is. I don’t know what his true intentions are. It doesn’t make the comment any less sexist. Now, as a grown-up, I have reached a point where I can comfortably say, “Please don’t tell me what to do with my face.” And hopefully won’t get harassed for it.
The smile on the left is genuine. The one on the right is not. Smile 1 cannot be done on demand. If you ask me to smile, Smile 2 is what you’ll get.
Also, “resting bitch face” is a real thing, because Buzzfeed said so.