Bernice Sandler spoke at last year’s Women in Secularism conference. The title of her talk was “The Chilly Climate”, and it covered (in brief) her decades of researching the ways in which women’s contributions are treated as less valuable than men’s.
In some ways, the talk was sobering. We’re not talking about blatant sexism–for the most part. The behaviors involved are subtle, easy to overlook unless you’re paying specific attention, and they are often invisible as just the way things are done. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have real effects.
Depressing, right? Or perhaps “chilling”.
However, Sandler hasn’t just studied the problem.
She’s also studied solutions. She gives a number of them in her talk, but the one that struck me most was simply naming the problem.
Telling those around her that they were treating men and women unequally didn’t result in tearful confessions or promises to do better. As I noted above, these behaviors aren’t generally deliberate. The people Sandler spoke to denied, in fact, that they did what she had observed them doing. But it didn’t matter. They still changed their behavior. They made a conscious effort not to do the problematic behavior.
So the next time someone tells you that they didn’t do what you watched them do, don’t get too discouraged. By simply telling them what you observed, you may have changed the world in a small way.
For more information on Sandler’s reasearch, and more practical tips for combatting this sort of unconscious sexism, check out her website.