I’m getting better at not keeping my mouth shut when seeing everyday sexism. I used to fume and glower and stomp outside for a cigarette, but didn’t want to open the can o’ worms. I don’t have those options now. Oh, I can still fume and glower like a champion, but since I quit smoking, I haven’t got a cigarette filter between my brain and my mouth. Also, I became a full-on feminist, and so I say shit.
You know what? It hasn’t gone at all badly.
Consider my poor former coworker, who liked me to proof-read his stuff. One of those things was a letter expressing customer dissatisfaction with our local coffee empire. In it, he’d called the manager a “gal.”
Now, I like the word gal. It’s short and fun and goes well with guy sometimes. But I’m one of those femiTalibanazis who cannot abide its use in reference to an adult female in certain contexts. One of those contexts is when you are talking about female management. Calling a female in a position of authority a gal will sometimes trigger a Hulk Smash reaction, especially when it’s done by a clueless youngster who’s prone to casual sexism. But I used to bite my tongue in these situations.
This time, standing over this poor young man’s shoulder, I sighed. I pointed out some minor edits for grammar and punctuation (which were very minor, because he’s a quick study). Then I advised him that it might be best not to refer to the manager as a gal.
He looked surprised. “Oh, really? Why?”
“It’s disrespectful, and it can come across as sexist,” I explained.
“Oh.” Lightbulbs. “Okay.”
So we fixed it. I pointed out that her sex was irrelevant, and he’d already used the appropriate feminine pronouns later in the same sentence, so just plain old “the manager” worked fine. And that was it. No one freaked out over witch hunts and purges and so forth. He gained a new understanding about gendered language, and in the future will understand why women might get upset over certain labels. I gained respect for him, despite the fact he’s a Ron Paul fan (he’ll probably grow out of it). Wins all round. He may be quite young and still figuring things out (and a Paulbot), but he’s already light years ahead of certain of our atheists when it comes to handling these discussions like a completely mature adult.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to get him in a room with people like Richard Dawkins so he can explain how simple this can really be.