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(Kind of) sexist friends and relatives. We all have one or two or five or more.

When you think of them, you don’t think they’re expressly anti-equality or anti-women. If they were, they’d be easier to cut contact with because you haven’t got time for that.

No. These are the people who you come away from an interaction with thinking, ‘was that sexist or am I just being sensitive?’, or ‘I feel uncomfortable from that interaction because I think it was sexist’. It’s when none of the male relatives do the dishes at Christmas because they know and expect that the women will do it. It’s when you are constantly being asked about marriage and children, as if women’s worth lies only in their marital status and childbearing capabilities. Sometimes, sexism is hidden behind a veneer of chivalry, protectiveness or praise, i.e. your brother asking someone to stop cursing because you (a lady) are present. This specific brand of sexism is formally titled benevolent sexism. And yet even when benign intent seems to be driving the individual’s behaviour and sexist overtones aren’t entirely clear, your tell-tale feelings of discomfit, anger or agitation will remain.

Today, the Secret Sisterhood is giving some tips and reminders that can hopefully help you navigate these encounters and leave you without the negative feelings.

Limit contact

Limiting contact is not always possible or something you even want. You may have a thriving relationship with a friend or family member outside of the occasional sexist interaction you experience with them. In these instances, limiting contact may not be the best solution. However, if there is someone you have a superficial attachment to and sexism plays a steady part in your interactions, limiting or cutting contact entirely is worth considering.

Lead by example (not theory)

The way you act and behave day-to-day imparts your beliefs without you having to state them in clear terms. The important thing to do during a sexist interaction, more than interrogating the offending individual, is to ensure you’re not participating in or enabling it. The sexist joke your friend makes? Don’t laugh if you don’t find it funny. Let them deal with the awkward silence. If your dad leaves his plate for you to collect and clean (and this bothers you), challenge yourself to not do it. A non-participatory response communicates your discontent and also leaves the ball in their court. They can decide whether to ignore the situation entirely (that’s okay as you’ve likely still had an impact), or they might question your reaction and unwittingly instigate dialogue where you can express your views without seeming as aggressive or offensive.

Leave accusations and labels behind.

If your friend makes a sexist comment and you decide to confront them about it, directly saying ‘you are sexist’ or ‘that comment is sexist’ can stunt open and productive dialogue between you both. It is likely they’ll perceive it as a direct attack on their character. Instead, you could open up the conversation by saying something like ‘I know you probably didn’t mean it that way, but your comment makes me feel disrespected as a woman’. In this sentence, you’ve given them the benefit of the doubt as well asked them to come from a place of reflection, not self-defence.

Be kind to yourself

The fact of the matter is, every interaction is different. You, the person you’re interacting with and the situation itself can have limitations. You might be uncomfortable directly confronting someone or the person you’d like to confront is entirely dismissive when faced with critique. Maybe you’re at a work function where confronting your colleague in a public manner serves neither you nor him. Sometimes, you’re simply not in a position to call out sexism in the way you’d like too. When this happens, it is best to let the person and situation go, and prioritise yourself. Check in with your self-esteem and mental health, and fortify them against any potential damage from the interaction. This could include journaling, mindfulness exercises, touching base with a trusted friend and so much more.

 For many, our experiences with sexism aren’t black and white. A certain response may be applicable in one scenario, yet would go totally amiss in another. At the end of the day, the most important thing to take care of, and the one thing that is within your power to take care of, is you.

Written by: Teresa