I was playing on a co-ed sports team last night. One of the guys complimented a teammate on persevering through an opponent's attempts at cheating by saying
You acted like a man when he acted like a woman
I was right there, and he immediately looked at me and said "No offense". As always happens in these situations, I froze up and didn't say anything. But I started brooding over it, wishing I had make some kind of scathing retort, put him in his place, etc. etc.
But then I decided to do it differently. I wanted to get mad at him, and I think I would have been justified in doing so. However, this ties back into something I've been thinking on a lot recently.
Am I a feminist for my own benefit, or am I a feminist because I see inequality in the world and want to change it?
For a long time, it was the former. Feminism was like a lifeline when I was going through some times where I hated myself for being a woman and didn't know what to do about it. It finally gave me an explanation and a framework for dealing with sexist shit that got thrown at me.
I think I'm ready to start working on trying to change things though. Specifically, trying to change people's behavior and opinions. I've always figured that it was a total waste of time trying to get people to be less sexist, that I should write them off as a lost cause. But I've recently seen male friends with feminist girlfriends start saying some pretty enlightened things. One of the most sexist/racist guys I know actually got into a facebook argument defending women. It gives me hope that people can change, and it also makes me ashamed that I let my friends' girlfriends do all the heavy lifting without trying to back them.
I took my teammate aside, and even though I wanted to swear at him or act really hurt or tell him that it was fucked up to say that, I just said super casually, "Hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but I'd really appreciate it if you didn't use 'acting like a woman' as an insult". And he actually apologized, thanked me for calling him out, and said that he knew he shouldn't have said that as soon as he did.
Obviously this was the best case scenario — back when I used to call people out more often, I got a lot of angry responses. But I think I'm onto something here, calling people out in a gentle and casual way but firm way.
I would be within my rights to get mad, but is that ultimately a useful reaction? All I would have accomplished would be to turn off another guy from feminism. I think a lot of people have never thought about these patterns of behavior or speech because in a patriarchy, they never have to. It doesn't make them bad guys, they're just people who need to be shown a different point of view. How else will they be exposed to these ideas if someone doesn't kindly and non-judgmentally inform them?
Besides, that could so easily have been me. It was me, 10 years ago. I was really sexist and also had a ton of class privilege that I never examined. But if someone had gotten mad at me about it, I would have become defensive and closed off as a kneejerk reaction.
Working in a male dominated industry, I encounter these microaggressions on a regular basis. I need a strategy for stopping them without alienating people that I need to work with. I'm not saying this is a responsibility feminists have or saying that everyone needs to do this, but for me at least, this is the course of action I'll try to pursue.