Last week the Everyday Sexism Project asked women to share their stories with the #everydaysexism hashtag. More than fifty thousand tweets documented the sexism and misogyny deeply ingrained into western culture, and gained a lot of attention.
One of my contributions focused on sexism in academia, particularly the way in which distinguished women academics face increased scrutiny of their appearance:
On multiple occasions not only my colleagues, but my students have felt it appropriate to discuss how I look. The entitlement that men feel to comment on my appearance goes beyond the pale of simple “compliments”. Of all of the tweets I made about #everydaysexism, I was surprised to find that this one garnered so much attention. I was quite pleased that a couple of male academics engaged in a discussion where they listened to the stories of women in academia who have faced similar situations. As you might expect (because, internet) there were a lot of trolls too. There were many posts suggesting that students commenting on my appearance is not an example of the sexism women experience on a daily basis, and that I should take the compliment (while I can get ’em, amirite?!), and get over it.
I have had several conversations with regard to mansplaining: About the times that men presume their greater knowledge of, authority over, and right to dictate on a given subject matter. In particular, I have talked with men and women on the prevalence of mansplaining in situations where culturally accepted sexism is being called out for what it is, and where men decry the notion and offer counterpoints about how X, Y, Z thing cannot possibly be an example of sexism because, reasons. Usually it goes something like this:
Me: Mansplaining just kills me because it presumes I have no knowledge of or expertise on the issue. I’m talking about sexism that I experience. Denying what I am saying is upsetting, because it suggests I have no authority on which to discuss these very real issues.
Men: But mansplaining isn’t a real thing. It only happens when you get upset that someone is telling you something authoritatively. Assholes are everywhere, its not just men. Therefore mansplaining isn’t a real issue.
Assholes are everywhere, a truth that speaks more to the prevalence of privileged speaking than the non-existence of mansplaining. Read on to see how women all over the world experience the everyday sexism of mansplaining where they are presumed ignorant, powerless, or just plain wrong because men know better.
I was calling to set up quotes for new windows and doors for my house (that I own on my own), and the man on the phone told me that my husband (which I don’t have) would need to be present, because “doors are tricky,” to which I replied that I’m an architect and the sole homeowner and I no longer wanted their services. When I told him this, he tried to backpedal and said that he didn’t mean it that way, and that he meant that “the decision-maker” needed to be there. I said next time you should find out whether the woman calling you is the decision-maker before assuming that it has to be her husband.
At work, the system that I maintain and operate is a Ship Simulator system that is over 10 years old. None of the women who use the system seem to question its limitations after their initial inquiries and to be fair, most of the men accept what the system can and can’t do at face value. However, there are those that demand that I take them through all of menu options to be shown, to their satisfaction, that we can’t do certain functions. I have caught one particular individual repeatedly fiddling around in the control room. His fiddling with a system that he is not qualified to operate has caused at least two system crashes. Of course, that’s my fault. If I could just operate the software better, the system would not crash.
In addition, my supervisor told me I might want to reconsider my decision to break up with my fiancée because you know, I should pop out some babies before I get too old. He was trying to explain to me how hard it is to “catch” a man that gets the whole Navy thing. My fiancée and I broke up in part because A) he didn’t want kids and B) none of my supervisor’s business.
A female historian recently told me she gave an entire lecture on her latest book only to have a man come up and tell her she was pronouncing a town name erroneously.
I was working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in 1995. I was tasked with integrating new communications equipment and fiber optics on the Hubble Space Telescope. I was looking over the drawings when a member of the team came in the conference room. He looked at me and said, “This is going to be difficult if you can’t read a schematic, but I guess it’s going to be my job to make sure you get it right.” He stepped toward me into my personal space and began pointing at the drawings and said, “Do you know what these are?” He went on before I could respond…at this point I looked up and made eye contact with him. I turned the drawings around and pointed to the legend where my signature was.
When I was at my old job, we had one client in particular who was extremely chauvinist and would make off-color comments around women, and since they were a client, there was basically nothing anyone could do about it. Obviously the company wasn’t going to drop the client or request a different account manager, so I wrote an email to my colleague who was handling the account to say “I don’t feel fully comfortable working with these guys,” and explaining why. He responded with “It’s okay sweetie,” or something along those lines, basically as a joke, but I still had to work with them, so I don’t know how much of a joke it actually was. Also, this colleague himself would start emails with “Good morning dear!” all the time.
I was strategizing on a project with a colleague, an older white man, who was responsible for clearing building violations as part of a project we were required to report to our funders. I was explaining my thinking on our strategy to deal with the issues, when he proceeded to tell me that he already knows the strategy and everything about violations. Then he begins explaining to me what violations are. I have worked on these issues for 2.5 years, and am well versed in them, mind you. At the end of it all, it turned out not only did he know exactly what needed to be done- but also refused to do it, thereby leaving me to do the work he mansplained to me when it was exactly his job to do it.
I have had trouble getting reports generated for my project from the men in my company’s IT department. I made a statement to a male colleague concerning my fruitless discussions with them, and his response was that obviously this had nothing to do with me being a woman (and them men) – but more my diminutive stature, my youthful (read: girlish) looks, my high-pitched, quiet voice. I took it as no coincidence that these were all stereotypically female traits. This I told him hammered home my point – that even in a conversation about mansplaining in the workplace, a man can find a way to explain its causes to me as if I had no clue.
At the museum [where I work], I’ve learned that often I need to speak with a deeper & louder voice, and regularly cite specific scholars, their institutions and the books they’ve written all woven into my narrative to not be questioned by Ned Know-It-Alls. This is especially maddening since the museum focuses on normal people and the expertise is supposed to be on the actual lived experiences of individuals. It happens to my boss too, who is a very friendly woman with a PhD in a very specific historical period. But it’s easier for me than for my coworkers of color, for sure. A lot of very creepy racist mansplaining goes on too.
I’ve been mansplained a zillion times but at the gym most recently. I don’t care to be shown how you recommend doing something! If you aren’t a trainer, I don’t need your feedback (and even then I don’t want it), and you would never go up to another guy that was mid-workout and interrupt him!