How To Address Sexism In Your Circle Of Friends
It's difficult enough fighting off sexism without having to worry about it coming from those closest to you but, unfortunately, sometimes sexism does come from the people we care about. Whether it is obvious or delivered subtly in the form of microaggressions, it happens -- and you undoubtedly want to find ways to address sexism in your circle of friends without alienating any of them. That's easier said than done though, right? No one likes to be called out for bad behavior, especially someone who feels as though you should always have their back. So what do you do?
To be clear, sexism among friends doesn't just come from the dudes in your group. If your circle of friends consists of women who don't share your feminist perspective, the odds are good you'll hear a sexist remark come from a friend at some point, too. That's the thing about sexism among friends -- since these are people who presumably love you, they may not realize what they are saying is sexist. However, naivete does not excuse sexism. Regardless of whether or not your friend knew their words were barbed, such words merit a friendly discussion.
How do you keep such heavy conversations civil? Here are a few pointers.
Take It Case By Case
You know your friends, so you know their personalities. While some friends might be able to take a stern discussion, others may shut down emotionally if they feel they're being attacked. These kinds of discussions are not one-size-fits-all. Rather, your best best is to individualize your approach based on who you're talking to. If you can, relate to them. People are much more receptive when they feel like you understand where they are coming from or, at the very least, admit you've made mistakes in your life, too.
Use Your Voice
While this seems self-explanatory, your initial instinct in these types of situations may be to zip your lips. And that's understandable — it can be scary to rock the boat with your best friends in it. However, sexist comments perpetuate the cycle of sexism, which marginalizes and demeans women in a way that can seem impossible to interrupt. In speaking up, you disrupt that cycle by calling attention to unacceptable sexist behavior. If your friend sees the error of their ways, then you'll have empowered and educated someone as well.
Let's say one of your guys makes a comment about a MILF or one of your girlfriends starts talking about another woman's looks in a derogatory way, and you call them out. If you come at them from a place of anger or defensiveness, your friend is much less likely to hear you than if you make it clear you are ready to have a thoughtful discourse about why the implication of what they said is so bad. When you explain your position in a respectful and well-researched way (and listen to the other person), your friend knows you value their friendship enough to hear them out.
Bring in a Little Levity
Don't be afraid to scale back the gravitas and get a little goofy. Is sexism among friends serious? Absolutely. But being bringing a little humor into the situation can diffuse tension in a big way. You can keep the convo light without making light of the situation.
Make It Personal
It's easy for someone making jokes to desensitize themselves to the plight of whatever group it is their joke is marginalizing. If you make it personal — i.e. you make them empathize with those people — it may help them understand why what they are saying is so personal. So when a friend casually makes a sexist joke, explain how and why that is hurtful to you or could be hurtful to a woman who isn't even present. Most people don't want to insult their friends and certainly not someone who isn't even in the room, right? That's just poor form.
Be Realistic about the Outcome
You addressing sexism in your circle of friends likely isn't going to lead to life-altering change today. Or maybe even tomorrow. The friend who cracked the sexist joke will likely crack at least one more. But the hope is that you will have planted the seeds of change in their mind, and every time they start to make an off-the-cuff comment that is sexist in tone, they will stop and think about why it is degrading to women. The problem with casual sexism between friends is that it is insidious. It sneaks into our every day conversations and, all too often, we don't address it because we don't want to be labeled the "femi-nazi" or "party pooper" by our buddies. However, when we neglect to address such sexism, we simply fuel the culture of sexism and inadvertently become part of the problem.