How To Win Any Argument About Sexism

by Abby Johnston

So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant. And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue sexism still exists.

Common Argument #1: Women have the same rights as men. Didn't that happen when women got the right to vote, like forever ago?

Your Response: Yes, women have had the right to vote in the U.S. since 1920, and they have been using it with vigor. In fact, women have turned out to presidential elections in consistently higher numbers since 1964. We have the right to vote thanks to a group of women who were very sexist-ly deemed "suffragettes," and fought very hard for women to enjoy being, you know, members of American society. We appreciate their hard work and dedication and have tried to make our forward-thinking grandmothers of democracy proud with by turning out to the voting booths.

But, if you'll take a moment with me to run the numbers, women have only had the right to exercise that civic right for less than 100 years. Unsurprisingly for a Congress dominated by men, the elusive lady vote remains as mysterious as periods.

Take this 2014 midterm campaign ad for apparent wedding dress and Florida Republican Rick Scott. It parodies Say Yes To The Dress as a metaphor for picking the perfect candidate, because the only way that women could possibly be communicated to is through clothes that they can get married in! And how do candidates market to men directly? With guns and dirt? No. They are talked to like the human beings that they are.

The political system, and candidates in general, remain completely baffled by women because the current power structures have not forced them to pay attention to women in general. So yes, we get to vote, but we're doing so in a system that does not want or need to understand the female constituency.

Common Argument #2: Women are getting high-level jobs just like men do. That means that they've broken the glass ceiling.

Your Response: Indeed, there are women who exist in jobs that aren't secretarial positions, but that doesn't mean that the overwhelming majority of women are waltzing into board rooms. In fact, women only hold 5.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.

Even when women manage to work their way into upper-level positions at companies, they face workplace discrimination. According to a study done by Elle and the Center for American Progress, one in three women are discriminated against in the workplace. The problem gets worse as women rise in the ranks, with 45 percent of women in top-level positions reporting they have faced sexism.

(Note: our updated numbers on Forbes 500 CEOs comes from a study done earlier this month, while this data comes from August 2013. But hey, at least it's growing!)

Common Argument #3: Women are making less money than men because they don't go into certain fields. That isn't sexism, women just happen to be interested in jobs that make less money like being cute wittle teachers.

Your Response: When the GOP voted down an equal pay bill in April, the Republican National Convention put out this release that they were certain was written by women:

There’s a disparity not because female engineers are making less than male engineers at the same company with comparable experience. The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer.

The New York Times debunked this logic, however, noting that most pay disparity occurs within the same occupation rather than across fields. In fact, moving women to traditionally higher-paying positions would only eradicate 15 percent of the income inequality in the U.S. According to the White House, women only earn 77 percent of what men do in comparable positions. Did you know that a female podiatrist makes only 67 percent of what men do? And why? Are men somehow more adept at removing ingrown toenails?

Common Argument #4: Sheryl Sandberg already told you how to get ahead. You just "lean in," and quit yer bitchin'.

Your Response: Ah, yes. Sheryl Sandberg. I'm glad you brought her up. Yes, she had a lot of positive messages about encompassing a work-life balance and not doubting your abilities as a women to achieve it. You honestly can't knock her too much for trying to send a positive message that should be absolutely possible.

Nadine Rupp/Getty Images News/Getty Images

But this might surprise you: The experiences of a Facebook COO who has two Harvard degrees and a net worth of $1.3 billion do not always neatly apply to women trying to make it in the workplace! Just because someone wrote a book about it doesn't mean that it has automatically solved my day-to-day experiences. For example, in my grad school-induced delirium the Internet led me to a book called "How to be a Billionaire." If I read that, does it guarantee that I will become a billionaire? Absolutely not. If Sandberg sets out her own guidelines how she personally succeeded as a woman in the workplace does that mean that any woman who follows her advice will work for Mark Zuckerberg? Nope.

Common Argument #5: My mom was such a ball buster, though. She had my dad in check.

Your Response: I'm very glad that your mother felt comfortable asserting herself in her relationship with your father. As all women should. But the very fact that you feel the need to refer to her as a ball buster, implying that a woman who takes a dominant role in a heterosexual relationship is somehow crushing a man's testicles, shows that sexism is still a thing.

Traditional gender roles are still at play, and both women and men are made to feel ashamed when they somehow deviate from them. There is a rise in women as the breadwinners of the family, so if that trend continues then maybe we might one day be able to stop looking at women who take the reins in a relationship as some sort of ball busting harpy. DARE TO DREAM.

Common Argument #6: Everything men do is perceived as sexist. You're turning everything into an issue when it isn't. Men can't even call a woman pretty without fear of feminist frenzy.

Your Response: Patriarchy is defined as a social system rather than an element of our lives. We all live and breathe the patriarchy. Without even knowing it, you, me, all of us, we are players in a patriarchal society.

It is unsurprising, then, for people who have only known this pervasive attitude to demonstrate it in their daily lives. But here's the thing, just because you (maybe) unknowingly embody these horrible things doesn't mean you get to complain about it. Do you know what men should do? Understand that male privilege is a real, actual thing, and then stop whining about it all the time. Yes, I'm sure it sucks when you're trying really hard not to treat women as second-class citizens, but hey. At least you don't have to be one.

Common Argument #7: Well, I see men being treated differently because they are men all the time. Isn't that reverse sexism?

Your Response:


Images: Getty Images, Giphy (2), Source: Center for American Women and Politics, Elle, Flickr: Keoni Cabral