I’ve been told countless times that I’m being “too sensitive” when I try to call out the casual sexism that I hear from time to time amongst my friends. Now to give a disclaimer, my male friends are all lovely people and I know they don’t mean any harm by these comments, but that is exactly the point I will address. Not meaning anything simply doesn’t mitigate the affects of harmful comments. The lack of understanding of the harm of these comments also proves that injustices are alive and well in our society.
As an example, just a few months back one of my male friends decided to get a pedicure (a beautiful bright green shade of polish I might add) while at a birthday party located at a nail salon. In response, one of our mutual friends exclaimed in a joking manner, “what the fuck is wrong with you man?” I proceeded to defend my pedicured friend, explaining to our mutual friend why his joke was harmful.
As another example, I dated someone in the past who, in my presence jokingly told his friend, “why don’t you take your tampon out!” when he said something that indicated a weakness or apprehension, which are traditionally seen as feminine traits. Again, I called out my now-ex boyfriend on it and was told to “stop being so sensitive” as he didn’t mean anything sexist by it. Shame on me for believing that shaming menstruation is sexist, even if he was only joking…right?
So the question here given both scenarios is, why does society consider it so shameful for men to take part in traditionally-feminine activities or attributes? The unfortunate answer to that question is that society still views feminine attributes as being lesser or weaker than traditionally-masculine attributes, and therefore men who take part in feminine activities should be shamed for not being masculine enough. Tomboys are often considered cool and socially acceptable while men who dress and take on feminine characteristics are shamed and/or called “gay.” Jokes like the ones my friends made are simply a perpetuation of greater stereotypes and problems that are still alive and well in our society. It is easy for my male friends to make sexist jokes like these because these stereotypes are engrained in our society and the easy option is to simply not question the comfort of the status quo.
So Reader, the next time you’re called “too sensitive” for calling out a casual sexist joke or comment, consider that your feelings are very much valid and that you’ve been given an opportunity to inform the perpetrators of the harm in their statements, even if they “didn’t mean anything by it.” As feminists we should consider it our duty to inform people of the harm they’re creating by perpetuating sexist gender norms.