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From the covert to the overt, everyday sexism is part of all our lives, from the innocent to the malicious. We give you practical tips to respond in a constructive way.

How we talk about ourselves and others actually shapes, at an unconscious level, our truth.

That one sentence always gives me pause for thought. What exactly is ‘truth’? Facts, in the hands of scientists, are carefully gathered, peer reviewed and tested. When a scientist presents a body of information as ‘fact’ – they actually mean it’s our current best position. Science is built on the premise of good data gathering, patterning, developing robust theory, then testing and challenging the theory. It’s probably why it’s such a reliable means of contributing to our evolution. So what then is our truth?

Human behaviour is hard to unpack, measure, understand and to identify causal relationships that drive us. Yet we all walk around knowing a collection of truths that shape our behaviour. “Women are like this”, “men do that”, “I should behave like this”, “she shouldn’t behave like that”.

The truth is that gender related issues remain remarkably intransigent in many ways, despite changes to policy, unconscious bias training, gallons of media coverage and validated research on why the change is important for men and women.

So here’s some simple advice for calling expressions that don’t help:

  1. Trust your gut – if you have a gut reaction to how someone talks about/to you and or others you are probably right (i.e. The words being used are biased and/or unhelpful). This brain alert happens in 1 – 6 seconds.
  2. What happens next is about you:
    • When someone says ‘jeez you wear the pants around here’ or ‘women can’t do this’ or ‘needs a more aggressive approach’ – are you embarrassed, hurt, feel less feminine? Do you ark up, get aggressive, tell the person they’re a dick? Do you ignore it, knowing it’s wrong but saying to yourself ‘pick your time to fight’? Or any other combo of responses you care to think of? The story you tell yourself immediately after your gut reaction is the thing to explore not what was said.
    • To be resourceful (say constructive) in the face of bias needs you to know your own story well
    • If you don’t say in a useful way what you want to say, in the moment, what’s stopping you? Write this down
    • Now identify a time when you found it easy to respond constructively when someone else did something that you knew wasn’t helpful. Write this down. What did you do? How did you manage your emotions in the first versus the second instance?
    • Now copy and paste
  3. Copying and pasting your response is much easier (of course!) than doing it. Yet curiously, more often than not we know the way we’d like to behave, it’s just not what we do. The challenge is your stories about yourself change in different contexts so the method that works doesn’t get used as often as you are actually able to use it

In summary

When confronted with a situation which feels sexist and you don’t feel able to deal with it constructively:

  • Write down what happened
  • Write down how you felt
  • Write down the story you told yourself about them/yourself

Identify a context/people where you are consistently able to remain constructive even when others aren’t

  • Write down what happens
  • Write down how you feel
  • Write down the story you tell yourself about them/yourself
  • Write down how you behave as a consequence

Then copy and paste.

The method will work if you tell yourself different stories.

When you blame someone else for how you feel, they have all the power.

When you own your own story, and you practice rewriting it, you have all the power.

AND IF PERSISTENT SEXISM PREVAILS IN YOUR WORK PLACE, FAMILY OR COMMUNITY, LEAVE.

You are worth more than this, hard as it may seem at the time.

And we are always here to help if you find yourself seemingly stuck.

Hugs

Fabian

What we can do to help

  1. Gender research – how men and women see working together in your organisation
  2. Leadership education – shifting the way men and women work together
  3. Compass – our national women’s program
  4. Personal coaching
  5. Couples coaching
  6. Participation in Homeward Bound – our global initiative for women in STEMM

Author, Fabian Dattner, Founding partner Dattner Grant, Co Founder Homeward Bound