5 Ways To Recognize And Fight Sexism In The Workplace

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recognize sexism, fight sexism in the workplace, how to fight sexism at work

It’s 2019, and despite the general success of third-wave feminism, misogyny is still massively prevalent in the workplace.

As a woman, you’ve more than likely experienced it first-hand. It’s difficult to determine which steps to take, especially if the perpetrator is your superior (or if associating with him somehow gives you an advantage in seeking a promotion). While alleviating sexism at your place of work in one fell swoop would be harrowing, albeit impossible, there are small steps you can take to improve the dynamic and take care of yourself in the face of blatant prejudice.

Sometimes it’s as in-your-face as it can get. The men at work might suggest that you can’t handle a higher role or more work, citing some aspect of your womanhood (which usually means they’re threatened by you) or they might try to micromanage you more than your male counterparts (which is more likely to happen in a predominantly male workspace). Other times, however, the sexism is slightly more subtle.

RELATED: Sexist Men Most Likely To Have Psychological Issues, Says Science

Don’t be fooled into thinking that lower-grade sexism isn’t harmful.

An article published in Scientific American by Melanie Tannenbaum suggests that benevolent sexism, in which sexual or racial comments directed toward women are veiled as compliments or of good nature, is equally as harmful in perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes that keep women from achieving as much success on average than men. Sometimes subtle sexism looks like a compliment, and other times t comes off as the reinforcement of a stereotype. For example, your boss might say you’re ‘too pretty’ to be working so hard, or you might be noted as a ‘great mother’ rather than a hard worker deserving of a promotion.

This list consists of several suggestions of how to deflect sexism, call it out for what it is, or avoid it altogether. It’s an issue that is too prevalent and truthfully should not have a place in society today. If we all make our best attempts at curving it and shaming the men who try to antagonize our success the most (and those who stand by and let it happen), perhaps we could begin to see the change that needs to happen beginning with our own workplaces.

Working in a predominantly male workplace is extremely daunting due to the grossly blatant misogyny that unfortunately plagues the system. While some workplaces are the happy exception to the rule, too many of us women must work in a space in which we are made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome every day. 

Taking these steps can help us to become more interlinked as a gender and combat unwelcome misogyny together. Just remember that you are fully capable of success despite any degradation that you feel from male coworkers and superiors, and don’t be afraid to show it!

1. Use sarcasm and humor (because that’s how sexism is often presented).

This method is an easy one for us girls who shy away in the face of confrontation (although this is a trait I’m trying desperately to overcome as it may be rooted in traditional gender roles), but humor can be spicy, too.

If a male coworker jokes about you being on your period after noticing that you haven’t been grinning like a psycho while you work for all eight hours, snap back with a sarcastic comment about how he’d better watch out for you at ALL times of the month. If you want to get even more serious about putting him in his place, cite research about women’s ability to stay on top of a heavy workload even under heavy stress in other aspects of their lives.

2.  Fight the sexist labels.

We just can’t win. When women assert themselves in the workplace, they’re often slapped with labels like “bitchy,” “angry,” and “aggressive,” or are told that they need to “calm down” (my personal least favorite). Men with similar temperament are lauded as being “assertive,” “no-nonsense,” or “a strong leader.” So how can we put a stop to this? It feels like a catch-22, because the more we stand up for ourselves, the more it seems to happen.

The answer? Keep calling it out. Notify your workplace allies so you have someone on your side (and stand up for them when they’re the victim, too). This one will be a slow fix since it is specifically engrained in men’s learned expectations of women to be passive and “nice,” but the best we can do is to show them otherwise by not backing down into “our place.”

RELATED: This Simple Response Shut Down The Sexist Guy Where I Work — For Good

3.  Talk to your perpetrator candidly.

If your boss or another male at work is consistently making you feel uncomfortable, one way to turn the tables is to pull him aside individually to tell him what’s bothering you. This can be tricky if he is your superior, as he might accuse you of being insubordinate by not complying with his sexist comments or jokes. Your best bet is to be respectful, yet firm.

Often times, men will not be as rude while one-on-one, especially if they are being called out for their behavior. He might make some of the sexist jokes and comments deliberately in front of other men in the workplace in order to gain rapport as the funny guy or the ladies’ man. If a comment was made out-of-character or clearly unintentionally, this is the best tactic to let someone who didn’t mean it know that they need to monitor their words more closely next time.

4. Hold yourself accountable (and support other women!)

This might be the most difficult step on this list. In order to effectively fight misogyny at work, we as women need to be hyper-aware of sexist behaviors, even when they come from ourselves. Sadly, it’s easy to jump to calling another woman at work “bitchy” or “arrogant” in our minds or to other coworkers, but this is obviously problematic. How can we expect men to hold themselves accountable if we don’t check our own enforcement of stereotypes?

Above all, we need to be each other’s allies in the workplace. Stand up for other women who are being targeted and congratulate merited or promoted female coworkers. Go out of your way to make the new girl feel welcome, especially if you know firsthand that the men in your office can be especially degrading. We all know how it feels, and it binds us together in a way that men can’t understand.

5. Be kind to yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t let the negativity that you hear at work seep in and taint your self-worth.

Write down and repeat positive affirmations about yourself as a professional woman that make you feel good. Just like the nasty comments from dudes, if you hear them enough, you’ll start to believe them (except these are actually true). If it helps to remember them, make them funny. You can even reclaim some of the language used by the men that taunt you. Little sayings like “you’re one smart bitch” or “you’re a sexy boss lady” might make you chuckle, but they’ll also help you keep the confidence that male coworkers try to strip you of.

RELATED: What Is 'Mansplaining'? 5 Ways To Assert Yourself & Your Intelligence When It Happens

Emily Van Devender is a writer and Colorado native who writes about pop culture, news and relationship advice. She is interested in politics, feminism, and psychology and enjoys photography and outdoor activities in her spare time.​