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

Photo: Instagram
woman with a filter

In case you or anyone you know is still in doubt, I happen to know that sexism and misogyny, both in general and at work, are alive and well.

I know this because I am a woman, and I exist in the world — a world full of sexist and misogynistic behavior.

Even when I attended an all-girls school where the other students and I were empowered to pursue our dreams and told that nothing could hold us back, I knew that I would always be treated a little bit differently by the males of our species, simply because of what I experienced of men regularly walking down a street in my school uniform.

As an awkward teenager, men's inappropriate behavior and comments around women made me blush with shame. Later, it made me angry. Now, it mostly makes me tired.

There are exceptional moments, however, when I am rudely snapped out of this apathy, and I'd like to tell you about one that happened quite recently.

I've been really, really lucky when it comes to workplace environments in relation to misogyny and sexism. I've mostly worked for strong women alongside other strong women, and when I wasn't doing that, I was mostly working with men who respect women as their colleagues and peers.

There were some bumpy moments when I worked as a secretary in finance, of course.

At the time my boss told me I ought to wear more makeup. And the time a colleague told me he could tell my age by looking at my elbows.

But by and large, and compared to how I'm often treated by men on the Internet reading my writing, as well as by men I engage with outside of work, these slights felt like almost nothing.

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It's an especially good thing that my career has been (relatively) uneventful when it comes to sexism because I have to tell you until about two or three years ago, I don't think I would have been able to call out injustice when I saw it. I don't think I would have been able to speak my mind without quietly worrying that I was being too "difficult" or that I was coming across as "hysterical."

You know. All those things women are taught we are being when we have the audacity/courage to point out disparities based solely on our gender.

Now, though, I do speak out, and most people who know me know that. Even the most sexist men I know (mostly) keep their mouths shut around me, because they know I do not truck in such nonsense.

Unfortunately, men who don't yet know me well sometimes discover this under unpleasant circumstances, like the new guy in my workspace who just found out the hard way.

I had reservations about this man immediately after he started working on the same floor as my workspace.

He saw me getting myself some coffee and asked me to get him a cup, too. Instead, I pleasantly pointed out to him exactly where the coffee was located.

Soon after, I noticed that rather than hire an assistant, he brought in two college-aged girls to work for him as interns. I'd spot one or the other crying in the bathroom regularly.

He was a bad egg, but luckily for me, I didn't see him much at first.

Then he started to bond with the men who sit near me in my workspace.

I happen to sit in an area where I'm the only woman. I don't mind it. The men I work with are like my family. I consider myself the Wendy of their Lost Boys.

This new guy started paying visits to our area in order to talk with the men about sports. Each time I chose not to get involved in the conversation — because I was working, because I didn't trust this guy, and because I don't care about sports.

I was never rude, though. I just didn't participate.

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One day he came over and began to talk about basketball statistics. He started lecturing the guys on the most important statistics to watch. The men all sat there, sort of nodding along... and then he turned to me.

"I'd ask you what you think, but I don't want to explain the sport first," he said.

This was a critical error on his part because he made an assumption based on my gender and my appearance, and everyone knows that you can't spell assumption without the letters Becca-is-now-going-to-tell-you-exactly-where-to-go.

I tilted my head and smiled as I replied, "Oh, that's right! Sports ball games are just so confusing!"

The men in my workspace laughed, but this new sexist interloper couldn't take the hint. Or wouldn't. Probably a depressing combination of the two.

I was simmering with anger.

I was raised in a family full of people who love to play and watch sports. I played soccer throughout college. I know how most sports are played. I even know the teams and the players.

The thing is: I DO NOT CARE, and that's my prerogative.

You can love sports, that's fine. More power to you. It's just not one of my things. I respect that you like what you like, much in the way I expect you to respect the fact that "Vanderpump Rules" is my religion.

But this guy wasn't going away without a fight. He asked the men their thoughts on a current player, and then said, "I'd ask you, Becca, but I'm really only looking for professional opinions."

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In a composed and professional manner, of course.

"Three things," I said. "One, you have no idea what I know or don't know about basketball. Two, no one in this room is a basketball professional just because they were born male. Three, you're wrong. Assists per game are way more critical than points per game."

He stood there — awkward, silent, and embarrassed — and the rest of the men around us both seemed to feel the exact same way.

He cringed as he slunk back to his desk, and while I should have felt triumph for snapping back and shutting down his casual sexism in the workplace, all I felt was guilt.

I felt guilty for being "snippy" with him. I felt guilty for making the other men I sit with, the men I respect, feel uncomfortable.

I let those feelings come ... and then I let them go.

I've been exceptionally fortunate overall in my experiences in the workplace, but that doesn't mean I am not prepared for sexism or that I don't know how to react when confronted with it.

Or that it isn't a struggle for me every single day not to feel guilty and/or ashamed for no reason other than the simple accident of my gender.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.