‘Alright love, chill out’.
I’d stopped running to give a man with a big dog a wide berth. The dog was on a long extended lead and they were approaching me. I usually err on the side of caution when passing larger dogs in case they decide to lunge or jump up.
The guy stared at me. I half expected him to say something like ‘don’t worry, it’s friendly’ or similar.
‘Alright love, chill out’. Not a cheery colloquialism but a sarcastic – irritated, even – statement.
If there is one thing likely to annoy you, it’s being told to chill out. The second thing is being called ‘love’ by a complete stranger.
Some people might say I’m being sensitive to the whole thing. It’s just a bit of banter, right? Wrong.
Acts of sexism dressed as humour or sarcasm – the ‘alright love, chill out’ remark – has a cumulative effect which creates a culture of fear and insecurity. This leads to a place where violence against another person is accepted. And that is definitely not alright.
This is where I find myself, on International Women’s Day 2021, reflecting on sexism which, sadly and infuriatingly, we still deal with too often.
A friend of mine tells of a time she walked into a male-dominated executive level meeting and was asked if she was there to take the minutes (she was not). Data from the Council of Europe show, in the UK, 66% of 16-18 year old girls they surveyed experienced or witnessed sexist language at school and 80% of women have been confronted with the phenomenon of ‘mansplaining’ at work. A huge 68% of women elected to parliament have been subject to sexist attacks on social networks.
The UK Government’s 2019 Gender equality roadmap shows that, compared to men and despite doing better in education, women are less likely to progress in work; generally work in lower paying industries/occupations and have lower pensions wealth.
And while it’s true to say huge advances have already been made – we’re better educated, more empowered and able to make informed choices about our bodies – there’s still a long way to go. Progress is still hamstrung by automatic misogyny and gender inequality. Sexism is often in plain sight and the gender scales remain imbalanced.
In my recent experience, the thing I was most worried about – the dog – was the least of my concerns. It was the person attached to the lead with the problem. And when I called him out, he told me to f**k off.
As the writer Mark Twain advised ‘never have a battle of wits with an unarmed person’. I would not allow him to strip me of any more agency so I turned around and went on my way.
But hey, I’ll still give dogs the size of small bears a lot of space. I’ll still call out sexism, gender bias and inequality when I see it. I’ll still keep moving forward.
Happy IWD2021 🙂