Sexism: What Are You Going To Do About It?

Wednesday was a big day in our house. We had a painter, a project manager and a carpenter huddled in our kitchen at the same time, deciding on the best way to fix some of the many DIY projects I’ve started and discarded over the past year and a half. But in between our conversations and my ashamed promises that I would never attempt another project again, I popped onto the internet. And it was interesting.

The first time I hopped on Facebook, I stumbled across my friend Sidni’s post. An Open Letter to the Men Running the Climbing Industry caught my attention, largely because I love her style of writing and ability to call it like it is {And she occasionally dog sits for us and Tals loves her!} Women in particular see stuff online all the time that is blatantly unfair or shockingly insulting. Tell me again why some guy felt the need to rate the best female asses in the surfing industry? But you know, it’s exhausting always pointing it out and feeling like you’re being that woman again.

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Photos: Will Rochfort

I sat down at our kitchen table a few hours later, once the madness subsided in our kitchen. This time, I opened my browser to read a horrifying tale of the chronic sexual harassment towards female river guides in the National Park Service. The released report details inappropriate comments and touching with varying degrees of punishment. One male snapped a photo underneath a female coworker’s skirt and was suspended for 30 days. He didn’t lose his job; he was just kicked out for one month. Another supervisor was suspended for a mere ten days for grabbing a female’s crotch. Ten days, and that’s it. Near as I can tell, none of the incidents were reported to human resources, as required by the Department of Interior policies. It’s disgusting.

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To be clear, I am not an “angry feminist” with a fight to pick. Hell, I’m not entirely sure I’d qualify myself as a feminist. As my friend Katie says, feminism occasionally equates to a perpetuation of sexism towards the male gender, and that ain’t cool either. Will is my biggest champion and most loyal supporter, so I’d be remiss to assume the entire male population felt the same as these pointed media examples.

But what gives? Apparently the blatant sexual stereotypes continue to exist even though we have managed to come a long ways. Women still enjoy flaunting their sexuality for attention, but is that because it makes them feel good or because society tells them it makes them feel good?

ETA: I don’t want to edit the above paragraphs because that looks dishonest and that isn’t my goal. But what I *do* want to do is clarify what I meant because I think I expressed my opinion poorly. To address some comments below: of course I absolutely do believe in equal rights for men and women, which I’m guessing I’ve made clear in the past (but maybe not with this post, as a commenter pointed out). But in my experience, feminism *sometimes* crosses into reverse sexism. I do disagree with a commenter that said it doesn’t exist; I believe that it does, albeit less frequently than what women experience. I realize many may disagree with that and I accept that. To me, the larger concern is not questioning whether the sexism exists (because it obviously does), but figuring out how to fix it on both sides. This was supposed to be the intention of this post, and maybe I missed the mark on that one. 

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And this exists well beyond the realm of the outdoor industry. Back in October, Will and I spent a weekend traveling for a media trip for my blog; this same site you’re reading right now. But when we showed up, we found the hotel reservation under his name and all of the swag in our room was addressed to Mr. Rochfort. It was an honest mistake and I tried not to let it bother me, but the inherent message pissed me off: of course it was the man in charge of this situation.

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So what to do? Again, I talk to Will about this topic all the time as he is an incredible sounding board with logical and thoughtful solutions. His answer to me is always the same: What are you going to do about it? There is no doubt in my mind that both blatant and unintentional sexism is still rampant in the 21st century, but whining about it has yet to accomplish much for anyone. When I whined about it last year, he asked me the same question. That’s how the #JustAnOutdoorGal series began; it is my attempt to do something on my tiny corner of the internet.

Clearly, the problem hasn’t gone away, so as strong and capable men and women, it’s incumbent on us to help fix the problem. What will you do about it?

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13 Comments

  • Reply Jen R. at

    I think you need to do some reading about feminism! Do you believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities? Then you are a feminist. There is no such thing as ‘reverse sexism’, sorry men of the world. Feminism does not mean man-hating or denying men opportunities, it just means that you believe women deserve the same rights, opportunities and respect. This post makes you sound like you’ve done very little deep thinking and are just trying to cash in on the uproar around recent articles.

    • Reply heather at

      Hi Jen,
      I agree with a lot of what you typed (well, except the last sentence, of course!); that said I do think there can be a reverse sexism in the precise wrong scenarios. I don’t think it’s common and it’s certainly not the norm, but in my experience, it can exist. (I added an ETA to try to better explain myself.) To me, that doesn’t take away from the larger problem: that sexism exists, women experience it disgustingly frequently, and we all need to band together to fix it, both men and women alike. That was my intention and I apologize if that wasn’t clear. I do appreciate your comment however; it’s given me food for thought.

  • Reply Elle at

    I just have to say, I typically love your posts and see you as a strong female role model that is greatly needed in the outdoor industry but a few things about this post irked me.
    I don’t think that women “flaunting their sexuality for attention” as you put it, is the root of the problem. Women should be able to wear or act however they want with out being harassed. Men can. So why can’t we? What we wear does not mean we are asking for it. It means we are people who should be respected as that. And what is degrading to one woman may be empowering to another. And that should be okay, but questioning the validity of our choices to flaunt or not flaunt takes away from women’s power over their own bodies.
    Also feminism does not perpetuate male sexism. The concept that the group in power can be oppressed by the marginalized group is just ridiculous. Feminism or hell, call it humanism if you don’t like the F word, is about equality for ALL people regardless of gender, race, SES, disability, sexual orientation or identification, etc…
    That’s all. Thank you.

    • Reply heather at

      Hey Elle– You make a very fair point and I appreciate your response because it has me rethinking my word choice. I’m pretty sure I know what I want to say in my head but I guess I’m struggling to put it on paper (or computer, as the case may be). In no way do I believe women are asking for it (which I’m guessing you realize since it sounds like you are a long-time reader) but I clearly didn’t express myself very well for parts of this. I added an ETA above to try a bit more, but I still suspect we may disagree. I do really like your point about feminism and humanism though. The intention truly applies to everyone so why not call it humanism?
      Either way, I wanted to tell you that I value your opinion so thank you for responding.

      • Reply Elle at

        -Heather,
        I appreciate your response and wish more people could talk so openly and respectfully as you do!
        As you said, yes why not call it that! I prefer to call myself a humanist as my desire for equal rights applies to all types of identities. I’m a woman and I’m also deaf so I truly understand that this is an issue much broader than just gender differences.
        And to answer your last question of your article: what am I doing about it? Well, I believe that the root of the problem is in people minds so I have to reach them before their minds become twisted with stereotypes and prejudice. So I became a teacher to try to solve the problem of oppresion and marginalization through education and teaching acceptance.

  • Reply Maddie at

    Heather, I stumbled on your blog recently, and have been really impressed and inspired by the posts about your adventures (and others’, in the #JustAnOutdoorGal series). It’s clear that your exasperation with sexism is very sincere, and I’m glad to see you grappling with these issues in writing! That said, I wanted to respond to a couple of things here: how you distanced yourself from feminism with your words above, and your assertion that “whining about [sexism] has yet to accomplish much for anyone.”

    On the first point, you may disagree with the opinions of specific feminists – it’s a big movement, and there are lots of disparate voices within it making lots of different points, not all of which you’ll agree with. But fundamentally, feminism is about equality, which Jen and Elle mentioned above. Our mothers’ generation successfully overturned laws that denied basic human rights to women by labeling them as the property of their husbands. The reason that feminism feels like less of a life-or-death struggle today is largely thanks to their work, and I think it’s dangerous and short-sighted to lose sight of that by dismissing feminism outright. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, women *do* owe our current freedoms to feminism – and as you mention, there’s still a lot of work to do.

    To your second point, when you talk about “whining about” sexism, I absolutely understand your frustration – there are certainly a lot of people who don’t go any further than typing a 140-character tweet about an issue, when they could do more to move the discussion substantially forward. I think it’s healthy to challenge people to do that, and I’m glad you’re taking active steps to feature amazing women of the outdoor world on the pages of your blog. But remember that there are far too many people out there who don’t believe sexism is an issue at all; the more we talk about it, even in a passing way, the more opportunities there are to educate people (like the hotel manager in the example you gave above). I’d argue that using the word “whine” is more than a little bit disparaging of people exercising their voices, even if you think they could be doing more.

  • Reply David at

    Heather, as a male in this world raising 3 little girls as best I can, I really appreciate positive, strong role models that truly grapple with the complex issue of empowerment. I want my girls to grow into strong, successful, exceptional women who don’t have to feel apologetic for being everything I dream they will become. I also want you to know that just like a few very passionate feminists color the whole movement a bit extreme (but as Maddie mentioned, their efforts have benefitted all women), those male dirbags who have no respect for women color our gender in the same way. There should be no place in this society for disrespect or physical acts against women and the lowlife men who get away with it are a type of scum I really don’t like being even loosely associated with. I manage a decently large group of men and women and you can rest assured I am doing my part to have no tolerence for this behavior under my watch. Like you said, let’s all work together to make this society a place we all can be safe and successful in.

  • Reply Maddie at

    It infuriates me when men say, blatantly, to my face, “you’re just a girl.” Of course it offends me. I will gladly admit to things that I don’t know about or how to do, but to tell me I don’t know because of my sex? I find it an unfair assumption. I have a humble job at a carwash and we also do detailing. The manager is a man. My other co-worker is a man. This gentleman, who knows the manager fairly well, wanted his massive RV steam cleaned and detailed a bit. No problem. We generally don’t do such massive units, but this was an exception. The manager left the day before on a holiday. We discovered, my co-worker and I, that the side alley was too narrow to put the sliders out. We also realized, that we couldn’t do the storage area underneath on the opposite side. So we decided that he would do one side, then I would drive the RV out on the street, back up a pace, and drive it forwards back down the alley. Easy as pie. I’ve driven massive units like this before. I’m brilliant at using my mirrors. I operate massive CAT tractors with equally massive mowers behind them and back them up with no problem (except for that one slip up haha) so naturally, I was confident in my abilities, but also cautious, since this was a really expensive unit.

    The owner came in and my co-worker told him the problems. The man came into the store and asked me what the plan was. So I told him. he asked who was going to drive it. With a pleasant smile, I responded I was of course. He then said, “If I knew ___ wasn’t going to be here, then I wouldn’t have brought it.” then he said he brought up the fact the RV was a diesel engine, had airbrakes and one other detail and all I said in response to each point was, “yes, so?” Then he promptly told me not to touch it and left, assuming I unable to operate a stupid RV.

    I brought this up to a truck driving friend of mine and he scoffed and said it was ridiculous. I asked him if he thought it was my age or sex and he said, “It’s because you’re a girl.” And this friend has been my best encourager to get my class 1 to drive truck.

    I encounter sexism all the time and it infuriates me, but I just ignore it and do my best to prove my doubters wrong.

  • Reply Samantha T at

    I struggle very much in the same way you do. I once read that if you believe that men and women should have equal rights/pay, then you are a feminist. So in that case, yes, I am a feminist. But I completely relate to your struggle with not wanting feminism to slip into anti-male sexism. I also don’t want to turn feminism into something that people shy away from because of the negative connotations it can sometimes have.

    On another point, I am a registered nurse and have worked in 3 large hospitals in 2 different states. I have encountered very VERY unpleasant situations with male patients/visitors at all 3 places and have had all 3 places diminish it and put ME down for it. Example- I told a charge nurse once that the male visitors in a room were making comments about me to one another while I had my back turned and asked if a male nurse could switch me. She laughed at me and said I shouldn’t think everyone is ‘trying to hit on me’. I was so embarrassed and ashamed and continued to go in that room to do patient care and continued to have inappropriate comments made at me. I had similar situations other times as well where WOMEN put me down because males were being inappropriate to me.

    It is shameful that as humans sharing the earth, we don’t always come to one another’s defense 🙁
    Loved your post, thanks for writing about uncomfortable but completely necessary topics!

  • Reply Cora at

    thank you for adding the ETA. I hate it when I get dismissed because my husband is with me, or when they put his name first. When we bought a house, we got a joint checking account, which had to be in his name (not his wish, the bank required it). Even though I do our finances and paper work, letters are always made out to my husband. I recently got to have a very satisfying shout at someone, when I had to change the account number on something, and they required my husband’s signature for approval (it was something really minor, that did not warrant this request). We still need feminism (even us white girls, but let it be noted that the disparity for women of colour is even bigger) to make sure we get to experience an equal world.

  • Reply Shawnté Salabert at

    Heather, I typically really enjoy your posts, which is why I subscribe, but several things here left me with a bad taste. I understand where you’re going here – it’s pretty disgusting to read about the level of harassment that occurred with the river guides, and it’s natural to want to express what you’re feeling. And I appreciate that you inserted a follow-up note in your post. But…your use of the “angry feminist” trope – and your distancing yourself from feminism as a concept – is disconcerting. I won’t rehash what others have said, but some of the most ardent feminists in my life are men. Men who believe that the women in their life are equals. I’m a feminist because I believe that I’m an equal, too. The line about women enjoying “flaunting their sexuality for attention” feels wildly out of place, as well. And bringing up some sort of “reverse sexism” in a post that refers to a specific story about rampant sexual harassment and abuse against women also feels completely misplaced and missing the point here. It’s like someone writing an article about racism, but then inserting – “But hey, sometimes black people say negative things about white people.” Not cool.

    How do we address these issues of sexism? Sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Acknowledge the uneven playing field. Men still dominate the discussion, marketing, reporting, and so on of outdoor recreation. Men have privilege and power. Our brothers need to own this privilege and power, step up and be allies to the women in their lives, in their fields. Here’s the great thing – here are so many wonderful men already doing this! Listening to women. Speaking with women. Standing up with women. But there’s also an air of “brotection” that happens in a lot of cases – boys will be boys! – can’t you take a joke? – oh, he just thinks you’re cute, calm down! – etc. and so on. I ask men to call their brothers out when they see this playing out. Many women don’t speak up (I didn’t) because the power balance is not in their favor. Because people will call them liars. And sluts. And “angry feminists.” And say “maybe you shouldn’t have dressed like that” and “but you were flirting with him” and “why do you need to make this such a big deal?” and shut them down. We need to be there for each other – men and women.

  • Reply Laura at

    I am so glad that I read this a few days late, after you had added the ETA and I could see what others said! I knew what you meant before the ETA, and I completely agree with you. I think there is absolutely is such a thing as reverse sexism, and while I fully understand that women face a lot more discrimination than men, I also think we sometimes tip too far in the other direction in our quest for fairness. (And in doing so, undermine the equality that we are actually trying to achieve).

    Thanks for writing this controversial post – I really loved it and appreciate your views!

  • Reply Lynn at

    I’ve been a wildland firefighter for almost 30 years. I’ve seen so much that I could write a book. In fact, I should. The only way we could deal with it in the ’80s (and the women before me in the ’70s) was to work hard and keep up. You knew you had the responsibility for the women coming up behind you to hang with the men. If you didn’t, they would use you as an example not to hire another woman. It’s been tough at times. The new generations of guys coming up are much better at acceptance of women in the job. There are still problems but it is much, much better. However, I still never let my guard down and show any type of weakness at work. I’ve worked too hard for that. I’m glad it’s easier now for the gals coming in.

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