People who know me know that I am not one to ‘get over’ casual sexism or try to laugh off offensive comments in attempts to fit in or play the cool girl. Awhile back I decided that my feelings are valid and not worth swallowing in the face of both blatant and subtle discrimination, even if that was a buzzkill to people used to cracking sexist jokes and unused to being called out for them. Which is why, until recently, I would not even consider feeling guilty for interrupting my repairman’s string of jovial jokes about the untrustworthiness of women or pushing back when a male friend tried to explain to me that dress codes requiring high heels are not sexist since men sometimes have uncomfortable shoes too, nor would I try ignoring the sting of getting interrupted during a discussion only to have my own words rephrased and ‘clarified’ by one of the male participants.
However, over the recent months, I have started to question the legitimacy of my reactions. During a time when large-scale injustices, an overtly discriminatory framework of governance and a profound disrespect for women and minorities are swiftly becoming the norm, the ‘smaller’ and routine encounters with sexism feel at once more jarring and somehow less deserving of my energy and attention. As a result, multiple times during the past few months, after the occasional (or not so occasional) brush with everyday sexism, I found myself thinking “what just happened is not OK,” quickly followed by – “when so many people are suffering greatly right now, do I deserve to be worried about such trivial experiences and will I have any energy left to take a stand against the larger issues around us?”
It seems like a lot of us are going through a bit of an ‘outrage fatigue’ these days. With so many terrible things happening so quickly, prioritizing our concerns feels like the sensible and necessary thing to do. Here is the thing, though – forcing ourselves to draw a line between what we do and do not deserve to be upset about only helps create a larger and normalized culture of discrimination, while leaving us even more drained by each experience.
The truth is, pushing back against prejudice and injustice is an ever-evolving process, one that should be expanded rather than contained by the magnitude of external injustices around us. Our capacity to react and oppose discrimination is both personal and fluid and we help no one (least of all ourselves) by thinking about it as a finite and easily-depletable resource. Trying to suppress our reactions to the issues we view as comparatively smaller will only make us feel undeserving of basic respect and will contribute to a social climate in which sexism and other types of ‘casual’ discrimination become normal and acceptable again. So it is up to us to keep resisting the rollback of our rights by standing up against injustices both large and small and not giving everyday sexism a hand through self-doubt and self-censorship. It took decades of struggle on behalf of our predecessors to create a cultural atmosphere in which casual sexism is deemed questionable at the very least. We owe it to them to keep the everyday bar at least that high.
So please – do stand up for yourselves when someone is being accidentally or purposefully offensive even (and especially) during this time of heightened upheaval around us. I promise to keep doing the same.