Sexism at Home

Recently, my well-intentioned and politically progressive male housemate made a sexist remark and, in response to my aggressive reaction, told me that if I kept getting upset every time someone made a sexist joke I’d have a really hard time going through life. As if I need to be reminded of that. He also repeatedly makes the fact that I am a woman extremely well-known (even when I tell him that it makes me uncomfortable), by calling me every single “babe” or “sweetie” or “madame” name out there or opening the car door for me, under the guise of being a Southern Gentleman who can’t shake an old and harmless habit.

So at the risk of hurting some feelings, here is email I sent to said housemate. Publishing this letter is not an attack against an individual, but rather to demonstrate, once again, that sexism happens everywhere. Even in supposedly “progressive” places, like in my music and love-filled home. This point is one I may have to continue making over and over again, ad nauseum, because people don’t seem to be getting the message (and not because the point is wrong, but because it’s a tough one to stomach).

Dear [Well-Intentioned and Progressive Male Housemate],

I know that you don’t mean to harm me, and that you are aware that sexism in our society is a real problem. So what I am about to say is not, in any way, supposed to hurt or offend you. But right now, you need to check your privilege as a male, and listen.

As you know, I am a survivor of rape. What you don’t know is that even though I have dealt with the major trauma that was causing me real pain, I still face the same kind of oppression every single day. So does every other woman in our society.

I am not just talking about a wage gap here (although I did recently find out that my male coworker started at a higher rate than I did). What I am talking about is a system that tells me, every single day, that I am nothing more than a body that is here for male pleasure. And that the body that I have is not good enough.

This message gets communicated in many ways. Sometimes, the message is blatant and in-your-face, stuff that even men can see. But other times, this message is communicated in a micro-aggression, and is invisible to men. For instance, my older male coworker refusing to stop calling me “babe,” even though I’ve asked him several times to stop (he claims he just “forgets”). Or being told, over and over again by many people since I was a little girl, that getting cat-called is actually a compliment (which is almost like saying that getting raped is a compliment). Or in a housemate arguing with me when I tell him that I was hurt by a sexist joke he made.

When I am at home, I need to feel safe. The dirty dishes in the sink, the dog hair on the stairs, the facial hair in the bathroom… these things are annoying, but they don’t make me feel unsafe. What you said yesterday, and your reaction to what I said this morning, made me feel unsafe.

What you did this morning is called victim blaming. You put the burden on the person who is being oppressed. You don’t get to argue with me on this issue. You can ask me why it makes me feel unsafe, or what kinds of jokes wouldn’t make me feel unsafe. But you don’t get to tell me that if I can’t take a joke, I’ll have a really hard time going through life. Because I already know that. It’s not my job to stop being upset when someone tells a sexist joke. It’s the people who tell sexist joke’s job to stop making women feel unsafe.

The sexism at home needs to stop. I don’t care if you think I’m being too sensitive. You don’t get to make that call, I do.

Thank you for respecting my feelings, and promising not to make those kinds of jokes anymore. They just aren’t funny, and can be really hurtful. I hope you understand why I feel the way I do, and if you don’t understand, then I encourage to ask me questions to help you understand.

– Shani

Update 7/9/13

Several friends of mine rolled their eyes a bit at me and said rather than sending well-crafted emails politely explaining to him why he’s being a sexist pig, I should just scream at this guy. But I don’t really scream at people. Like, ever.

Until recently. I came home and there was shit all over the kitchen, when I’d just cleaned it in the morning. I knew it was this guy’s stuff, so I went to his room and asked him to get it out of the kitchen. Maybe he was in a bad mood or something, because he retorted, “Okay. And can you stop talking down to me all the time?”

To which I responded, “Okay. And can you stop saying sexist shit to me all the time?”

At which point homie got his undies all up in a bundle and started getting up in my grill about how my feminist politics are turning me into a monster and I’m self-absorbed and blahblahblah…

Something fucking snapped inside me. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and I started screaming at him at the top of my lungs, and ended up slapping him in the face. Twice. I got so violent that the neighbors nearly called the cops.

And I will not apologize. I have no room left in my heart or life for people who aren’t even trying to be allies anymore. I’m not gonna defend the use of violence to attain liberation. But I’m not going to feel guilty about my actions because in that moment, they were called for. There is no way for him, or any other male, to start to change without someone lighting a fire under his ass and making him feel, for a microsecond, the pain that women carry daily.

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