Tag Archives: sexism

Dear Captain Awkward:

Do you have any snappy comebacks for when someone says “You only got into <insert institute of higher education here> because you’re a girl?”

I got this a lot when I got into college, and then while in college, and now in grad school.  Apparently all those lonely single dudes out there in their male-dominated labs think this is a good pick up line?  I tried vocalizing my internal rant in response, but that was a little long so I’d like some help in the brevity department.


Actually I’m Overqualified

Dear Overqualified:

The whole “you’re only here because of affirmative action” is a perfect Catch-22 of sexist and racist insults. If you argue back or try to prove that you deserve to be there, you are stepping onto their turf and lending their arguments…hrm…not legitimacy, because there is no legitimacy to be had here…but…attention? Credence? Every minute you spend arguing with sexists & racists that you do! so! deserve! to be somewhere is a minute that you’re wasting on not doing the awesome shit that you came here to do. They get to hold onto their logic that all spots everywhere are reserved for white dudes until a “deserving” woman or person of color “proves” their worthiness (& fucking basic humanity). Read the thing about the escalators if you want a more elaborate & metaphor-filled example. Or watch the cartoon for the short version – the first 15 seconds or so sums it right up.

To say a racist or sexist thing to a colleague and try to make them prove that they are one of the “deserving” few, while constantly denying that racism and sexism are factors in how resources are allocated in academia and other “elite” institutions is itself a racist and sexist act. “You’re here because special favors, I’m here because the system is fair and just and totally works!” requires a lot of cognitive dissonance and gaslighting to pull off, right? It’s a totally ridiculous assertion! By gaslighting, I mean when privileged folk constantly derail conversations to insist that nothing about sexism, racism, or the history of the colonialist slave-labor-built misogynist kleptocratic world we’ve inherited is real and really affecting real people in real time. “Greater justice and equality are TOTALLY possible, you guys….once the last white dude has been convinced that injustice and inequality actually exist beyond a reasonable doubt.” “Oh, you explained it pretty clearly, but you were angry & mean. Try again, and try to do it in a way that preserves his self-regard and feeling of innate specialness and deservitude of a place at the top of the hierarchy.” This gaslighting is a waste of our time and energy, designed to exhaust us so we’ll give up and let them have everything. Our giving up will also prove that the system is fair – we must just not have wanted it bad enough! We should negotiate more, or harder, or something.

Depending on your relationship to the person and your relative place in the hierarchy, some possible responses:

  • “Wow, that’s pretty sexist, and I don’t appreciate it. So, back to work topic….”
  • “It’s very revealing that you think that would be true. So, about work thing…”
  • “Are you sure this is an argument that you want to be making in a professional setting?” + long, awkward pause.
  • “While untrue, that’s a pretty hurtful thing to say. I’d like an apology.” + long, awkward pause.
  • “If that were true, what would it mean in terms of how we interact with each other and go about our work?” + long awkward pause. “So, it wouldn’t affect it at all? Cool. So about work thing.”

Oh, it should go without saying, document everything that’s said along these lines. Who said it, when, how you responded, if there was any retaliation or escalation afterward. A pattern of questioning a female colleague’s credentials & qualifications risks violation of university policies on harassment, hostile work environments, etc. Hopefully most people will take the hint and stop this behavior, but if they don’t, be prepared.

Don’t be a doormat, don’t just shut up and take it, demand respectful treatment as close to the moment as you can (rehearse with friends if necessary),  document everything, let your work shine, and don’t let the bastards grind you down. You are where you are so that you can do great things, so don’t let these people distract you with dick-measuring contests. The stuff they are doing is insidious, it is wrong, it hurts budding scientists & academics and it hurts the field of discovery itself. “Diversity” isn’t some stupid box you check on a stupid form. The survival of the planet pretty much depends on us knocking off this thing where we undervalue and ignore the contributions of the majority of human beings to prop up patriarchy & white supremacy.

Awkward Army, let the snappy comebacks flow!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a dilemma that I suspect is quite common, but I’m still running into mental roadblocks as to how to properly approach it. Background: I’m a lesbian and a big-eff Feminist working in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated company. I’ve worked marketing, event planning and PR for rape crisis centres, and volunteer on rape crisis support lines. I know a lot about anti-oppression and actively work on acknowledging my privilege and on calling people out when they’re being oppressive asshats. Except that’s not what I want to do at work. At work, I wanna focus on my interesting tech stuff and not feel I have to educate my boss and coworkers on racism and why and how they’re being fucking offensive.

My boss is a young-ish, laid-back, former hippy who’s travelled all over the world and loves to talk and thinks he knows everything about everything. A nice enough guy, but these topics he brings up at work are raising my blood pressure. And it doesn’t help I have 3 male coworkers who fall easily into the conservative end of the spectrum, so I’ve got no backup there. The lot of them could talk until they run out of breath, not really caring if they have a lick of knowledge about the subject. I mostly keep my mouth shut when he brings up touchy subjects, because I cannot be bothered to try to get into convos with people who won’t change their minds, have no investment in the topic, and will keep talking until I give up bc I’ve got other shit to do and my face is red and I just want them to STFU.

So, the question in all this, is how do I draft a nice, calm email to my boss about work-appropriate conversations and how his oft-racist verbal meanderings are contributing to a hostile workplace for me? I don’t wanna quit my job, I don’t want to go over his head to HR if I don’t have to, and I don’t want to be “the one who caused a scene” b.c., oh yeah, he’s also a huge gossip. Help?


Damsel in de tech

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Like Swimming After Eating A Burrito: Dating Advice From The Wrong Side from In Our Words. There’s a lot of great, insightful stuff in here, but this is my favorite part of the piece:

“Are they a jerk to other people? They’re probably also a jerk to you.

I used to be one of those people who got off on having a boyfriend/girlfriend/ziefriend who was too cool to be nice to other people, like my friends, family members or pet. He had a leather jacket, perfectly tussled hair and was in a band. Who cared if they showed up to my family’s Friday night dinner or knocked on the door before he walked in. They were like Jess from Gilmore Girls or Sam from Clarissa Explains It All. They were too cool to bother with knocking or polite things like that. Did Sid Vicious knock? No, because knocking affirms capitalistic patriarchy. When you knock, the man can hear you.

But it turns out those little things like knowing your mother’s first name or not being an asshole to every single person you too interact with is helpful, because you don’t want everyone you know to vehemently disapprove of your relationship. It feels like you’re dating Charlie Sheen or the Unabomber. And most likely, if they’re not that nice to everyone else around you, they’re not that nice to you. It’s not that you’re special or different from everyone else. It’s that they hate the world, and that someday will include you.”

We often point out here that men’s emotions get treated as logic and truth, but women’s emotions get treated as proof that they are stupid and wrong. Please enjoy this piece by Jen Dziura at The Gloss, When Men Are Too Emotional To Have A Rational Argument, which separates this very bad and sexist cultural trope from the herd and wrestles it down like the weak gazelle of bullshit that it is. It’s very US-politics-media centered, but it’s using the recent election cycle as a case study in this:

“What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.

I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.

This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”

Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.

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Happy weekend, world! I’ve got friends in town and am making the most of time with awesome people and Chicago food tourism. Hope you are all doing awesome stuff.

Dear Captain most Awkward,

As I say in my subject line: Help! My brother is a teenage misogynist!

He’s always been really awful about treating women as people thanks to his preferred media and genres, as well as the fact that our mother and other female family friends and relatives enabled and enable him like… like the seagulls that run rampant at the beaches. I don’t just mean the little kid “Girls are icky and have cooties!” but that he was (TW for misogynistic slurs) calling me a “two cent whore” and a “fat whale” and a “bitch” by the time he was ten (to be fair, I responded similarly, but I realized pretty quickly that we had shitty role models and that Shit Like That Was Not Okay – not even a whole year later, I had my temper under way better control). He also has had a really bad temper.

It used to be that if he got bored or someone denied him something he wanted, he would hit and kick and scream, now he just sulks and has said that if he isn’t happy, he’s going to just make everyone around him miserable. Don’t even get me started on what happens if I turn off or change his music while I’m driving (I have a lot of driving anxiety, his music generally makes it worse). He’s been getting better, though, especially because his legal guardian (a family friend, it’s complicated, but both parents are definitely in the picture, despite being in other cities).

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Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark knows 17,309 ways to kick your ass but only needs one.

Dear Captain,

Though I do not consider myself a prude, I sometimes have to question the validity of how sensitive I become when exposed to certain materials, which is why I am writing you.

I have a wonderful partner who is sweet and kind and makes me feel all kinds of wonderful when we are together. He is also very smart and loves reading and history. He takes a particular interest in historical television shows like Deadwood, Rome and currently, Game of Thrones.

I love my partner very much and I make a strong attempt to like the things that he likes. But these shows really get to me sometimes. I know that in the past women have been regarded as property but watching these shows with all the prostitution and rape is so distracting I don’t even care about the story. I see chicks in the backgrounds of scenes with the exposed bodies and it’s just there as part of the set decoration.

I don’t THINK I’m a prude. I don’t mind sex or nudity, but this isn’t even sex. It just feels like someone is trying to make me feel shocked and/or to hate men. And it bothers me that my partner doesn’t get why I’m bothered by it. We had a small fight about it the other day after viewing the first episode of GoT and he started explaining how he “understood there were elements of sex” in there which REALLY made me mad because rape is not sex. And it feels like he is so desensitized that it does not faze him a bit to see such things.

Gloriana Regina: Queen Elizabeth

Promised to half of Europe, married none of them, ruled her own damn country. Are we post-sexist yet?

The style of these shows are not going to go away and he’s not going to stop watching them, or at least wanting to. He asked if I’d prefer he didn’t watch but I don’t like asking people I’m dating (or not dating) to stop doing things they enjoy. I really don’t mind nudity, I watch bad sexploitation films all the time. But those stories are silly and the characters consenting.

I’m sure that GoT is only going to get awesome (I enjoy fantasy stories) but I just can’t see past certain things anymore. Am I being too sensitive?

Sick of Thrones

Dear Sick of Thrones,

I watch a lot of HBO dramas, and along with the amazing storytelling comes boobs. Lots of boobs, to the point that when we see some naked lady gyrating in the back of a scene my friends all roll our eyes and say “We’re on HBO, you guys!” and “Look, it’s HBO!” (you can’t hear the sarcasm, but trust me) to the point where I think that HBO must have someone on staff, say, a Vice President of Tits, who sits in on pitch and story development meetings figuring out how new shows will work tits in. Can any readers with inside knowledge confirm this story (and get me a directing job?)

While I’ve read the books, I haven’t watched a single second of Game of Thrones (yet), so I’m turning this one over to the great Commander Logic. But before I do, let me leave you with 1) It’s totally okay to just not watch things that you you don’t like 2) there’s a lot of shitty sexist media out there boy howdy and I can’t watch shows that start off with images of nameless dead, raped, and dismembered ladies and then watch detectives find out, in detail, how they got that way 3) your boyfriend isn’t watching those things AT you, and the more you disengage from it where he is concerned the happier you will probably be.

Here’s Commander Logic.
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And he’s still a dipshit. When last we saw our hero, he was comparing confident women who are hard to control  to “dirty snow.”  On the subject of rejecting strangers who want your number in bars, he says this:

The best way for a girl to avoid that awkward first date is to not give her number out in the first place. As a guy, I know the ins and outs of the phone number game. If a cute girl is giving me any sign of hope, I’m going to try for those digits. I never assume she’s just having fun meeting people — I always think she’s out to find a date like I am.

Okay, Rich, you’re right, it would be good if women didn’t give their numbers to men they aren’t really interested in, but even if they do give the number out, there are still ways to avoid awkward first dates, like saying “No thanks” when the person asks you on a date.   Also, the whole thing where you assume that women are all trying to find dates just like you are? That’s an example of a bad initial assumption that jeopardizes the integrity of the entire experiment.  But…okay. Imagine you get the number, or, the my-number-is-111-111-1111-now-can-I-go-back-to-talking-with-my-friends number. Is this really what you do?

The common move among guys (I’m guilty of this one too), after getting a girl’s number, is calling her phone to confirm that that it’s real and that his number is now registered in her phone. Most guys will watch the girl’s phone as they call it to make sure there’s no funny business going on.

Hi, it’s me, the guy from the bar, just checking to see if you’re a big lying liarpants who is rejecting me while we’re both here so I can go back to pressuring you!”  I’m trying to think of how I would react to having someone call me immediately to check if the number I gave them is a real one.  I’m thinking:  Not well. “Hey, thanks for instantly making me regret giving you my phone number.  Now kindly fuck off and go fuck yourself, in whatever order is most convenient to you.”

Now, to be fair, Rich does eventually get around to saying “Or, you could just tell them no, you don’t want to give out your number,” which risks hurting their fee-fees, but ultimately earns their respect. But not before these self-serving gems about giving the cold shoulder treatment and avoiding dark corners:

If you don’t ask questions, avoid eye contact, and maintain the general appearance of someone who is trying to escape, even the most confident guy will probably give up hope.…Getting trapped anywhere private with the dude you’re trying to avoid will encourage him to try to get your number. He’ll read it as you wanting to be alone with him,even though it’s accidental.

You know what?  I am capable of giving the Coldest Shoulder in Recorded History and I really do my best not to get trapped in dark corners by pushy dudes I’m not interested in.   But it would also be really, really cool if dudes didn’t separate women from their friends, “trap” them in dark corners, and then assume that they want to be alone with you, like “Now that we’re all trapped in this Dark Corner together, I will just assume that you’re into whatever comes next!”  Also, if you’re getting the cold shoulder treatment, give up hope sooner rather than later.  Immediately would be good.
He ends with the most hilarious and surreal piece of advice of all. You should invent a phantom boyfriend.

While most dudes want proof that your phone number is real, they probably won’t need proof that a boyfriend is real. They may try to make you feel stupid by saying they wanted your number “as a friend,” but they’ll back off.

Translation:  While most dudes will not take no for an answer about getting your phone number, and will immediately act like controlling assholes by checking to make sure it’s a real number, they will (sort of) accept that your pussy might already be owned by other some man and (sort of) back off.  Your feelings and opinions are not important, but the thought that they might accidentally be approaching some other man’s property?  Faux pas!

Well played, if self-serving sexist bullshit is your thing.