"Hey girl, why aren't you smiling?" #EverydaySexism
There’s a hashtag on Twitter that I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with called #EverydaySexism. If you’re not, it’s a valuable exercise to check it out and read some of the real life examples of sexism that women experience on a daily basis.
Like many of you, I’ve become pretty immune to the small stuff. Partly because I think I’m tough. Partly because I think I have bigger fish to fry. Partly because I appreciate the comparative freedom I have. And partly because I’ve been conditioned, above all else, not be a Miss Moana Killjoy.
Recently, I received pretty devastating news about the health of a close friend. I needed to clear my head so I went for a walk during my lunch break.
On my way back my mind was racing. I was sad for my friend, sad for myself, worried about what would happen, and mostly, just terrified about not only life, but death.
So it took me longer than usual to realise that someone was addressing me.
“Why are you looking so grumpy?” the stranger repeated his question to me.
Not having the inclination, or frankly, the energy to respond, I just kept on walking.
“You’d be much prettier if you smiled, you know,” the man shouted after me.
Of course this was not the first, or even the fifteenth time a perfect stranger had approached me in public, while I was minding my own business, to tell me what to do or how to look.
But because this guy caught me at such a vulnerable time it was the first time I properly, viscerally, experienced the outrageousness of this type of behaviour.
Because usually I swallow it, push it down, smile politely, keep my head down, let it glance off me.
As one of the comment moderators on Women24, I read hundreds and hundreds of comments on a weekly basis from men who claim that women experiencing sexism are overreacting. That feminists are ruining the fun for everyone. That men have it much harder than women. That complaining never solved anything. That women’s stories and accounts are just hysterical nonsense and that we should stop making a fuss over nothing.
That, as long as no one actually died, they don’t understand why we are so touchy.
The thing is, it’s not okay. It’s not an overreaction to feel angry.
Telling a woman you don’t know from a bar of soap how to act or pull her face or interact with the world in a way that makes it more pleasing for you is outrageous.
Expecting a woman to look pretty and happy, without knowing or caring what is going on in her life is outrageous. Interacting with someone on a personal level without their invitation; criticising a complete stranger because you don’t like their facial expression is completely OUTRAGEOUS.
Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, is arguably the most important of all human social abilities. In fact, not having empathy, or having diminished empathy, is one of the main traits of a psychopath or a sociopath.
We encourage our kids from an early age to empathise with other people. Growing up, whenever one’s behaviour was uncaring, selfish or just downright mean, a mother, teacher, older sibling or someone with a modicum of human decency and sense would help you develop your empathy muscle.
Phrases like “How would you feel if someone did that to you?”, “put yourself in their shoes,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and so on are used to make us stop for a moment and think how our behaviour affects others.
So if you think Everyday Sexism isn’t a thing, could I ask youto practice this lesson in empathy for a few moments and really put yourself in someone else’s shoes? I think the world will be a much better place for it. Don't you?