At home, I'll be tranferring this into OpenOffice so that I can put in the proper heading numbers automatically, but I wanted to get my thoughts in type while they are fresh. I'm e-mailing this rough draft to Poppy, since she's working on a HOWTO for women in Linux.
A women's HOWTO deal with sexist behavior
Draft the first
1 - Introduction
The need for this HOWTO arose while discussing another, HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux by Val Henson. Since we live in an imperfect world, women are inevitably going to encounter sexism and rudeness. Therefore, it is helpful to know how to respond intelligently and wisely.
1 b - About the author:
Tracey Clark has been a computer enthusiast for over 10 years and is female. She works in the technical support field, with over 9 years of experience. She discovered Linux in late 2001, has been running it since April of 2002, and is a member of the Austin Linux User's Group in Texas. Her interests include writing, women, computers, and reading.
2 - Purpose:
Sexism, rudeness, and agressiveness can be intimidating if we're not accustomed to seeing it or don't know how to respond. This HOWTO is intended to address what kinds of disrespectful behavior women might encounter in the Linux community, and ways to respond. It may be possible to educate rude people who might not have been aware of their behavior. Failing that, we can at least maintain our dignity and uphold the idea that we will not idly accept sexism and rudeness. There is no one answer to all problems of sexism, nor is there a simple way to handle any particular case of it. However, by knowing what might be encountered and knowing different ways of responding will help people make informed choices in their handling of sexism.
3 - Audience:
This HOWTO is aimed mostly at women in the Linux community. It may be useful to anyone who would like to know more about responding to sexism and rudeness in general.
4 - There's still sexism in the 21st century?
Unfortunately, yes. There are still glass ceilings on salary, and there are still people who view women as inferior, as sex objects, and generally as second class citizens. Women are still insulted, discouraged, put down and ignored just because of their gender. This is true even in nations that are more progressive in equal rights such as the United States, and even more noticable in countries where equal rights are not as up to date.
5 - What kinds of behavior are sexist?
There is no hard and fast way to say what is and is not sexism. Mostly, sexist behavior stems from the intentions and mindset of people. We can't be in other peoples' heads, so we can't always know for sure whether a comment directed at us was intended to put us down, was thoughtless, or was simply misunderstood or misphrased. Use your common sense, and don't be afraid to politely say something in response to something you find objectionable. It's OK to ask "Did you mean that to sound the way it did"? Trust your judgement, your right to politely question, and your right to voice objection.
Sexism can be shown in a number of ways. Some examples are:
- Consistently ignoring or talking over women in conversation (but not men)
- Belittling the contributions of a woman, simply for her gender and not based on merit
- Chalking up any objection or emotion a woman has to "that time of the month" or "female stress"
wording?- Making frequent comments about T&A
- Only referring to women as "babes" or "chicks" or "foxes" etc.
- Treating women only as potential dating material or sex objects
- Frequently squeezing or fondling women without their permission, frequently trying to "cop a feel" from people who don't consent.
6 - So, what can I do when someone makes a sexist comment or treats me as inferior?
This is aimed at personal situations or mild situations between co-workers that are not clear cut sexual harassment. The next section deals with sexual harassment in the workplace.
6a - General attitude:
First and foremost, a healthy sense of self-esteem will help you stand up to inferior treatment and help you get the respect you deserve. People who act as if they expect to be treated badly will sometimes get what they expect. People who expect to be treated with respect & courtesy, and who treat others respectfully, are more often treated in kind. This leads me to the next point, that we tend to get the kind of treatment we give others. You can't expect to be treated well if you are rude to or ignore others.
Of course, people who have good self-confidence and who treat others well will still occasionally be on the receiving end of sexism. There are things you can do in this situation that are non-escalating. Most people will be willing to talk things out when you approach them reasonably.
Training in a martial art or self-defense course is a good idea. It not only builds self-confidence, but it gives you the ability to defend yourself or get away from most potential physical situations. It is rare amongst mature adults that a situation will escalate to physical violence, I don't advocate starting fights over sexism. Being prepared for any situation you find yourself in is the idea.
6b - Reasonable people:
- Most people are reasonable. Generally, questioning someone with the intention to understand what they have said will be more successful than being accusatory.
- Don't be afraid to ask the person if your perception of what they said matches what they were trying to get across. Sometimes people misspeak themselves, and honestly don't mean to be offensive. Ex: "When you said that her anger was probably "Female stress", that sounded pretty sexist to me. It sounded like you think that she couldn't have had a logical reason to be angry. Did you mean to come across that way?"
- There will be people who don't want to listen to your criticism of what they have done or said. Some people will insist that their comment was OK, that "all women are like that" etc. You don't have to capitulate, back down, or agree with them. You have the right to your opinion, just as they do. You may have to agree to disagree. The important thing is that you have made your objection known, and the more people who speak up, the less comfortable people are going to be with acting in sexist ways.
6c - Then of course, there are people who are not going to be reasonable. There are people who are going to be rude & abusive no matter what you say. I'm not talking about people who simply hold their opinion as valid, I'm talking about the people who are genuinely chavanist pigs or abusive (verbally or physically). Here are a few suggestions for dealing with these kinds of people.
- Value your own opinion, but don't continue an argument with someone who appears to be unreasonable, irrational or unstable.
- You can refuse the company of people who are very offensive. This might cause problems with mutual friends, but it should be seldom necessary.
- You don't have to continue a conversation that has turned abusive. You do have the right to end the conversation. You do have the right to leave or ask the other person to leave.
- Realistically determine the likelihood of physical retaliation. (Yes, there are people out there like that). Judge your ability to deal with it if it comes to that, the environment etc. and act accordingly.
- If someone does get violent, press legal charges.
7 - Sexual harassment in the workplace
There are many helpful sites and resources that go into detail about your legal rights in the workplace. In the U.S., it is illegal to sexually harass people in the workplace. If you live in a country where sexual discrimination and/or harassment is illegal, and it happens, you should absolutely research your options and take action.
Sometimes, a private talk with the person's boss will be enough to get the behavior stopped, sometimes legal council is necessary. In many countries, there are resources for this kind of situation, take advantage of them. Support others who are justifiably having to fight against sexual harassment or discrimination.