So my friend Jon Cowie had a recent incident in which he called out some inappropriate behaviour from Comic Relief, who are suggesting the hee-larious prank of, I quote
Take your pants off, put them on the reception desk and say “I’m going commando today!”
In response one of the people involved pointed out that Jon’s vanity domain of mycrot.ch was also problematic (they weren’t serious, but regardless of that I think they were right). To his credit, Jon acknowledged the point, shut down his domain and basically said “Ok. Your move”.
Sadly, the other side were not so gracious about it.
I was very impressed with Jon’s handling of this, but then I started thinking about why I was impressed. It basically boils down to two reasons.
- The fact that as a guy Jon was calling it out was actually fairly unusual
- When confronted with a response that his behaviour was problematic, rather than getting defensive about it he took the comment on board and acted to address it
2 is just flat out impressive. It’s hard to take constructive criticism well, and we should all be better about it. So, yeah, well done Jon.
But it’s really 1 I want to talk about. Not to diminish it, but the fact that it’s unusual is a major problem. This isn’t a new revelation – it’s fairly well known that guys are not good at calling out guys about sexist behaviour – but the combination of this event and the recent discussions I’ve been having about sexism and gender bias in tech really drove it home to me.
Further, I realised that I’m not an exception to this by a long shot. I don’t think I actually engage in sexist behaviour (if I do it’s not intended and I would appreciate people telling me so I can fix it), but I’m definitely exposed to it from time to time and I don’t really do enough about it. I think this makes me part of the problem.
So, this is my commitment to do better. I can’t promise I will always call out sexism wherever I see it, but I promise I will do my best. I’d like it if you would commit to the same.
I have in fact already acted on this (I will probably elaborate in a later post). What struck me as interesting is how incredibly uncomfortable it made me. I’m not totally clear on why this was, but I’m pretty sure it was a wrong reaction and plan to simply ignore it and soldier on.
But it occurs to me that I’m probably not alone in feeling this way, and unless you’re really motivated to do something about it then going against your own feelings of intense discomfort is quite hard.
So I’d like to propose another thing that we as men who are interested in fighting sexism should do. When you see someone else doing it, say thanks. Good job.
This is not me asking for validation. Feel free to validate my doing this or not as you see fit, but I plan to stick with this regardless of whether anyone thanks me for it, and I hope you will too. But a lot of people won’t, or will try and just find it too difficult, and I think this is a good way to solve that.
Why? Because the best way to make behaviours not uncomfortable is to provide positive reinforcement for them. When you call out sexism and your peers tell you “You’re in the right. Thanks for doing what you’re doing”, you feel less uncomfortable and are more likely to do it again. Moreover, when other people see you calling out sexism and not being a lone voice, they get the message that this is an ok thing to do and are more likely to do it themselves.
It’s also an easier step to take. If you’re not yet comfortable with calling out sexism yourself, you can still help make things better this way.
So, please, the next time you see someone (man or woman) doing their best to fight sexism, support them by saying thanks. Publicly if you can, but even privately will help.