IWD: Combatting casual sexism: #BeLikeAndy

22 February 2018

It was with dismay that I read a tweet from Anna Isaac, Economics Correspondent at the Telegraph, which read: “When a man on the train expresses his surprise that a ‘young lady’ is reading the business section of The Telegraph and the FT.  He starts explaining that Davos happens every year.  What ‘CBI and ECB’ stands for.  I try to politely move on… he asks: ‘so what is it you do?’

In a world where we are striving for equality, this is the sort of comment which makes me want to bang my head on the desk in frustration.  This is not a one off;  women are subjected to comments such as these routinely.  How then do we try to combat such overt sexism?  Could it be a generational problem that may rectify itself naturally as women hold more senior positions?  Sadly, I suspect not; we need some positive action. 

Maybe we are too polite to challenge comments when they arise.  Anna Isaac said on Twitter that she gave a “straight answer as my insides cringed”.   She is clearly more polite than I am; my response may have been “I’m actually an Economics Correspondent at the Telegraph; if you’re stuck with any economical concepts, I’d be happy to explain them to you in simple terms”.  However, she was perhaps too perplexed by this particular man’s next comment, which was “what an interesting job. You don’t look at all like someone with a passion for economics.” (That noise is my head banging on the desk again). I wish she had come up with the response suggested by one of her Twitter followers, which was: “You have a point. Women who have a passion for economics wear ring binders for tops and Tippex for eyeshadow”. That may have led this enlightened chap to reconsider his views on women who wear dresses and make-up. 

In all seriousness though, how can we stamp this sort of sexism out?  Perhaps we all need to have more confidence to forcefully challenge casually sexist comments when they are made. 

The Andy Murray approach

Take British tennis player Andy Murray, for example.  In July 2017, immediately following his Wimbledon Quarter Final defeat to Sam Querrey, it was put to him by a journalist in the press conference that Querrey was the first US player to reach a major semi-final since 2009.  Without missing a beat, Murray replied “male player, right?” in acknowledgement of the fact that since 2009, American female tennis star Serena Williams alone has won 12 grand slam tournaments. 

This followed on from Murray correcting the BBC’s John Inverdale during the Rio Olympics, after he congratulated Murray on being the first player to win two gold medals in tennis. Murray replied instantly “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each”. 

Murray’s comments caused quite a stir in the media, which goes to show that his attempts to shut down casual sexism were notable; although no doubt some people do take a stand without attracting such media attention, many others would shy away from doing so, for whatever reason. 

How do we encourage more people (male and female), to speak up for women when they are faced with inappropriate comments?  Maybe we need to overcome our politeness and unwillingness to offend someone, and call out those who make such sexist throwaway statements.   This is perhaps the only way we can seek to combat casual sexism for good. 

Maybe we just need to #BeLikeAndy.

IWD is an opportunity to build on the progress that has been made towards gender parity and to celebrate the achievements of women on a global scale. This year, #PressforProgress.

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