My Story is Not Unique: Soft Sexism and the Need to Speak Up

Author’s note: Sexism does not only happen to women; however, this essay focuses specifically on female workplace harassment. 

The other morning while working, I experienced a disheartening, and yet, all too common situation.  I had just begun my workday when two men approached me, whom I greeted with a “good morning” and a smile (as is required by my job). Immediately, one of the two repeated my phrase in a higher-pitched voiced and with an even bigger smile. It was obvious that the man was mocking the way I said hello. I was quite surprised and immediately annoyed for more reasons than one, but mostly I wondered how I could be greeted so quickly with hostility for smiling.

Although most businesses teach their employees to treat every guest with kindness no matter what, I decided to be visibly affected by the behavior of these probably not-meaning-to-offend-anyone gentleman. Before we continued, I lowered my tone, unscrewed my smile, and asked if they would prefer I speak to them in a lower register. The men appeared first flabbergasted and then embarrassed, and then they began begging for me to “not act like that” and assuring me that they  “love people like me!”

The thing is, I need to be like that. I need to react to things that commonly don’t get reacted to. The problem with soft sexism (common demeaning behavior based on gender that is usually subtle) is that women often don’t say anything about it, and when they do, they are told that they are just overreacting, or worse, just being “too sensitive” (which is a sexist dig in itself).

When I told this story to my mother, she said “That’s just the world we live in.” It’s true. We live in a world where women are very commonly treated as less and for the least sensible reasons. If women don’t smile, they are told to “smile more!”. If they smile, they are told they smile  “too much,” and therefore are “asking for it.” Being a woman in America is a constant struggle between being too female and yet not female enough. These troubles come in so many forms it’s hard to keep track. Sometimes women are taken less seriously, sometimes women are flat out ignored, and other times women are degraded in the millions of other ways that actually exist and are real and should not be dismissed as oversensitive reactions.

For those of you who suffer through subtle yet common digs for who they are, there is little relief I can offer you; however, my recommendation is to say something. Speak up, if you can. Stand up for yourself and pave the way for others to do so as well. Every time you fight for yourself, you fight for someone else, too.

xo squea


10 thoughts on “My Story is Not Unique: Soft Sexism and the Need to Speak Up

  1. I think, “That’s just the world we live in.” is actually trying to say both men and females endure the same attitudes in the world. It amazes me how the feminist movement has lodged into culture this idea that Women-ONLY shouldn’t have to put up with humanity. That is not equality; that is demanding special treatment based on sex and it IS SEXISM.


    1. Actually, my mothers words were her way of saying, “yes this happens, but that’s just how it is.” I just don’t approve of the notion that if issues are widespread, we should let them be. Women are commonly treated differently than men in the workplace. Men and women both face obstacles in life, and this is just one that women face. I also understand that’s it’s often an unconscious act, but that’s all the more reason to “fight” back, so that this kind of behavior can be reduced.


      1. Think you may be mistaken. I can’t even count the number of times I have been mocked or seen men mocked by your exact situation and therefore I wouldn’t agree that it is “just one that women face”. There are many mean people in the world and it applies to both sexes.


      2. Actually, if you look at my quote in context, you’ll see that I clearly concede that both men and women face obstacles, but that I’m describing a particular issue that women commonly face. Furthermore, I appreciate your feedback, but telling me I’m wrong about a women’s issue further validates my claim that there is an issue to begin with.


      3. LOL… Sharing a belief that someone (wait.. wait for it….. No, excuse me; a female) might be mistaken in the belief that; mean gestures are exclusively a “women’s issue” validates a claim that there is a sexist issue??

        I think a sexist issue just arose – its called compulsively and manipulatively playing the victim.


      4. I never once said that “mean gestures” are a women’s issue. Continue to misinterpret my words as much as you like. I still appreciate the attention and the interest.


      5. Article:

        “I wondered how it could be only seven in the morning and I was already being made fun of by a stranger–for doing my job”
        “If it’s not clear yet, the behavior of this man exemplifies what is often referred to as “soft sexism,” a form of sexism”

        Comment #1: “but that I’m describing a particular issue that women commonly face”
        Comment #2: “wrong about a women’s issue”
        Comment #3: “I never once said that “mean gestures” are a women’s issue

        Where did I get mistaken?


      6. Soft sexism is an issue that women face, and that is the subject of my essay. The example I describe is an illustration of soft sexism. I actually do not believe it was this person’s intention to be mean; instead, he was interacting with me in a way, that I assume, he considered was acceptable (though it was quite disrespectful). It is not my argument that general mean behavior is solely a female issue, and that is not stated in my essay. General mean behavior is not the same as soft sexism.


  2. Also, opinions don’t outweigh experience. The idea that someone else’s interpretation of another individual’s actual experience is more accurate or logical is ludicrous.


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