Vaguely Sexist Comments From Loved Ones: How I Deal

It's can be easy to laugh off overtly sexist comments uttered by hateful and downright stupid strangers, but what about when somebody you like, even love, says something only vaguely sexist?
Publish date:
January 14, 2013

I spent most of my formative years in Texas and the American Midwest. For those of you new to the planet, these locales are not the bastions of forward thinking liberalism that they are believed to be.

What with me being female and Asian in these places, comments concerning my femaleness and my behavior, believe it or not, occasionally came up. In the more overt, ugly form of these comments, I got the really charming, "Go back to Chinatown, Geisha Girl!" while in a St. Louis bar.

This only served to confuse me, since St. Louis does not have a so-called "Chinatown," and if they wanted me to go REALLY far away to San Francisco or New York, as a perceived "Geisha Girl," wouldn't said town politely ask me to leave for Little Tokyo anyway? If I could add up the number of times my femininity as an Asian woman was called into question ("I dig Asian girls because they know how to treat a man, but you're weird. And fat."), I'd be able to buy a WHOLE LOTTA egg rolls.

It's can be easy to laugh off overtly sexist comments uttered by hateful and downright stupid strangers, but what about when somebody you like, even love, says something only vaguely sexist? It's these small, seemingly innocuous comments that can really feel like a betrayal.

The first time I was confronted with such a comment came when I was in high school, in Dallas. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school that was dedicated to the empowerment of women as leaders. I know, it sounds all rather stifling -- uniforms, skirt checks, hundreds of hormonal teenage women all in one building all getting on each other's cycle ALL AT THE SAME TIME -- but I loved it.

Appearance was not at a premium since we all wore the same clothes. I was able to focus on my brain and begin cultivating the stunning wit and wisdom you are witness to today, as opposed to worrying about my looks on a daily basis. It worked for me -- it doesn't work for everybody, but I digress.

At the beginning of my junior year, I was sitting in parents' kitchen explaining my class schedule to them. At one point, my dad stopped me, "Wait. It's already your junior year. When are you going to be taking home economics?"

I may have paused and given him a sideways glance before answering, "It isn't offered."

"What? What sort of girls' school doesn't offer home economics?"

"I don't know," I shrugged, "Do I really need it?"

My dear old dad just furrowed his brow and said, not unkindly, "I know you don't think you need it, but you need to know about the home."

The following shit-fit that I threw, screaming stuff about the "role of women!" and, "Like, what about the boys' school down the street?!" and something about "Camille Paglia!" (???) really showed my dad who was boss and afterward he threw me a big ol' Rainbow Vagina Parade.

Not really. I pissed him off so much he wrote a letter to the principal inquiring about the absence of home economics in our curriculum. I still don't think they offer it.

Another encounter I had with a covertly sexist comment was decidedly less rooted in my well-being as a woman.

I dated a Good Times Guy a while ago. I call him that not because he was always a good time -- far from it -- but because he was always up for playing party commando with his bros and making sure that his boys had a good time.

One night he proceeded to tell me how his pal thought it was fun to target the "sluttiest" or "lamest" chick in the bar and see what he could get her to do. Buy them drinks, do a stupid dance, copious shots -- nothing too crazy, but nonetheless he was feeding on these girls' insecurities for his entertainment. It really disturbed me. My boyfriend said he thought it was kind of dumb, but that his pal "needed it" because he had gone through a bad breakup.

"How is this fixing him?"

"Ya know," Good Times Guy countered, "[Friend] is an idiot. He just needs to be a dude; everyone has a good time."

At the time, I'm embarrassed to say, I swallowed my shock and disgust and laughed off his friends antics with him. I didn't want to rock the boat, and get all "feminist" on his ass.

Eventually his "dude" ways got to be too much and we broke up. But I ignored a lot of "but he's a dude" comments while we were together and the thought of it still makes me make this face:

That face and that story being said, I deeply cared about Good Times Guy at the time. I was always telling myself, "Yeah, I hate that he enables that shit, but it's OK, he's good to me." What I didn't realize at the time was all the energy I spent actively absorbing his dismissive comments about his pal's activities was wearing me out and making me a little bit numb to what was OK and not OK in the treatment of my fellow women.

And speaking of fellow women, I don't know about you, but to me the most upsetting brand of vaguely sexist comment comes in the form of statements made by other women.

While we were still in L.A., my husband and I regularly ate dinner with one of my best friends from grad school and her boyfriend. They are genuinely good people who have stood by both of us through good times and bad, and who regularly make me laugh and cry (in the good way). However, my dear girlfriend has an odd sort of "a woman's place" streak in her that I find really baffling.

One day, while she was getting dinner ready for us at her house, the menfolk were outside building cabins or something and I was filling up my wine glass. When dinner was ready, I bellowed, "COME GET FOOD!" out the back door. My friend scrunched up her nose and laughed at me saying, "Oh, Lou, would it kill you to do something sweet for your man? Why can't you bring him his food?"

I think in the moment I said something brilliant like, "He's a nerd bag, he can get it himself," but my brain was reeling. It IS nice to do something nice for the person you love, but something about the tone and the use of the words "your man" felt demeaning to me. Not to mention that I have never seen HER man make his own plate. There's nice and there's expected.

My initial reaction was to argue with her, but I know that we would have gotten into it and I would have probably ended up calling her something profound and counterproductive like "anti-feminist butt face."

Instead, my tactic to this day has been to acknowledge what she's saying, but also happily go about my business as I see fit. As much as it bugs me, she can have her way and I can have mine. And though I may not be starting a revolution, I am not budging on something I feel is about so much more than making a plate of food. Insistence does not have to be overly aggressive, much like vaguely sexist comments, it just has to be committed to.

I've freaked out, I've shut up and I've stubbornly done my own thing. Stubborn works for me. I feel that the best I can do to counter such comments is to not empower them.

And if I'm really good, maybe someone will finally throw me a Rainbow Vagina Parade.

Has anyone you care about ever said anything vaguely sexist to you? How do you deal with vaguely sexist comments?