I’ve always had a forceful moral compass. I know this because my body viscerally reacts to situations that contest my personal principles, letting me know loudly and clearly that something is amiss. My stomach gets unsettled and jiggly deep down, directly in the pit, creating a feeling of nauseous. An overspreading flow of blood rushes to my face making it flush a blazing red. I can feel this heat raise up through my cheeks in defiance of whatever gross injustice is playing out in front of me. Sometimes, my chest even breaks out into a blotchy red rash. It’s like my whole body is working together to say:
HEY SIS, YOU ARE NOT OKAY WITH THIS!
I’m just built this way; my body literally will not allow me to ignore these situations. Now, this doesn’t happen very often, but there’s several instances over the past ten years or so that really stick out. Once, while playing hockey when a group of girls conspired to get the coach fired and tried to manipulate the whole team to join their nefarious plot, another time in university when a classmate in an ed. class was saying some really horrible things about Indigenous Peoples that were just not true. Looking back, I can’t even remember what the guy said, but I remember being so mad that I could hardly speak, and actually having to get up and leave the room.
My most recent experience with the intensity of my moral compass happened this past weekend when my husband’s friend, who I will call Peter for today’s purposes, was helping us move.
Peter came in to look around our new house, as any friend would, but didn’t remark upon the functional layout or the abundance of closets like most people. Instead, he turns to my husband, with me standing RIGHT THERE, and says, “Oh good. The kitchen and bedroom aren’t far apart. You won’t need much chain.” In the past, I would’ve laughed this off, but I’m not a nervous teenager anymore. I looked right at him, mentally weighing my options as quickly as possible.
Peter had just drove ten hours through the night to help us move, showing that, deep down, he has a really big heart. He also dotes on my son, showing that, deep down, he has a really big heart. However, I don’t really care about the size of Peter’s heart when his sexist mouth has the audacity to disrespect me in my own home: you do not get to talk about me like that.
I found the whole situation so shocking because I’ve never encountered such direct and blatant sexism before. Ever. I know this means I’ve been sheltered, and just plain lucky. I grew up in a family with a strong mother and grandmother who made sure things ran according to their own moral compasses. I grew up going to school in a class filled with smart, strong girls, and teachers who nurtured and supported us. In Junior High, there were always 3 or 4 girls with top marks before the first boy even registered on the list. We played all the sports boys did, took all the academic classes boys did . . . there wasn’t even a question about those things.
So when Peter made this comment, I was taken aback, unsettled, and then just plain mad, all in the span of about three seconds. I settled on a moderate response, not letting it slide, but also not starting an all out war, and said, “That seems inappropriate, seeing as I make more than . . . [my husband] working full time.” (I’ve been working part-time since going back to work after mat. leave so I can spend more time with our son).
That caused Peter to backtrack. He replied, “I didn’t mean the chains were for you.” His sexist comments were, mostly, reigned in for the rest of the day.
I wish this story had a neat, happy ending, but it doesn’t. Dealing with Peter is still a contentious issue between my husband and I, and is something that has come up several times over the years, and it probably something that will come up several more.
How do you deal with blatant sexism?