Dealing With Everyday Sexism

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Dear Lynda,
what are some good ways of diplomatically but firmly dealing with everyday sexism in the adventure riding world?
– Megan
Dear Megan,

How one stands up to sexism can vary according to the situation, the person being sexist, and the person responding. We all bring our unique personalities to the table, and finding our voices in such a way as to both feel congruent and powerful is key to speaking up. The motorcycling world, and especially the adventure world, has been dominated by men, and has developed its own culture long before many women joined its ranks. Demanding immediate change will only get hackles up and shut down progress. Demonstrating our equality through our actions, while respecting that men are as varied as women in their views of the opposite sex and bring their own histories to the table, may go further in creating the changes we all seek.

Reading the situation is the first step: is it an inadvertent comment, innocently muttered and simply in need of highlighting what the person just said? If they hear their own words back will it cause them to stop and reflect on why they even thought in such a way? If so, merely tactfully pointing it out may do the trick. Kindness and forgiveness, generously given, recognizes we all have our blind spots and will work to address them if not put on the defensive. Sometimes people get caught in generalities, uttering stupid comments, when in fact those comments may not reflect genuine feelings. Helping a person to see that, while innocently spoken, they are causing harm, can personalize it and have a larger impact than if they feel attacked and thus need to defend their actions.

But what if the person really is sexist and believes women either don’t belong in the adventure riding world or, if there, need unwelcome assistance or are deserving of other forms of condescension? Again, reading the situation may offer some ideas. Is the person interested, or capable, of a discussion, or are they so stuck in the ‘correctness’ of their views that it’s a waste of time to bother? Often caught off guard, it’s hard to come up with the proper response until long after the insulting event. In the former case, having a toolkit of responses will be the best defense. This is where your individual personality can shine…deliberately ignoring, sarcasm, humor, disbelief, or a simple ‘seriously?’ can diffuse a potentially ugly encounter. Recognizing your actions speak louder than words, let your body language, tone of voice, and subsequent steps display your opinions of their sexism. Out-riding the braggart, understanding the workings of your own bike in front of the know-it-all mechanic so you don’t need his help, and setting firm boundaries when, as a rider whether male or female, you need assistance and the sexist oversteps condescendingly can go a long way to pointing out inappropriate behavior without ever having a direct conversation. Recognize places where you fall into ‘being nice’ when being assertive and direct are called for. Be willing to be uncomfortable speaking up. Rehearsing statements, such as ‘you’re right, I do ride like a girl, and hopefully someday you can too!’ or ‘thanks, I will take it from here; it’s my bike and my responsibility’ can be helpful when you might otherwise be caught flat-footed.
When the person has no interest in changing their views of women riders, save your breath and walk away, letting your riding speak for you and accepting that not everyone will be open to seeing equality.  They’re missing out on getting to know an amazingly empowered, interesting woman; seeing it as their loss makes sure you continue to see yourself that way as well.

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