Older women as upstanders – what we can do about Sexism by Toni Summers Hargis
“Unless we all take action to intervene against sexual harassment, we remain part of the culture that enables it.” (Elizabeth Broderick, founder of Male Champions of Change.)
Most of us recognise that just because we put up with something ‘in our day’ doesn’t mean younger women should, nor does it mean they’re whining if they object to it. Countless studies and reports show that while blatant sexism may be on the wane, discrimination and harassment are still rife. There is great strength in trying to stand up to this, and we encourage you to add your voice and support to younger women by listening to their experiences and helping however you are. Older women are often more confident and assertive, or as Helen Mirren once said:
“At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words “fuck off” much more frequently.”
Seasoned women need to remember that not all women feel self-assured, especially younger women who tend to be even less so while appearing confident and assertive. Pointing out how ‘strong’ you are and calling them spineless or snowflakes for objecting to something is incredibly counter-productive.
From workplace discrimination to public street harassment, telling young women to put up with it:
Signals that they're on their own. Let's not forget that by the time a girl or young woman mentions what's going on, it's usually not the first time, and it could be the tip of a humungous iceberg. A 2020 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that of respondents who said they'd been sexually harassed or abused-
“49% said the same type of harassment had happened to them previously at the same workplace. 45% of those who said they experienced the same type of sexual harassment previously, said it had been ongoing for 12 months or longer. 45% of those who said they experienced the same type of sexual harassment previously, said it had been ongoing for 12 months or longer.”
Makes them question their experience and subsequent feelings, and thus is a form of gaslighting. They know they're upset or angry, but they're being told it's not such a big deal or it's something they should be able to 'cope with'.
Ensures they won't bother reporting next time because, well, what's the point? As well as nothing being done about it, a backlash sometimes tarnishes their reputation and negatively impacts their career. While many countries have laws about retaliation for reporting sex discrimination, it's often draining and taxing to take action.
Reinforces societal expectations that girls and women shouldn't 'make a fuss'. It's telling them that 'boys will be boys', to expect it and develop 'coping skills'. Their feelings don't matter. When it involves a guy with a reputation to protect, asking victims to say nothing because of the damage it might cause him is asking them to put themselves second.
Normalizes sexism. The 'put up with it' message has ramifications for every woman. Not only does it set the standard in a workplace, it emboldens offenders to keep going.
Younger women can benefit significantly from our support, but not our sarcasm. We knew it was wrong back in the day, otherwise, we wouldn’t have talked about ‘putting up with it’. Silence is complicity, so let’s be part of the solution by stepping up.
Toni Summers Hargis, March 2023
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