There seems to be a never-ending stream of sexist commentary and boys’ banter from every side. The media, politics, business, sport and even education. The list is endless. Yes, from time to time there is a backlash and outcry with consequences imposed. We saw this with the restrictions and fines placed on the Polish MEP for a sexist rant only last month. Occasionally we might have a high-profile firing or resignation. But for the most part there is an underlying tolerance and indulgence of “locker room talk” or “boys’ banter” not just amongst men, but women too, which is astonishing. And it needs to stop.
Is “Boys’ banter” becoming mainstream….. again?
Never was this more apparent than the difference in response to the “Legs-it” issue this week. The Daily Mail, a right-wing U.K. rag focused on the legs of Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, the two most powerful women in UK politics rather than their ideas. The headline ran “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” following their recent summit. TV journalist Carole Malone on Sky TV said these ladies had “dressed to attract attention.” They are female politicians of a certain age, in business attire.
You have to be kidding me.
Missed opportunity for a call to action
Theresa May’s response was sadly weak, suggesting it was all “a bit of fun”. It was Nicola Sturgeon who accused the Daily Mail of taking Britain back to the 1970s. When senior, powerful women turn a blind eye to overt sexism it paves the way for unacceptable behaviour to gain momentum and misses an opportunity for a call to action as role models to other women, particularly young ones. The author Sarah Vine, another high-profile woman, called on people “to get a life.” Really?
New high to hit a new low
Are we are reaching a new high to hit a new low, in our toleration of unacceptable behaviour, boys banter being just part of that. Or are we turning the clock back? President Trump has an appalling track record of misogynistic comments and sexist treatment of women, which seems to leave his female voters un-phased and even supportive . This is not the first time that May has deferred to inappropriate male behaviour as we saw with Trump grabbing her hand at the White House. Perhaps she believes if she ignores it, it will go away. Sadly I don’t think it will. It just makes it seem more OK and allows it to get more deeply ingrained.
Massive problem when that’s all you say and see
Dion Johnson, Founder at Woman Leader Global, strategic ally & Master Coach to women in senior leadership, shares her profound insights:
For many women, me included, a compliment about my legs or dress or shade of lipstick is well received and even enjoyed, so I understand how the headline could be taken as a light-hearted meaningless comment by other women, but when it’s ALL you see think or care to comment on. But despite the context of womanly presence, it’s really not okay, it’s a massive problem
There is only one reason why women join in and perpetuate this; because they are ignorant to the far-reaching bias forming consequences being fortified here…. when the sight of a woman, no matter the context, automatically triggers thoughts of judgement and assessment about her sexuality, fashion sense, or body shape and size only, it’s saying that these metrics are what’s most important about being a woman. But they are NOT the most important things… and almost invariably not the case at work, (unless you are a prostitute or stripper that is) – sadly, behind the masks of professionalism, political correctness and social etiquette, too many men… and more importantly, far too many WOMEN still unconsciously believe they are.
Read: 7 steps towards a bias conscious culture
Dion believes we have to change this one challenge at a time.
“Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon had an amazing opportunity to challenge the lies about what it means to be a woman of Influence in the marketplace, they missed the chance to issue the call to action demanding that men, women, boys and girls everywhere come to the conscious realisation that is SO MUCH MORE to us as women in the marketplace than our body parts, body shape and dress sense. As senior leading women, especially those of us, like May and Sturgeon who have such global visibility, we must not ignore our responsibility to redefine, re-brand and innovate the feminine in the global marketplace, and change minds with a unified zero tolerance message. Of course that would call for us to grapple personally and collectively with what being a WOMAN leader actually means… but that’s a whole other article!”
Ignorant women perpetuate stereotypes
So whether it’s body shaming, intellectual put downs, demeaning comments about women in any way, women themselves have to stop their tacit support of “boys’ banter.” It’s toxic and has a far wider impact and implication than these women believe, coming generally from their place of white, female privilege.
The women who indulge and tolerate this behaviour are just as guilty as the men in their lives, for contributing to embedding sexism more firmly into our cultures. If the Primeminister thinks it’s “a bit of fun” then surely the Sales Director, Social Worker or Secretary will too? Just as we thought we were making headway.
Contact 3Plus to deal with unconscious bias in your organisation.