Women already took the time to write endless articles on sexism at work that raise awareness, not-so-subtly victim-blame, or otherwise offer some sweet naval-gazing at an issue that's plainly depressing and infuriating. For example, I have tremendous respect for Sheryl Sandberg, who is so good at her job it almost feels like Facebook is an ethical company, but the whole idea of "lean[ing] in[to]" a system that was never built for women, smacks of denial. Acting like there is something women can do to ameliorate systemic gender discrimination is wishful and inevitably leads to unhelpful victim-blaming. It is time to share real tips to survive misogynist war zones.
1. Clap back by acting unaware
One of my favorite responses to insults and slurs is to act innocent and unaware. In fact, you are confused and just want some clarification because you really care what the person was saying. If you can master the art of sarcasm so subtle it remains undetected, it is so, so sweet. It is also satisfying because it manipulates sexists' need to believe that women are incompetent.
Example: Did someone tell a racist or sexist joke? "I don't get it." You respond. "Would you please explain?" If they tell you, "You are [blah blah] so emotional [blah]," respond, "Oh my goodness, I did not mean that. What made you feel that way?" Did someone use a slur? You don't know what it means, so ask them to explain it. You get the idea. They want you to feel disarmed, uncomfortable, on the defense, and you're tossing it right back at 'em.
2. Immediately call them out, every time
You have to be quick with this one. You have to immediately call people out to scare the shit out of them. Are you afraid of seeming undiplomatic? Consider this: Your colleague sure as hell isn't. HR may want to help you later on, but they are still employees of the same company, and that company wants damage control.
Example: Someone does something really messed-up either in private or in front of others. Look them straight in the eye, like you're a bird of prey: "Hey, [name], what was that about? You [call out behavior they just did]. That was messed up." And leave it at that. Emotionless. Cold. Swiftly leave the scene of the crime. Usually, alpha bros are so thrown off by unexpected confrontation, they abscond to their corner office. You can have a longer conversation, but fuck free emotional labor IMHO.
3. There is nothing you can do about sexual assault.
Actually, there is one thing you can do to prevent sexual assault: Don't assault people.
4. Not in your job description? Suck at it.
I'm not saying do not go above and beyond, because I already know you do, and I applaud you for it. But, did someone ask you to write notes or make coffee? (Pause. Who tf still does that?) You are already aware that you don't work with infants who can't do simple tasks for themselves, so this is some obvious, weirdo-power-trip sexism. Suck at the task, and refer back to #1.
Example: Did the sexist subject in power ask you to write notes? Welcome to my penmanship, bro. You will write the shittiest, most illegible, notes the world has seen. Did someone say something important? Quote half of it, or paraphrase, and don't write down who said it. Write the wrong date and time. Forget to send the notes out. Wait to be reminded a couple of times–You're busy, remember? You have your actual work to do. Bonus points if you forget entirely.
Example: Did they ask you to make coffee? (This still blows my mind.) Refer back to #2 and call them out on asking you to make coffee. "Did you just ask me to make coffee? I wasn't sure if I heard you right." There's just no way they don't know how inappropriate that is. Otherwise, make shitty coffee, decaf coffee, just make coffee for yourself, or take a really, long-ass time. Drink up, assholes.
5. The fine art of trolling
Death to toxic masculinity. I'm over it. This next tip is less of a combative strategy, and more about ways to help you survive and thrive in a toxic work environment. Don't hide your femininity if you don't want to. Wear fuchsia lipstick and glitter eyes. Try out a new wig. You don't have to hide in a navy pantsuit if you want to wear a floral dress. It's empowering to not treat femininity like it's second-rate. That's just a damn lie we were all fed from the time we were kids telling each other to "not be a girl," without fully recognizing the destructive ramifications of treating "girl" like an insult.
Example: For half the coding interviews I went on last year, I brought a composition notebook covered in silver glitter. I still can't fully explain why I did it, but I knew what I was doing. It made me feel happy and powerful, and that's the point. I wanted to see the smirk on the interviewer's face, and I wanted them to watch me write the solutions to their challenges in a glittery notebook.
6. Use all the power you have to advance women
This is the last one, but it's extremely important. Are you competitive with other women? I actually support that, but choose to be inspired by them. Then, befriend them, because they possess something of which you want more. I am grateful to be surrounded by women who intimidate me and thus, inspire me to be better.
Do you have the power to hire someone new? Hire a woman. Better yet, hire black, brown, trans women–Women that are statistically the most financially and socially oppressed. Not only are you likely going to get someone hardworking and talented, but you're helping advance the career of another woman. Are you worried about HR repercussions? Picture your sexist boss, or your sexist boss's boss, or even the asshole CEO. You are overwhelmed by their incompetence, but you know what? The friend that got them hired didn't care. When you secretly prioritize a candidate (keep referencing #1), you simply play the same game.
I'd love to hear in the comments the ways in which you cope with sexist environments, and unlike me, you have the luxury of remaining anonymous. Carpe diem and comment below.