In a wonderful article for The Root, Michael Harriot made that point (and more) in exhorting white people to speak up every single time they saw racism. https://www.theroot.com/white-people-are-cowards-1826958780
What about sexism and sexism in sports? What about if men spoke up every time it happened and said, “Oh, hey, maybe let’s not do that, ok?”
I’ve blogged before about systemic gender bias in sports (see, e.g., here and here). One thing I see over and over again – in all aspects of life, including sports – is men who recognize wrongful micro-aggressions yet turn a blind eye or even create excuses for the misconduct. At best, they are passive aggressive in their response to it. If men stood up for gender parity, the world would be far more egalitarian. Instead, as with many dominant animal groups, they leave it to the subjugated to try to free themselves.
Let me be more specific. This is going to start as a happy story for gender equality. I have taken boxing classes for many years and I love boxing. I took it in Boston and the classes were roughly 50/50 male/female teachers and students and I never once experienced gender bias there (truly!). Then I moved to Los Angeles and started taking boxing classes at what was then the Sports Club/LA of Beverly Hills (yes, it was as fancy as it sounds). There it was more male dominated with the instructors being 100% male and the classes when I was taking them consisting primarily of men. With one or two exceptions of grumpy old men who didn’t want to spar with me, I again experienced no gender bias. Instead, I almost got favoritism. People were really nice to me; but then again, it was just a great group of guys. They were nice to each other, too. There were the women and men who came in and didn’t work hard or were obnoxious and those people, regardless of gender, were often shunned and usually didn’t return after a few go-rounds. Overall, though, things felt pretty good. If you were a nice person and worked as hard as you, personally, could, everyone accepted you. Fast forward ten years and I’m in New York City and taking a small boxing class that was taught by a male former Equinox instructor. The class ranges in terms of gender distribution but I’d say it trends towards 50/50 overall. The first few classes were very egalitarian; what I had come to expect. However, over the next few classes, it became clear the instructor really enjoyed having the largest, most massive males hit with him over anyone else, even when those men had terrible form and couldn’t box. The instructor repeatedly favored power over form. In one class, he sparred with all of the men repeatedly, completely ignoring all of the females except me. I finally called him out on it, yelling, “Hey! You’re forgetting the women over there!” He ambled over and let the women hit with him a little, telling one, “Your punch is weak.” I saw her face blanche a little although she kept gamely trying by herself after he walked away. “Your punch is weak.” Drop the mic. Walk away. He didn’t tell her how to use her body to make the punch stronger, how to hold her arm, how to make a fist. He just said she was weak and moved back to the boys. It’s a class. He’s the teacher. She’s there to learn, precisely because she’s not already an expert boxer. If she was, she wouldn’t be taking his class. His job is to teach her, not embarrass her and walk off. He never said anything similar to the men; he took them under his wing, tutored the weak ones, and did his job – taught them.
In another class, he said he was going to teach how to make a proper fist because “most ladies can’t do this.” The two men in the class that day both had trouble with the “proper fist.” After the class, one man straight up said to me that the comment was a gender biased micro aggression. He was proud of himself for recognizing. I was not so impressed. I asked him why he didn’t say anything if he recognized it for what it was and he quickly backed off, saying it wasn’t a big deal.
In yet another class, the instructor had all the men sparring and all the women doing sit ups. I thought we were going to switch soon but then I looked at the clock and realized the class was 5 minutes to done and all the females had been allowed to do was warm up and work on our abs. I spoke up again, jumping to my feet and yelling, “Hey! The women have been doing abs the whole class! When are we going to get to fight?” He was like, “Oh sorry, you can switch now.” We then got to fight for a whopping 5 minutes.
In yet another class, he started splitting us into groups for punching drills – one group holding mitts defensively and one group in gloves to hit. He kept choosing men to hit and women to hold mitts. After he was almost done and not one woman had mitts, I threw my mitts on the floor and said, “You cannot possibly expect every woman to forego punching?” He was like, “Oops” and re distributed, more evenly.
I could continue with the examples but you get the point. Beyond just being repeatedly sidelined, the two main frustrating things were:
- even though I called the teacher out on the gender disparities; nobody else did. Some of the women thanked me, however, they did so privately, outside of the class. Likewise, one of the men said he recognized the gender bias but did nothing about it other than to tell me privately that he saw it, too.
- even though I called the teacher out and tried to be funny and avoid anger, which I knew would be construed as obnoxiousness, he still kept engaging in the behavior. He did not learn. Would the behavior have changed if the men had spoken up? Just one guy? I think it would have.
PLEASE people. SPEAK UP. Sometimes it feels like all the “nice” people are so conflict-avoidant they become complicit with all the “bad” acts. They see the bad acts. They recognize them as bad. Yet, they choose to do nothing to avoid having to be the one person saying, “Hey, could you pretty please try treating everyone equally?” Is that really such a crazy thing to want? As someone who experienced equality, it’s pretty awesome. Is this new crop of gender bias and micro aggressions just this guy? This class? A reflection of what our society has become under our new “leadership”? Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, it sucks.