“Wow! That was sexist.”
The words flew out of mouth like they were speeding through a yellow light. They surprised me as a heard them. The tone in my voice made me cringe. It was a little condescending and a lot aggressive. For days after I hurled those words at someone, I could not stop replaying the interaction in my mind or decide how I felt about it. So I reached out to my community for their perspective. I told them the whole story, which went something like this…
Flyering for Go Girls! can be a beautiful thing. My partner, Tucker, is our “flyer guy,” but I often join him when it’s a beautiful day. It’s another chance for me to talk to people about how amazing Go Girls! is (pretty much my favorite thing), and to explore parts of the Bay Area I never frequent.
We were in North Beach in San Francisco. The sun was high as it glistened over the bay. It lit the palm trees in that almost-technicolor way that forces you to remember you are, in fact, in California. Honey, our dog, was in on the adventure and eager to cross the street even though a trolley was turning the corner.
“Honey, get back,” I said with a little tug on her leash. She hopped backward, all four paws in the air, and sat immediately. Adorable. A crowd of people were waiting around us to cross the street and I heard an “Awww!” come from behind. I felt the people appreciating her unbearable cuteness.
Smiling to myself at her positive effect on people, I heard a different voice rise above the city sounds. A man’s voice loudly met my ears with, “Could you help me teach my wife to do that?”
I whipped my head in his direction as he let out a short chuckle.
“Wow! That was sexist,” erupted from me before I even had a chance to think about it.
His face, which was at first painted with a grin, broke into a grimace. He shook his head quickly with redness rising in his cheeks as he sputtered out, “That’s… That’s not how I meant it.”
He looked down with hunched shoulders for a few seconds. His body language screamed embarrassment. The silence of the crowd spoke volumes. In what I assume to be an attempt to make amends, he asked my partner about Honey, “So… is she a lab?” Tucker answered politely, then we all waited in the most awkward of silences for the longest red light in history to turn green.
I instantly journeyed through a maze of emotions. Anger surrounding his words. Doubt with myself for lashing out. Frustration for even feeling bad about naming his disparaging behavior. Pride in standing up for women. Confusion around if I had done the “right” thing.
I thought about the work I used to do as a motivational speaker for an anti-bullying campaign. The largest component of my speech consisted of calling kids to action by being an upstander, not a bystander, when they witnessed an act of bullying. To speak up with their voice to fight injustice they encountered. I coached them to use the language, “It makes me uncomfortable when you say/do that.” How I reacted in the moment didn’t really match how I practiced with the kids.
Days after the incident, I still felt uncomfortable and torn about how I responded. At Go Girls! Camp, a piece of our Culture Code states: “I am a Go Girl! That means I feel my feelings.” Our feelings are our bodies’ way of directing us. Honoring them brings clarity. My feelings were speaking to me so loudly that I felt there had be an answer. Guidance must be waiting somewhere.
So like any student in this University of Life, I reached out to my “professors,” those people who grace our lives and teach us often. I sought guidance from my family, friends, and fellow Go Girls! team members. Some people thought I was a little harsh. Some thought I went too easy on him. The one constant I heard from my community was, “I am glad you said SOMETHING.”
There was the answer I was looking for. Something. I said something. Maybe I handled it with less grace than I would have liked. Maybe I came off as an “angry feminist.” Maybe what I said stuck with him and he will never make a sexist joke again. I don’t know. What I do know, is that standing up for myself or a marginalized group of people is not easy. Some lessons are hard learned. Some teachings are uncomfortable. Some big feelings accompany taking a stand.
Isn’t it telling of our society that I still think about this interaction nearly a month after it happened? I think so. Have I, as a woman, been so conditioned by a male-dominated society that the act of speaking out inevitably feels uncomfortable? I know I have the right to take up space in this world as a girl advocate, but I also believe I have a responsibility to practice compassion toward everyone. What does that balance of advocacy and compassion look like for me? Well, I’m not sure yet.
What I am sure of is that every interaction in which I am an up-stander will look differently and leave me with many different feelings. When speaking up, I may feel uncomfortable. I may feel angry. I may feel proud. I may make mistakes. But I may not stay silent.
I will always say SOMETHING.