How to Handle Everyday Sexism, According to 9 Real Women

How women handle sexism
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In the wake of an election in which Donald Trump, a candidate who’s been formally accused of sexual misconduct 23 times, came out victorious, misogyny is front and center in the minds of many Americans. It’s an age-old topic that’s getting new kinds of attention and much-needed discussion. I’d go so far as to say that it’s impossible to be a woman of a certain age and not experience sexism during everyday life, whether in the form of catcalling, condescension, or a lower salary than she deserves. Misogyny is, depressingly, inescapable—but its ubiquity doesn’t mean we should brush it off as old news.

Last month, after the shocking footage of Trump’s lewd comments aired, Michelle Obama powerfully articulated so many women’s feelings on the subject: “It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen—something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day… We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we?”

Unfortunately, sexism is very much our present. And it’s not just flagrant, stereotypically obnoxious language or gestures coming from men. Women are guilty of gender double standards, too. During my first job out of college, I hired and trained a male intern who was a few years younger than me. Upon graduating, he received a job offer from the female CEO of the company that was substantially larger than my salary. I left for a better job shortly after, but have never gotten over that disturbing display of women valuing men above other women. It happens every day.

I wanted to find out what scarring or subtle displays of sexism plague the women I know. From playfully bigoted “jokes” to certain expressions that just have a chauvinistic air about them, here’s how nine strong, smart women react to everyday misogyny.

MORE: What Feminism Means to 7 Real Women

I used to swallow the insult, but now I’m okay with making others feel uncomfortable.

Call it Out.

“Like many women, I’ve experienced sexism ranging from an ass grab in my middle school hallway to having a random older man tell me to smile because ‘how could a young precious lady like yourself ever express anything other than sugar and spice?’ I’ve grown to the point where I no longer silence myself. I’m okay with making others feel uncomfortable—if they make me feel uncomfortable, I want it to be known. I used to swallow insults to cater to social settings. It’s hard being the party pooper but silence is not the seed for change. I no longer let sexist jokes slide by and it feels great.

In my social circles, I’m grateful that I don’t face blatant sexism often. The misogyny I do face daily is structural: the fact that on my transportation route, I have to walk from a train stop that is poorly lit. Walking between a concrete graffiti wall and train tracks is not somewhere a woman generally likes to be in the dark—yet it’s my way back home. If we had more female representation in government, I believe they would understand that walking 10 minutes in an unpopulated, dark road makes a woman’s heart rate triple. They would vote to add street lights. I continue to talk about my fears and interactions and hope that one day women will be free of these worries.” –Gretchen, 22, Budapest

I hate when random men call me ‘sweetie.’

Educate Others.

I often feel like I’m being talked down to because I’m a woman. I hate it when random men—whether they’re cab drivers, cashiers, doormen, or random people on the street—call me ‘sweetie.’ I’m a strong, independent woman and whenever I hear this, I feel reduced to a little girl—not to mention creeped out. When this happens, I usually just raise my eyebrows and try to exude strength and confidence. 

On the the other end of the spectrum, I get irritated as hell when people call me ‘Ma’am.’ I started to notice people calling me this when I was in my late 20s and it struck me as very condescending. Not only does ‘Ma’am’ sound so much less dignified than ‘Sir,’ but I also feel like it implies that you’re over the hill, and are therefore useless to society. I’ve vented many times about this issue to my male and female friends and family members. My female friends all agree that the term ‘Ma’am’ sucks so I know I’m not being paranoid. I’ve coached my brother and male friends not to call women they don’t know anything at all. If they need to get their attention, they should just say ‘excuse me.'” –Olivia, 30, New York City

I’ve entered the no fucks era of my relationship with sexism.

Use it as Motivation.

“I’ve entered the no fucks era of my relationship with sexism. I’ll often give street harassers the finger if I feel like I’m in a safe enough situation. Work is a bit more tricky. I’m in an industry that’s roughly 80 percent male, and men have a disproportionate number of leadership positions. We’re a very progressive company, however, so I find the sexism to be more subtle. That’s helpful in some ways, because you can discuss it head on—nobody is pretending that our company is where it needs to be on this issue. I try not to let little things slip by. I’m on a regular phone call with five men and when I sent around the calendar invite, one of the men berated me for not including the call’s number high enough up in the invite—ugh. My response was, ‘Well, it’s a good thing I wasn’t hired to be a secretary.’

I have a tight-knit group of girlfriends who all identify as feminists, as does my boyfriend. I feel so lucky to be in a relationship that is overtly feminist and allows me to be myself and pursue my ambitions. I’m trying to focus less on the injustices I experience as a relatively privileged straight white woman and figure out ways I can support women with fewer options and more barriers. Getting catcalled and not always being treated fairly at work sucks—but I think it’s important to recognize that women like me—white, well-educated, relatively wealthy—have most directly benefited from 100 years of activism by our grandmothers, mothers, and sisters. There’s still a lot more work to do.” –Suzanne, 29, San Francisco

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of strong women.

Take the High Road.

“Personally, I have never felt terribly affected by sexism, although I realize everyone has their own unique experiences. I grew up with a brother and sister, and we were all raised with access to the same opportunities and support and encouragement to do so. I attended an all-women’s college, and have always worked in an industry dominated by females, so I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of strong women and not subjected to gender inequality. I suppose had I chosen a different field, like finance or tech, I might feel differently, but the only time I feel prematurely underestimated for being a woman is when I play basketball on the courts by my apartment. Those guys will reluctantly allow ‘Basketball Barbie,’ as they call me, to shoot hoops with them as an act of charity—until they realize I’m actually kind of a beast and then they’ll apologize. But as with anything in life, I ignore it and do my best. Success is the best revenge.” –Christina, 27, New York City

Woman Walking

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It’s annoying when men assume they’re smarter on the basis of their Y chromosome.

Use the Facts to Fight Back.

I’m a human geneticist and work in academia, so people are pretty progressive and I don’t generally experience much sexism in the workplace. However, sometimes I’m speaking with authority about a biomedical topic to a male layperson, and he’ll argue with me and refuse to admit he’s wrong until I throw primary research articles at him that he can barely understand. I read this literature for a living. This may not harm my career, but it’s certainly annoying when men assume they’re smarter or more knowledgable simply on the basis of their Y chromosome.” –Catharine, 27, Los Angeles

I’ve had to move subway cars more times than I care to remember.

Confront the Offender.

“I’ve encountered sexism in so many capacities that I handle each situation differently, and it almost always depends on my level of safety. If I’m being sexually harassed on the street and it’s during the day, I’m more apt to turn around and walk up to the guy and ask him why he thought it was appropriate to yell something in my general direction or smack his lips at me as though I’m a dog. It’s usually met with confusion or even more sexism: More often than not, if I don’t answer his advances or challenge him, he calls me a ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ or ‘ugly’ anyway. At night, I usually ignore it and get my keys out to make sure the harassment doesn’t turn into something more serious. I’ve had to move subway cars more times than I care to remember because a guy thought staring at me while he touched himself was appropriate behavior. I’m almost always on the defensive when I’m alone, which is an unfortunate truth about being a woman in New York City. And any man who says, ‘But if a woman did [insert harassment here] it would be totally fine,’ doesn’t understand the implicit power dynamic that men still have over women in our society.” –Lauren, 29, New York City

I find comfort in social media-fueled movements against sexism.

Find Comfort in Community.

“Sexism is, unfortunately, very much a thing—even though that’s pretty unbelievable, since it’s 2016. I think it’s extremely important to bring attention and awareness to it any way that I can—especially since I have a daughter who I would never want to be affected by it. I think media has a lot to do with sexism’s presence and growth, especially when leaders, celebrities, and other people of power have the ability to express extremely discriminatory, derogatory and hurtful comments and actions against women. On a more positive note, I love the fact that social media has the power to bring women together and really give us a larger, stronger voice against sexist men and women alike, and sexist acts in general—especially with movements dominated by awesome and attention-grabbing hashtags like #RedMyLips. I find comfort in these movements, and feel supported by other women who are feeling just like me—that’s the way I deal with it, since it’s a proactive and simple way to express my thoughts and advocate for others. –Taylor, 24, West Milford, NJ

Woman on Street

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He said, ‘Why don’t you just stand there and look pretty?’

Vent About it.

“I was photographing my close friends’ wedding and this guy who is supposed to be my friend is also a photographer. I guess he decided he wanted to shoot the groomsmen photos, too, which I was okay with because the more photos for the newlyweds, the better. But during the beginning of the shoot, he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you just stand there and look pretty?’ in the most condescending and rude way. And all the groomsmen’s eyes got wide in shock. I told him that was super rude and he just smirked and laughed. I didn’t mention it again because the groom was there and it was his big day, so I’m didn’t want to ruin it for him. I just ranted to my friends after the wedding.” –Tyne, 19, New York City

I’ll gladly do the opposite of what men find attractive.

Rebel Against Outdated Feminine Stereotypes.

“It kills me when someone implies that I should or shouldn’t do something based on a man’s opinion. I remember when a very well-respected fashion designer told me I should show off my cleavage more because, ‘Don’t you want men to look at you?’ Or the time I told my male friend I would gladly have a flat chest in a second, and he said, ‘Men love breasts—don’t do that’ and I immediately told him I didn’t give a shit what men want, and would gladly do the opposite of what any man finds attractive. So many women say things like this, too, and it makes me want to say, ‘Base your life on something other than a man’s evaluation of your damn appearance!’” –Chloe, 25, New York City

MORE: The Top 5 Feminist Moments in Pop Culture This Year