“Casual” sexism? No.

GUEST POST. Long stretches of State Highway One, devoid of mobile coverage and away the relentless titter of the Twitter. This was how I spent, and celebrated, International Women’s Day.

I bundled myself up in the car with the writings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – a favourite. I glanced at the odd blog when afforded the chance. I thought about how I should really do this more often.

How wonderful to be a little insulated, a little protected, from the outside world. Perhaps I will go out next year.

When I returned to my usual routines today I read an article by Alison Mau on casual sexism; that cat-calling, those insidious micro-aggressions that all women know, all too intimately. I’ve always liked Alison Mau, mainly because I met her at a ski field in the mid-1990s and she seemed lovely. I still like her, and I enjoyed her piece, but for one criticism.

It’s time to banish “casual sexism”, and call it what it is. Sexism.

Mau’s piece was swiftly rebutted in a column by Deborah Hill-Cone of the Herald. Hill- Cone is quick to point to the gender pay gap as being ostensibly “more important” for women, and that Mau should focus her attention on this, whilst shrugging off the seemingly less important examples of “casual sexism”.

Hill-Cone mentions that “Like most things in life, it all comes down to money,” cites statistics from a New Zealand income survey, and mentions the larger gap experienced by Maori, Pasifika and Asian women. All salient, sound points – that succeed in derailing Mau’s entirely by way of semantics. Get over it. Take it in your stride.

(Editor’s note: Hill-Cone herself was accused of sexism over this column on women journalists).

I have made a concerted effort in my own life to eliminate terms like “casual sexism”. The use of the term casual conveys that sexism exists on a continuum of acceptability. That there is a linearity to it, apparently. A tidy form of sexism, that exists to promote good cheer, usually among men. This isn’t okay, though. It never was, and it never will be.

Over the weekend I was shouted at by a group of boys in a passing car. True to form, I used my middle finger liberally, and they continued driving. Another example of casual sexism. Except I was genuinely frightened by the yelling and the leering, even if only for a moment.

There have been many moments like these of course, all ending in a defiant middle-finger from yours truly. Other women have not been so lucky, and it is for them that we need to stop referring to blatant, unashamed sexism as “casual.”

To eliminate this term is to recognise microaggressions as microaggressions, promote discussion without one-upmanship, and be cognisant of the beliefs and behaviours that underline rape culture, violence against women and children, and the gender pay gap.

Let’s not reduce our struggles to #casualsexism. Let’s call a spade a fucking shovel.

–  Amber Harlow


Editor’s note: I also really liked this article by Amie Cronin on examples of “everyday sexism” and the frequency of it: “I’m not sexist but…”