When your institution “gets” sexism

On February 3rd it came to the attention of many faculty at Simon Fraser University that there existed an incredibly sexist video created for the purpose of promoting “Sweater Day.” People were quick to draw it to the attention of the administration who promptly took the video down. In an email from the newly minted Vice President of External Communications, Joanne Curry, the video was deScrew Sexistsscribed as “inappropriate, sexist, and not in keeping with our equity commitments.” It was the right response, offered promptly, and more than that, it proposed measures to ensure future communications were in keeping with “equity commitments.”

Remarkably, grumblings were heard among some male faculty members that those of us discussing the matter were wasting our time and we should get back to our “real” work. Such grumblings illuminate why so many of us reacted so strongly to what may seem to some an innocuous video. The video is a symptom of the toxic environment in which women work. Male privilege, like white privilege (from which white women also benefit) makes it possible to “just get back to work.” Why? Because their working environment is not toxic. (Insert nod to the many men and non-gender binary individuals on campus who are very keen to be alert to and contribute to eliminating such toxins.) Sexism poisons our environment, and this makes it harder to “work.” Indeed, only someone who benefits from sexism could fail to see how calling sexism out is our work… the best job we never wanted.

Conversely, coming together as a group, as so many women at SFU did  yesterday, sharing our concerns with the administration, and having our concerns heard goes a long way to neutralize that toxicity and makes our other work more possible to attend to. Just by way of example, I have been struggling all week to finish a talk I am slated to give at Oxford University in less than two weeks. Despite the flurry of emails, and the many media interviews I gave, I finished the talk. It’s anecdotal, but there is a co-relation.