FROM READERS: Confronting sexism in person is difficult but important

It's easy to stand up against victim-blaming on Facebook or with your friends. It's harder when you're talking to people you don't know very well.
Monday, December 3, 2012 | 1:15 p.m. CST; updated 2:22 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Alex Pesek is an MU junior majoring in mathematics and an outreach panelist for the LGBTQ Resource Center.

My stomach hurts when I think about the disappointing rhetoric I've seen on social media about the Michael Dixon allegations, but the most awkward situations I've encountered have been in class. While waiting for class to start, people always sit and small talk, and naturally the topic of conversation has been the Dixon case during the past couple days.

It's these conversations, to me, that are most difficult to penetrate — my classmates don't know me as anyone other than a classmate. If I hear them propagating sexist, victim-blaming attitudes, do I say something or not? The conversations are bound to end in a matter of minutes, so how do I effectively express myself without sounding desperate and panicked that my sentiment might not be received?

I think I and other feminist friends feel this kind of internalized concern for how we'll be perceived — we anticipate dismissal by our peers. We second guess saying something for fear of being "That Annoying Feminist," but for me personally, this is perhaps due to my insulation among other feminists. I can share the Michael Dixon Jezebel article on Facebook without fear because I know it'll be positively received, and any criticism will certainly be the minority.

Just as similarly, I have no reservations firing off a sassy tweet to someone being hateful or unethical. But it takes a bit of bravery to talk to strangers about this in person, and the discomfort I feel goes to show how disarmed I am engaging with the public.

It's not entirely dissimilar from when we hear someone say "fag" — it hurts to hear, it's obviously wrong, but it takes some effort to not just call it out once, but again and again. It's exhausting at times, but worth it. If I call something how I see it, maybe someone who witnesses me will have more confidence in a similar situation elsewhere. And ultimately, I'm willing to seem like "That Annoying Feminist" — the cause is more important to me, and I'm down with losing public popularity for it.

Ultimately, we have a responsibility to keep our conversations with people mutual, informed and polite. That seems like a given, but it can be difficult when anger from browsing social media lingers into your face-to-face encounters. It's up to us to set the tone and not fall in line with the typical narratives that arise in situations such as these. And importantly, I know men and women uncomfortable with the f-word, but I don't think self-identifying as a feminist is a requirement for calling out what's right.

As Nicole Silvestri pointed out, we have a culture whose litmus test for rape is narrow, and whose willingness to side with victims is limited. It's up to us to dissolve these questionable norms and create a new normal, and speaking up, even just once, is fundamental to that process. 

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.

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