In support of all the amazing women sailors out there! The Sirens of Team Puff 2018
This one is both for women trying to figure out how to call out sexism in sailing and for men who want to respond in supportive ways. Look it: we can all be an ass sometimes. Intention is everything, so being an accidental asshole is much more workable than being an actual asshole who meant it or doesn’t care if they hurt someone with it. On my good days, I honestly think most people fall into the accidental category.
I will start by walking my talk and saying this past week I was an unintentional asshole in public. I titled my blog series “A Woke Mans Guide to Sailing with Women.” I did this having hung out in circles with both people of color and other white folks using the term in context of being aware of social justice and activism. I never paused to think about where the word came from or the context of its origin. I stole it because it’s catchy and I like to think of myself as someone hip to current vernacular and issues. This, my friends, is my privilege talking. This is also called cultural appropriation. I used it and I wasn’t thoughtful with it where it came from and now I know I was wrong. Someone, thankfully, called me out.
A friend, who is an amazing social activist and white ally against racism contacted me and said, “Hey Jenn, in many black circles it is frowned upon for white folks to use the word Woke, you might want to re-examine that.” So I started researching. I think the New York Times article “Earning the New Woke Badge” says it best.
So here is where it ties into my sailing blog series. When someone calls you out on something, even if you were not trying to be an asshole, you apologize and correct it. You try to learn from it and grow with it. You try to understand the other persons experience and reflect on your own. As a person who values inclusivity and justice, it is not my job to argue, defend, or analyze when someone tells me something is offensive. It is my job to understand why they feel offended, give empathy, say I’m sorry, and make informed choices on what I want to do about it. This doesn’t always mean I might stop the behavior all together, but at the very least I can acknowledge their hurt around it. You don’t argue with peoples feelings. Most of the time I try to stop the behavior though, because usually that is the kindest and most considerate thing to do and is usually a positive growth for me.
Note how my friend was kind but direct when they called me out. They didn’t need to explain it or put me down, they just gently asked me to look into it. If the person is generous enough to want to explain it to you, that’s indulgent of them. It’s also not their responsibility. You don’t ask that person why it’s offensive and have them educate you, that’s having them do the emotional labor again in care taking you. There is this thing called the internet and you can look it up, you can take on some responsibility in your own journey of awakening. That’s what I did. So that is my example of assholery and why now my blog series is called An Enlightened Man’s Guide to Sailing with Women.
With women calling out men specifically I need to start with the serious business of safety. Men often do not realize how unsafe it can be for women in general, let alone when a woman wants to stick up for herself. We are always assessing the situation to see if we will be verbally or even physically assaulted for saying cut it out or stop in some way or another. There is a kind of ingrained hyper-vigilance we are taught and take on in this culture for risk assessment with men. Even being friendly with men sometimes can lead to danger. I have heard countless examples over the years of women being friendly and men taking that as an entitlement to ask for or force more. Saying no directly, or calling men out is even scarier.
I posted my blog series to several sailing groups this week, but noticed I only posted them to women run pages. Why? Because I was scared. I was scared of the verbal assault I see regularly on co-ed pages and didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t mind if others shared it there, I just didn’t want the direct hot seat of comments I knew would come from some defensive and angry men. I am wary of the name calling or belittling that regularly comes with women asking men to change or women saying no. In extreme cases I have seen women physically threatened or black listed from boats for standing up for themselves or other women. I’m not scared of disagreement or discourse. In fact, I have written this series to be conversation starters with open participants of all genders wanting to collaborate and grow. A shout out to non-binary, fluid, and trans sailors out there! I absolutely do not want to leave you out of this dialogue but have just been focusing on the dynamics of cis-men and women for now in a very male dominated sport and culture.
In writing this I was trying to explain to my beloved Eric that women tend to do a lot of internalization and emotional labor around men to keep safe. We often bury our experience to keep the peace, adapt or accommodate. We don’t just do this for safety, we often do it just to fit in, especially around groups of men. I asked him to imagine a world where if he wanted to tell someone no, to stop, or to even explain his view point, that his emotional and physical safety might be compromised or that he would be ostracized. It was very difficult for my 6’3″ white man to imagine being afraid like that. He immediately started analyzing the what-ifs and trying to make my claims smaller, that it’s not that bad out there. Like many men, he means well, and I believe that denial comes from a place of not wanting to be in a world where that is true. I rarely meet a woman who would blink an eye at the truth of the lack of emotional or physical safety for women, especially in male dominated spaces or sports like sailing.
I asked him to imagine a scenario where you wanted to say no or stop, but with risk assessment, you deemed it easier and safer to take the current abuse rather than get more, even if it hurt. Imagine that even if you are not worried about your physical safety you worry if you will be taken seriously, if you will be judged harshly, called names or pushed out of opportunities. This is the tricky navigation women do daily. To call a man out or not? Many times women choose not to because the fall out isn’t worth it. Let’s do a scenario to hit this home.
In my second blog I talked about being at a swap meet and men directing me to dishes instead of rigging. I could have said something but at the time chose not to. I didn’t want to give any energy to them right then, so I took non verbal action by taking my business elsewhere. That is a legit response, sometimes intentional ignoring is a good strategy. Ignoring also allows this shit to go on for others. It can be enabling. Many women ask how to confront this stuff verbally in a constructive way. Here are some appropriate examples of what I could have said:
- “I know you mean well, but I didn’t come here for dishes, I came here for turning blocks and cleats.” Compassion then redirection.
- “Are you aware that pointing me to dishes could be seen as offensive and stereotyping me as a woman?” Direct and to the point.
- “Are you trying to be funny right now? Because I hate to cook! I’m looking for winches.” Or “Really? You gonna cook me something?” Adding some levity.
- “What the fuck? Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I want dishes!” Rude and confrontational, don’t do this one. Also don’t do the sarcastic example I put in my original blog post. These responses illicit aggression in some men and are not productive even if the sentiment is understandable. It is totally okay to think these responses, the anger and rage have to go somewhere.
Here are some of the sad and much too often reported responses men give women in these scenarios. This is what NOT to say or do:
- “You don’t need to be so sensitive.” Blame the victim.
- “That’s not what I meant, you didn’t have to take it that way.” Defensive.
- “Don’t be a bitch.” Mean
- “That’s not true, I didn’t do that.” Denial
- “Everyone knows women are best left to the galley.” Derogatory
- “Insert whatever words here and add looming, standing too close, taking a step forward, puffing up, standing taller, or generally using body language in a threatening way.” Threatening
Here are some helpful examples of what you could say:
- “I am so sorry, I can see how that was offensive, I didn’t intend for it to be that way.” Sincere
- “You are right, that was thoughtless and a huge assumption. How can I help you today?” Helpful
- “Yikes! I got caught being kind of an ass. I’m so sorry! I think women are amazing sailors!” Affirmative
- “You know, I really try to support women in sailing and I still get caught up in stereotypes. I’m sorry, what is that like for you when that happens?” Supportive
- “I am not sure what you mean, can you help me understand?” Open minded and engaging. Although this could be seen as making her do the emotional labor, but it’s better than the first set of responses on what not to say.
- “Thanks for letting me know, what are you looking for?” Acknowledgement
This final paragraph might be the most important and the most helpful thing a man can do for a woman in sailing. Educate yourself, be an ally, and YOU CALL IT OUT. I do believe there are more of you good guys out there than not. You need to step up. When men stand up to other men that changes the culture faster and takes the burden off of women, who have been the ones struggling to be included all along. Words matter, semantics matter, but what matters most is intention. Even if you screw up, put your foot in your mouth, are clumsy, TRY. Try to do the right thing and call out sexism where you see it, own it when you do it, and repair when you can. Try to be inclusive and give opportunities with different kinds of people riding on your boats, buying your boats or being involved with boats. This will grow our sport. It will make it healthier and more fun. Sailing is about teamwork and people relying on one another for survival. A skippers main job is the safety and welfare of their crew. That means emotional safety as well. Thank you to all the good guys out there, we need you and appreciate you. May we all sail in peace.