Here’s how it went down. I was invited by my sister Paula to take photographs of her new church. She is having her church website updated and wants it before Christmas.
After three years of seminary and commuting to work part-time at a church near Milwaukee for even longer, she’s recently gotten an appointment at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, in Monona, Wisconsin. She has been there for about three months as head pastor.
I am very proud of her and excited to help out in any way I can. I went over on Sunday to get some shots of the morning service and activities.
She’s talking to one of the people helping her prepare for the service, a man, who notices me taking pictures. She says something to him and he smiles and says something. She has an indecipherable but polite look on her face, which I can’t hear because they are about ten feet away but they are clearly talking about me.
I approach questioningly?
As I walk up she tells me: “He said that you got the good looks in the family.”
A shocky-kind-of-limbo comes over me, which is what always happens in these situations, while I try to decipher what’s going on. He really just said that to his pastor? Seriously? Should she be insulted? Should I? Yes, my gut tells me. And yes.
This is one of the most subtle types of sexism. A comment masked as compliment but clearly designed (whether consciously or not) to make women uncomfortable.
I say, “You got the brains.” as I try to remember that joke about “age before beauty.” No that doesn’t apply and why am I trying to be funny, except that I feel uncomfortable and I don’t know what to say. Commenting on her smarts was all I could think of, in the spur of the moment.
She says, “We’re just smart about different things. You’re definitely the better dresser.”
We both fall into a lame quiet, while neither of us knows what to say. They begin to talk about microphones or something related to the service. I finally mumble something about more photos and walk away, feeling sad and wishing my sister didn’t have to deal with stupid people constantly reminding her she’s a woman.
Was it sexist of him to talk about my looks? To refer to and rate his pastor’s looks by implication? He was meeting his pastor’s sister for the first time who cares about our looks, I mean really?
When I got home, after a twenty-minute drive, I was still bothering over it and I asked Tom what he thought?
And now I’m asking you. Was it sexist and what would you have said?
Of course I obviously do believe that this comment was sexist. It’s a work situation and a man is commenting on his pastor’s looks. However he does it , no matter his motives it is wrong. Saying something in a moment like that is hard because I don’t want to make things harder for Paula or create a scene. But saying nothing is worse. Looking back, I know that both of our silence is interpreted as agreement, indifference, or fear.
And so I sit here simmering, thinking about what I should have said.
Resource: I found this website to be incredibly helpful as I sorted through my feelings and the facts. If you’re new to the topic or still sorting these things through, give it a look and come back and tell me what you think? http://www.stopsexistremarks.org/
3 thoughts on “Was this sexist?”
At the very least it is incredibly rude and insensitive. Definitely awkward. Unfortunately sexist. Any comparison made in public between two close people that puts one over the other in this way is demeaning and has the taste of a power play. I am sorry she has to deal with that.
It’s also known as a microaggression. It’s aggressive because it subtly undercuts her (and your) value and authority, and it’s micro because it’s hard to pinpoint and hard to call him on it. And he would likely protest a totally innocent intention. But the comment was completely inappropriate, and had it’s desired effect on both of you. I’m so sorry.