“And yet each of us, in every field, in every role, was stumbling into gender land mines at seemingly every turn—and often ones we didn’t even know existed. It was like trying to dodge the stench that lurks on a New York City street on a hot summer night: there you were, minding your own business, and BAM.”
I first heard about Feminist Fight Club on one of my favorite podcasts: Call Your Girlfriend. Hosts Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow were interviewing the author, Jessica Bennett, and talking about their tactics for dealing with sexism in the workplace. The conversation was candid, funny, and exhausting (seriously, every woman I know has some anecdotal evidence of sexism in the workplace, and that just makes me tired), and I knew I wanted to pick up a copy.
The book is a charming, sometimes hilarious, sometimes dead-serious blend of memoir and self-help. Bennett’s stories about herself and the women she champions are personal and filled with great advice. The book includes illustrations, factoids, quotes, and yes, even cursing (which was no issue for me; after 10 years in the—sometimes sexist—service industry, there’s a special place in my heart for people who curse when warranted). Bennett arms the reader with fight moves that can be used against workplace sexism, to create a more inclusive workplace for everyone.
The Big Idea
Understanding and Uncovering Deep Bias, Not Fighting Each Other
"Recognizing sexism is harder than it once was. Like the micro-aggressions people of colour endure daily—racism masked as subtle dismissals—today’s sexism is insidious, causal, politically correct, even friendly. It is a kind of can’t-put-your-finger-on, not-particularly-overt, hard-to-quantify, harder-even-to-call-out behavior that maybe isn’t necessarily intentional, or conscious. Sometimes women exhibit it too. None of that makes it any less damaging."
I’m aware, as I’m sure Bennett is, that just using the words “feminism” and “patriarchy” feels aggressive to some people. I’m not one of those people. But the book lays out a straightforward answer to those sorts of objections. The tactics that Bennett provides for combating sexism in the world and workplace are all strategies creating a more egalitarian environment for everyone. The fight is against the construct and manifestation of patriarchy, not against individuals.
We can all get better at navigating our workplaces, regardless of our gender expression, and understanding the biases we have (often unconsciously). The key is to recognize that becoming aware of our behavior, and correcting it when needed, is not a personal failing. Look around your workplace: are men in the C-Suite while women primarily run the administration? Do you hear water-cooler talk about your breastfeeding co-worker getting “special treatment”? Are all of your staff development events focused entirely on playing beer-pong or going to sporting events? Start to look for opportunities to change those behaviors. Sexism and bias in the workplace can be subtle and insidious. By simply becoming more aware of the way it can manifest in the workplace, you can start to contribute to a solution.
Beware the Manterrupter
"We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice boom over ours. We chime in with an idea, perhaps a tad too uncertainly—and a dude interjects with authority. We may have the ideas, but he has the vocal cords—causing us to clam up, lose our confidence, or cede credit for our work."
The book lists many examples of workplace sexism, and provides solutions, or “fight moves” to help overcome them. Watch out for the Bropropriator, the Mansplainer, and the Womenemy. Perhaps the most easily recognizable is the “Manterrupter”: a person who frequently speaks over others in meetings. Bennett uses the example of Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the 2008 VMAs, so that he could launch into a monologue about himself, despite the fact that she was the award winner. Classic manterruption.
Bennett gives four tactics to fight against this behavior in the workplace:
- Verbal chicken: stay strong and keep talking. Throw in some side-eye, and make it clear that you’re not finished. Don’t back down.
- Womanterruption: Speak up when you see this happening to your colleagues. “Wait, can you let her finish?”
- Lean In (Literally): Use body language to assert yourself.
- Kanye-Free Zone: Are you running the meeting? Make it a policy that interruptions will not be tolerated.
Being interrupted constantly is a demoralizing experience, and I love the simplicity of these four tactics for minimizing interruptions in the workplace, which can easily be applied in your next meeting.
"There’s no easy way around it: negotiating sucks. It’s difficult, anxiety-inducing, awkward, risky—no matter your gender. Some people are good at it, a few may even enjoy it, but most people I know would rather do almost anything else (and in fact we often do avoid it, at great cost."
The wage gap is one of the most frustrating elements of the modern workplace for me. Pair that with the “pink tax” (i.e. higher prices for personal care products, dry-cleaning, etc. that are specifically marketed to women), and the result is a systemic economic disadvantage for women. We often hear that women make approximately 78 cents on the dollar compared to men—a frustrating statistic on its own, and even more disheartening when you pay attention to the fact that women of colour typically make even less.
The last time I was in a position to negotiate a pay increase, I felt so nervous and sick about it that I almost abandoned the task. I was also fairly certain that my (male) predecessor, who was let go for poor performance, had been making more money than me, despite my own glowing reviews. The modest increase wasn’t even close to what I’d been hoping for, but I was so nervous about the process that I enthusiastically accepted the low-ball increase and silently kicked myself later for being such a pushover.
Bennett outlines a fantastic cheat sheet for negotiating a raise, complete with sample language to practice ahead of the meeting, follow-up steps, and countering objections. I wish I’d had this handy when I was negotiating. We all (yes men too) need to do our part to fight the wage gap. Whether that means trying to negotiate a raise, disclosing your salary to team members or others in your field, or recommending outstanding members of your team for a promotion, Bennett makes it clear that there is at least one actionable step you can take today.
Feminist Fight Club is funny, charming, sometimes infuriating, and always entertaining. What I love about Bennett’s approach is that the book is packed with actionable steps to combat sexism and bias in the workplace. For anyone who has felt the discomfort of working in an environment that felt even vaguely sexist (which is, unfortunately, almost all the women I know), this book will arm you with strategies to recognize, call out, and begin to change sexist behavior. These tactics also extend to other biased behavior—implicit racism, ageism, ableism, or subtle discrimination that may be playing out in the workplace. Regardless of your position, a more inclusive working environment creates better opportunities for everyone.