I usually try to do something for International Men’s Day. Occasionally it’s an essay; sometimes it’s a graphic. The same messages keep coming back, though: not all men (with or without the formerly-ubiquitous hashtag) are bad, and what good men need to do is call out any everyday sexism whenever and wherever they see it.

I’m not overly fond of this logo, though.
His left arm is a little too long.

I’ve also talked about how I have a problem with doing this, because I don’t ritualistically surround myself with misogynists, nor do I have a direct psychic link to every man in the world so I can’t just seek it out and deal with it. I’m also a little nervy about how people may react. I asked a man to stop following a lone woman the other day and, although he did, he gave me a very dangerous look afterwards.

I’ve never been that confident…

…but I’m being more brave about it as the years go by.

A couple of months ago I was in a training session at work. On screen we had a list of our most frequent clients, with as many details as the Data Protection Act would allow. I’m not sure about how much our company asks of our clients (although if I had my way everyone would give their pronoun choice on their first day with us), but this did include gender.

“So, as you can see here, most of these clients are male,” said the trainer, “but we have two female clients here: Q and R.”

Younger ILB might have been too scared to say anything.

“I’m not sure that’s accurate,” I said a little too loudly. “R isn’t female.”
“It says ‘female’ here,” someone said from the back. “There’s an F in that field, anyway.”
“But R isn’t,” I said patiently. “They identify as genderfluid. The boss sent out an e-mail about it the other day. Putting their gender down as female is a bit of an insult.”
“They were called [R’s deadname] last year,” said somebody else with a maddeningly patient air. “That’s a female name.” A few people nodded.
“That’s their DEADNAME!” I near-shouted, standing up. “You can’t call them that! We shouldn’t even be discussing this, because there’s nothing to discuss! You need to change that label, or if you don’t want to, give me access and I’ll do it!”

What really got me about all this wasn’t the mislabelling of our one openly NB client (which I was, sadly, expecting). It was more to do with the fact that nobody else in the room seemed to think that anything was wrong.

“Look,” said the trainer, clearly trying to take back control. “This system doesn’t have any other options. You have to choose M or F. We can’t enter data of any other kind, and that’s to do with the company who wrote the software.”
“Well, that’s their problem,” I said. “But we should have at least put a note in the ‘other’ field. I’ll write to the software company, too.”

And I angrily sat back down.

I never used to have a problem with being silently active. When the cadets came recruiting in our year 7 assembly I got up and walked out. I shouted at one of my favourite teachers once for killing an insect in class. I yelled “WRONG!” at a Christian youth event when the preacher said Harry Potter books were satanic. When another Christian event called for us to “attack and destroy the false religion of Islam” I walked out into the dark field behind the venue and called H because I needed to tell someone I didn’t agree.

I even once told a young boy what he was doing was sexism, and he laughed because I’d said “sex”.

But that was all a long time ago. In the more recent years I have developed a fear of fucking everything up. I was incredibly lucky to get this job and I really don’t want to do anything to risk my position.

However, in this situation I did it without thinking. It was automatic, and exactly what everyone should do; I saw an example of everyday sexism (or, more accurately, NB-phobia… is there a term for that? Or is ‘transphobia‘ more appropriate?) and confronted it. It may not have gone the way I wanted, exactly, but I did it.

Not because I thought I ought to, or even wanted to. I didn’t even think. I just did it.

To this day I don’t know how our client found out about it, but the big smile and nod to me the following time I saw them may not have been entirely unwarranted.

Every day we get a little better. Let’s keep working on it.