A short rant about… the casual sexism that we don’t even notice

I call myself a feminist.

I complain about the representation of women in politics and share my thoughts on pornography and the sex industry, but these are all big issues. I’m not saying they aren’t important, of course they are, but they are the bigger picture.

Recently though I’ve started noticing more everyday sexism than ever before. Partly I think it’s because I’m in a relatively new relationship and this always makes you look at the world in a new way, but it has also had a very tangible impact, not because of anything my boyfriend has said or done himself, (he is always thoughtful, courteous and kind), but because of how his presence impacts how people see me.

I’m used to doing things for myself and by myself. As a single mother I may not always be treated in the same way as a man, but I’ve not often found myself in situations where I am able to make exact comparisons. Now though, with a well spoken, 6′ 1″ man at my side, it has become very obvious indeed.

Here’s an example…

We’ve just joined a local drama group – a wholesome family activity if ever there was one. It’s a lovely group, lots of fun and something we all enjoy doing together. The average age is a little older than us, but everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. It’s all good.

Except of course for the casual sexism.

It’s the sort of casual sexism that you don’t always notice, because nobody is actively offending me, nothing awful is said, it’s more about what isn’t said. In the whole time we’ve been going, not a single person has asked me what I do for a living. Despite the fact that I could actually be very useful to them, it has apparently not occurred to anybody that I might have a job, let alone something positive to contribute. Even when I ask that very question of other people, they don’t return it. Nobody seems particularly bothered about where I come from either.

Presumably they imagine me keeping myself busy making Belle’s packed lunches and ironing my boyfriend’s shirts.

everyday sexism

My male partner in crime however is asked all the time. Everyone is keen to find out what he does for a living, because obviously he is a man and thus far more important and professional than me. He has been asked about where he lives and where he comes from and the Director has already suggested he might like to take to the stage in the next show.

There’s a part of me that wonders if I am being too sensitive and wants to make excuses – it is partly a generational thing I’m sure – but does that make it OK?

Am I being unreasonable to be offended by this?

Photo credit – Handcuffed to the iron from Shutterstock.




  1. 23 February, 2015 / 2:38 pm

    I’d say it’s a fair point to be honest.

    Pointing out and discussing the smaller issues can be just important as doing the same thing for the bigger, more obvious problems.

    There’s still something of a “they’ve got the right to vote, what more do they want?” attitude amongst some people.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:53 am

      Ooh, don’t get me started on voting. Women who don’t exercise their right to vote is another of my peeves!

  2. 23 February, 2015 / 2:42 pm

    My builder (who is mainly wonderful) came in one day and noticed that the wall he’d recently plastered had been painted. “Oh you’ve had a decorator in I see” he said, to which I replied “no, I did it”. His response (to the job he just thought was done by a professional, but now knows was done by a woman) “Oh, you’ve had a go”.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:53 am

      A woman?? Holding a tool?? Know your place Kath.

  3. 24 February, 2015 / 3:17 am

    I think it is symptomatic of the desire of the world at large to out people in boxes. After being a stay-at-him father for the best part of two years, and therefore prime career for my two monsters, I never did manage to stop being irritated by well meaning older women throwing out comments along the lines of “Oh, is Daddy looking after you today, are you giving Mummy a break?” Or the fact that the caribeeners that go on a buggy handle to hang your shopping on are marketed as “Mummy Clips”. We all need to realise that the world is an ever changing place and gender lines are more blurred than ever before. I am giving quite serious consideration to the idea of training in midwifery but a big part of what puts me off is the constant justifying of my job that I feel I would have to do.

    PS, just noticed your wall paper is Bombay Saphire, dunno how that has slipped my notice before.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:48 am

      Ah yes, well spotted! A subtle nod to the G&T aspect of my blog persona :-)

  4. Lucy
    24 February, 2015 / 10:55 am

    When I was being interviewed by the Times for my book launch a few years ago, the third question I was asked was: “What does your husband do?” WTAF? I said “That is a totally irrelevant question” and the interview went downhill from there and she basically made up the final article. :/

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:49 am

      Can you even imagine a man being asked ‘and what does your wife do?’

      Never ever would that happen.


  5. Valerie B
    24 February, 2015 / 2:27 pm

    I think you are being sensitive, tbh. I am a woman and get asked all the time ‘what do you do?’ whether I am on my own or with my husband. I actually hate that question as my job situation is quite complicated and not easy to put into one sentence.

    The fact that they ask more questions of your boyfriend and have asked him to go on stage may be due to other factors than his sex, perhaps he seems more approachable than you, who knows. Asking where someone comes from isn’t usually a sexually loaded question so the fact that they don’t ask you that seems pretty irrelevant. If you say you have a fun time and get along with everyone, and they are friendly, I really wouldn’t waste time fretting about whether they are being unintentionally sexist.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:49 am

      Oh! You mean maybe he is just nicer?! That could very well be true tbh… ;-)

      • Valerie B
        25 February, 2015 / 10:58 am

        Aww, not that harsh! wasn’t meaning to imply that, but it could be the opposite too. Maybe you are really chatty and they talk to you about other things, and ask your partner what he does and where comes from as those are quite neutral questions that you tend to ask as a politeness.

        • Jo Middleton
          25 February, 2015 / 10:59 am

          Haha! OK, phew :-)

          To be fair he is very chatty and approachable and I tend to be a bit more reserved when I first meet people, so that could well be a factor.

  6. Bonnie
    24 February, 2015 / 2:36 pm

    I don’t think it is a generational thing, I come across it all the time from people I’d consider to be my peers (friends of friends) and have now just taken to having silent bets with myself as to how long it’s going to take before somebody asks me (and then it’s usually ‘do you work?’ as opposed to ‘what do you do?’). Winds me up no end, maybe I’ll start to take it less personally now I know it’s not just me!

    I also think there are two types of people – those who are interested in others, and those who like talking about themselves and will use a question purely as a springboard to talk about themselves (which also winds me up!)!

    Rant over :)

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:50 am

      Nope, definitely not just you! I hadn’t especially noticed it before, being on my own, but I just know now that it’s going to stand out all the time and really annoy me!

  7. 24 February, 2015 / 2:55 pm

    I’ve never really come across this- to be honest I probably wouldn’t mind. I’m a pathologist and I’m so tired of explaining what I do that I would welcome a social group who weren’t interested. My husband is a stay at home dad and I think we ‘re both a little disappointed at the lack of a stir this has caused. People are more surprised that we have chosen to live entirely on one salary than by who actually earns the money.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:52 am

      The stay at home Dad thing definitely seems to be becoming more common, although still massively in the minority of course. Was he hoping everyone would flock round with lasagnes for the freezer? :-)

      • 25 February, 2015 / 11:21 am

        I think so! In fact all he has had are a few funny looks at the baby swimming class. Interestingly the kids love him. He says he is always inundated at play group by kids wanting him to read stories. Any sexism we have encountered probably comes more from my work peers rather than the older generation.

        • Jo Middleton
          25 February, 2015 / 11:48 am

          When I broke up with my daughter’s Dad I waited for people to turn up with casseroles but no one ever did.

  8. 24 February, 2015 / 5:26 pm

    Great post! I face it all the time. My work place is very male dominated. I’ve been a single mum most of my son’s life and I’m really pleased he has seen me doing everything on my own and being a strong example of an independent woman. Hopefully this will help the way he perceives women in the future, x

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:58 am

      Yes! So important for children to have positive female role models and to see working women as totally normal and natural – keep up the good work!

  9. 24 February, 2015 / 7:45 pm

    It’s so true. I face this all the time. Especially in the business community. I rock up at a networking event and any man in a suit generally assumes I’m the one making the tea. Even in my own family, older relatives have no clue what I do for a living (I’m tired of trying to explain, they’re not listening anyway) and that, until he had a pay rise recently, I actually earned more than my husband.

    It’s definitely more prevalent in older generations and it’s also a rural thing (I get taken much more seriously in Bristol than I ever did in Somerset).

    The subtle shift to the right in all our media with the rise of the UKIPper is a major setback for women’s rights.

    Oh yeah, and a couple of weeks ago my in-laws came to stay. We were getting ready to go out for dinner and my father in-law saw my husband ironing his own shirt. You guessed it, he had a go at me for not doing it for him as that was my job!
    …I rest my case

    Phew, glad I got that off my chest ;)

    Maybe you should do something radical at the drama group, make a spectacular entrance one day or do some unsolicited improv ;)

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:57 am

      I could almost hear your sigh of relief at the end of that!! I think you’re right about the rurality aspect – I certainly didn’t feel it as much in Bristol as down here. (I say down here as though I am in deepest darkest somewhere rather than just an hour south on the M5…)

  10. 24 February, 2015 / 10:00 pm

    yep this is so true, we had a contractor come and quote for a kitchen once and when he spoke about spec and price he would only look at Tom but turned to me and told me it would be easy for me to cook in…Tom actually does all the cooking and it was paid for with my work bonus! argh! x

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:56 am

      Ergh, how frustrating! Did you say anything? I would have been tempted to turn straight to Tom and say ‘there you go darling, you’ve been nagging me about how hard it is baking for me in this kitchen’ or something like that…

  11. 25 February, 2015 / 8:12 am

    I don’t get asked at all by most mums I know. I sometimes get asked if I ‘am still working’ though. Pah. I am and I love it! I, however, ask people all the time, because I like to know all about them. But, maybe this is a younger kid thing. All people seem to want to talk about is my kid.

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:55 am

      You do take a bit of a back seat when you have a small child, like you are purely alive just to wheel them between soft play centres rather than being an interesting person in your own right.

  12. 25 February, 2015 / 9:28 am

    I can see how it may seem one sided them asking your boyfriend about his career and not you, especially when you ask them the same question! I hate being asked that question as I’m not really sure what I do, or what I want to do, so I’d happily not be asked all the time (but not because of my sex!)

    • Jo Middleton
      25 February, 2015 / 10:47 am

      I totally know what you mean! “Er, I basically just write a blog and play on Twitter…” It never sounds awesome.

  13. 25 February, 2015 / 5:32 pm

    I think it’s such a huge problem and I wonder if it will ever change. Hopefully it will, I definitely know more relationships where the men cook and do equal shares of parenting and women work equally as hard! I couldn’t bear to be with one of those men who refused to change nappies and expected their dinner on the table at the end of the day! x

  14. 26 February, 2015 / 12:32 am

    This is something that irks me on a regular basis. I often ask people what they do for a living and then get asked nothing in return. Even if my answer was simply “I stay home and look after my children”, which is mostly what I do even though I do also work a bit, that doesn’t have to be a conversation stopper! It’s valuable work too.

  15. 26 February, 2015 / 7:04 pm

    This would drive me nuts! I hate it when I am somehow dismissed for my male counterpart instead. It does seem that it is a constant struggle for equality and I think really we’re both interesting and have something to contribute, not just my husband. x

  16. 27 February, 2015 / 11:40 am

    Hello Jo,

    Nice post. could it be that the “assumption” part is wrong? what i’ve learned over the years is that “it’s all in the head.” perspective, that’s what all is about. ironically, you might be right because compared to men, there are regions in the world where fewer employees or entrepreneurs. so if say, i did not ask you what you do for a living, it may be that i’m thinking that what if she actually doesn’t work and get offended when i ask about it? i mean there are housewives that feel offended at this right?
    also, what people think about you shouldn’t matter to you. what should, is that what you are giving to the community and maybe more importantly – yourself every single day. :)

    Sorry if I’ve offended anyone

  17. 27 February, 2015 / 1:21 pm

    We are surrounded by it all the time. Someone made a great comment on twitter recently about Jimmy Carr making fun of Madge’s age re Brit Awards, in just the same way he would have done with David Bowie (not). Infuriating!!!

  18. 4 April, 2015 / 8:04 pm

    I’m becoming increasingly aware of ‘Everyday Sexism’ because I’m aware/worried about the effect it has on my two girls. We bought a game of Guess Who the other day, and only five of the characters – out of a total of 24 – were female. FIVE!!! Just watched an ad for some new sing-a-long CD compilation and the women are singing into a hairdryer, a whisk and a mop, because the only places you’ll find females are the bedroom, the kitchen, and doing the housework, of course. Grrrr!!!!!

  19. 5 April, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    I rarely ask people what they do for a living, regardless of their sex. To be honest, it’s not something I get asked either. My husband gets asked, but I figure that’s because people can’t think of anything more exciting to ask. It’s mundane small talk. I wouldn’t consider it sexism at all.

  20. 5 April, 2015 / 3:37 pm

    Its really interesting you say this. When i was pregnant with my first child i found i suddenly became invisible. I remember going to a ‘dinner party’ with my husband, the people around us spent all evening talking ‘shop’ with him, careers, ambitions etc even though we were all in different fields. Not one person asked me what i did or anything about me past politely asking my due date; no one could comprehend i had anything more to add to the conversation than nappies and baby names. It was so obvious even my husband noticed and he kept trying include me in the conversation as i had quite an interesting job at the time which i hoped to continue after maternity leave but it was futile. Both men and women were guilty and we were only in our late twenties. It was a bit of an eye opener!

  21. 14 April, 2015 / 9:33 am

    I had a very similar conversation with my boyfriend yesterday. I noticed how, on Master chef of all things, when introducing the women they often say “mum of 2, Claire” etc whereas with the men its “graphic designer, Chris” and so on… As if the women’s only role on this earth is to care for their kids, whilst for the men its their jobs, which are oh so much more important. I find it infuriating!!!

  22. 14 April, 2015 / 10:10 am

    I think you’re justified in being miffed by that. I find that it only happens in situations with the older generation, or where the woman in question doesn’t actually work herself and might feel intimidated or undermined by whatever clever thing it is that you might do. Perhaps you should get your chap to sing your praises and tell your fellow thesbians about your latest very interesting piece, all the attention it’s attaracted, and how proud he is of you (in an non-patronishing fashion, of course!).

    Interestingly, when I’m with like-minded women (ie creatives, mumtrepreneurs), the conversation seems to go the opposite way – we’re very good at hiding our light and underplaying what we do, almost competing to be the one with the most humble and rubbish job. And out of interest Jo, what reaction do you get when you say that you’re a writer/have a blog and work from home? When I’m asked about my job, and I say that I’m a writer and I work from home, I might as well say that I sit on my bum all day eating chocolate and playing on the internet. In which case I big myself up to the max!

    • Jo Middleton
      14 April, 2015 / 10:21 am

      That’s an interesting point, because I am rubbish at blowing my own trumpet. When people ask what I do I mumble something like ‘Oh I write a blog and write some stuff and help people play on Twitter’ and generally it sounds lame! No one ever believes you can make money from a blog!

      • 14 April, 2015 / 11:32 am

        At risk of being sexist, I do think it’s generally a female thing to be crap at blowing our own trumpet. I’m only good at it when I feel provoked to defend my position in life!

  23. 5 March, 2016 / 6:41 pm

    I’m sure it’s not just that you no longer being single. I work in a male dominated industry. From the start, I grew used to visitors bypassing our boss’s male PA to ask me where her office was. Or being expected to take notes in meetings (hmm, not happening) and I still refuse to make tea for a meeting. First joint mortgage, the adviser spoke to my husband and then dumbed it down for me. I worked for a building society at that point, so just threw back the jargon. I find myself telling engineers/mechanics my professional qualifications just so they stop talking in small words. I think its funny now.

    One thing I have noticed is that people will tell me their life story at the drop of a hat. Even had that at a parents evening from one of the teachers. Felt like I was interviewing them for a job. My daughter still jokes about it. So I can only think that I don’t look like my profession, but I do look like either an interviewer or therapist. Maybe I should check my body language. Or cut my hair.

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