I've been called a 'Feminazi' for calling out a sexist man on Linkedin – but I spoke out for all women

Solicitors have already informed me that they will no longer instruct me in legal cases

Charlotte Proudman
Friday 11 September 2015 16:09 BST
That's me: The Daily Mail's front page on 10 September, 2015
That's me: The Daily Mail's front page on 10 September, 2015

On Monday afternoon I returned home from work and logged onto my Linkedin account to find a sexist message from a senior partner of a law firm sitting in my inbox. The contents of the message focused on my physical appearance rather than my professional legal skills as a barrister in family law.

"Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!" it read. "You definitely win the prize for the best Linked in (sic) picture I have ever seen. Always interest to understant (sic) people's skills and how we might work together. Alex."

Like many women (and men), I signed up to Linkedin to connect with professionals in order to enhance my career prospects. Instead, I have received several messages commenting on my appearance and asking me to go on a date. After a catalogue of these similar incidents, I decided to call out sexist behaviour by a fellow lawyer by publishing his message and my response on Twitter.

While I am very much aware of the importance of privacy, I named the solicitor who sent the message, because, in my view, the public interest of exposing sexism outweighed any right to privacy here. If people don’t experience the repercussions for their actions, which are plainly wrong, then their behaviour will not change, and neither will sexist culture. All too often, women are afraid to speak up about these small but significant comments on their appearance which happen every single day. In this instance, I was particularly taken back as the message was sent by a senior legal professional.

As lawyers we have a duty to uphold the law including laws surrounding gender equality and sex discrimination. Instead, the Bar is home to rampant sexism – one recent report published by the Bar Council found that the legal profession is rife with prejudice against women. Needless to say, however, my profession isn’t the only one. After tweeting about my experience (and receiving a fair share of ironic sexist abuse because of it), other women contacted me to let me know what they’d experienced on their own professional endeavours.

I have been humbled to find that many men vocally expressed their support in calling out sexism (you can see it for yourself here, here and here), even as others sent abusive messages. Invoking sexism in professional spaces demeans women’s professional expertise by shifting the focus of attention from their skills to their body. According to research conducted at the University of Melbourne, this sort of "everyday sexism" in the workplace can end up bad for women’s physical health.

It seems to me that women professionals have two choices: either call out sexism and face the prospect of career suicide (incidentally, solicitors have already informed me that they will no longer instruct me in legal cases) or become one of the boys and replicate or humour sexist ‘banter’. Is there any middle ground? In my view, there is. If women and men support each other in calling out sexism wherever and whenever it exists then change becomes inevitable. That is why I did what I did and responded as I have done.

I am prepared to accept the misogynistic backlash that inevitably accompanies taking a stand in the hope that it empowers at least one other woman to feel she doesn't need to sit back and accept sexist 'banter'. I accept that I’m in a more privileged position than most, so I hope to use that to my advantage. At the end of the day, this may be just a drop in the ocean – but we can’t challenge an entire system of sexism without taking issue with its constituent parts.

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