Surprised by sexism

The other day I went to a barbershop to have my hair tidied up. For the last three years I have let my hair grow longer and I’ve only had the tips cut occasionally. As a result my hair was very thick and below my shoulders. Since I don’t invest much time in doing my hair, I decided to get it shortened a bit and have it cut a bit lighter.

Coming back from lunch at the university I took a short walk to a nearby barbershop I had seen many times before but never visited. Around lunch time they have reduced prices and they also take walk-ins, so I decided to pop by. As I stepped in, I saw a man and a woman in the waiting area, sitting and talking to each other. One or two employees were serving other customers further right. The man asked whether I had an appointment. I said no and looked at the woman quizzically, whether she would have the time to cut my hair. The woman said she didn’t work there and the man asked me again whether I had an appointment. I repeated that no, I didn’t have one, but would like to have a haircut, which was arranged after a short wait.

While sitting in the barber’s chair I realized how I had fallen quilty of sexism and my preconceptions. On walking in and seeing a man and a woman talk to each other I thought I was seeing either two patrons or a customer (the man) and an employee (the woman). Accordingly, I also focused on the woman whom I assumed to be able to help me, although the man was the first to speak to me. Thinking about my own behavior, I felt quite bad about it later on. I had let my preconceptions guide my behavior, although I should have followed the situation: in a barbershop the person who asks you about your reservation is likely to work there, whether it’s a man or a woman.

What also made my behavior surprising to me is the fact that I have visited male barbers before. Seeing a man cutting hair was nothing new to me; abroad I have even seen barbershops with male employees only. In Finland it has been a profession dominated traditionally by women but during the last ten years or so more men are increasingly in the profession, or at least that’s my impression. Maybe it was because I was in Finland, where barbers are predominantly female, that I unconsciously expected the woman to be working at the barbershop and the man to be a customer. Nevertheless it was a good lesson how we can unconsciously promote sexism and other types of discrimination.

Even if we cannot get rid of all our ingrained stereotypes and preconceptions, it’s important to acknowledge their existence and recognize when we fall prey to them. I believe that to be necessary to reduce their power, stop their spreading and have a more equal society.

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