In an episode of “Master of None,” the Netflix comedy produced by and starring Aziz Ansari, there’s a scene where a colleague of Ansari’s character, Dev, introduces himself to Dev’s friends at a New York City bar. The colleague only addresses the men at the table, which Dev’s romantic partner Rachel, played by Noël Wells, reacts to immediately. She points out the colleague had treated her and the other women in the group as if they were invisible. Dev and his male friends brush it off, making up excuses: Dev’s colleague was in a hurry, people aren’t so awful and they’re overreacting.

Two things stand out in the scene: the initial sexist, if subtle, act by Dev’s colleague and the men’s reactions. The men tell Rachel and the other women, who have just experienced the sexist act, that they’re wrong. They (and their excuses) reject their female friends’ perceptions of what just happened and how they’re treated more generally. Later, Rachel describes what this is like: “When somebody, especially my boyfriend, tells me that I’m wrong without having any way of knowing my personal experience, it’s insulting.” 

Watching the episode over winter break made me think more about the experiences of my female friends and classmates. In the fall, a close friend told me that almost the same scene and treatment happened to her. I’d also heard from others about colleagues who regularly “mansplain” and about similar subtle sexist acts. Apart from listening to and encouraging my friends after the incidents, I’d done little to help.

Like many people, during the holidays I also began to consider resolutions for the New Year. How can I be happier, healthier and more successful in 2017? While I’ve adopted resolutions with this question in mind, I’ve also included several addressing the sexism and misogyny displayed in the “Master of None” scene. They’re resolutions that we (men, on campus and more generally) should keep: to avoid these common sexist acts, however small, subtle or unintended, to support our peers, interjecting instead of justifying the offense (as Dev did in the episode) and to intervene whenever possible.

The episode is powerful, in part, because it demonstrates these acts are ubiquitous and happen even in progressive bubbles of Manhattan (and Ann Arbor). Like the characters in the episode, I’m a feminist in principle, likely because of my mother’s experiences as a leading female lawyer. And while I try to be conscious of what I say and do toward others — for example, by avoiding using stereotypes and gendered terms — I’ve found and seen how it can be easy to make these mistakes. Last week, while walking with a female colleague to teach our first classes of the semester, I made a quick comment that, while well intentioned, may have sounded demeaning, however slight.

How can we keep these resolutions?

To start, we can stop and stand up to “mansplaining,” the not-at-all subtle or insignificant practice of men explaining to others, often women, a topic or idea in a condescending or patronizing way. According to research on team building, listening to and respecting others makes us more successful. (I also plan to read more, including the book “Men Explain Things to Me,” by Rebecca Solnit.)

Another way is to cut out the jokes — which are often online and justified as “trolling.” At the end of last semester, a female classmate posted a reminder to Facebook about using gendered language in instructor evaluations. One of my male peers commented “No.” Whether joking or not, in doing so he delegitimized her point. Someone should have responded, yet no one did. On the same topic, we can abstain from using gendered terms and slurs in our conversations and messages.

We can stop talking over, crowding out, discounting, bulldozing and interrupting our female classmates. We can reflect on what we said, saw and heard in 2016 and when we should have stood up for others. We can commit to holding our peers more accountable, to act in ways that reflect our beliefs. And we can listen to, learn from, help and support our female peers, this year and in the future.

Anthony Cozart is a Public Policy graduate student.

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