I'm a cis white male, and I have never directly witnessed any kind of sexism in my academic world, even though I hear that it is a very real problem in this precise context. I've heard about it, a lot, sure, but always through the media and about people in different institutions, but I have never seen it or heard it directly.
If anything, it felt like the universities in which I've worked before were quite "progressive" on all things related to gender and race, compared to other work environments. Just to give you two small, non representative examples: I work in a small STEM program in which over 80% of the people recruited in the past 3 years are women (much more than in industry) and the university's yearly stats demonstrate the total absence of a pay gap since 2009.
Of course, like everybody else, I'd like to be "one of the good guys" and I feel like I'm not contributing to gender inequality - I'm equally mean to everybody :) I think that I would react if I witnessed something that I perceive as sexist. But here's the thing, I really don't see any of it on a daily basis.
Now feminist theories also tell me that I may not see the problem because I'm a man, etc. Truth be told, I'm a hardcore scientist and the whole "you don't see the problem and that's proof that it exists" really bugs me a little (Karl Popper much?). Being genuinely interested in educating myself and being more aware about these things, I would like to be able to identify daily sexism. For instance, maybe I have a hard time telling mansplaining apart from healthy criticism (which is an important part of science)? In other words, I need concrete examples to help me be more aware of inequality issues around me.
The other day I was having dinner with colleagues; one of them was telling us everything about their (?) gender reassignment surgery (TMI, to be honest) and said something along the lines of:
You have no idea how hard it is to be a woman in academia; nobody ever takes you seriously
That's not very specific, and I felt like asking them to elaborate, because that's quite a strong statement and I simply didn't see where that came from, so I wanted to learn more. Which brings me to the question:
In polarizing issues like sexism, race etc., or any other context in which right and wrong seem to be very... binary values, how can I (a cis white male), ask for specific examples without making people defensive?