This is another blog about workplace sexism so you may want to hit that back button if you don’t want to read about it, but you would be ignorant to think it doesn’t exist.
I usually write light-hearted articles for the people suffering in their cubicles, but not today. Today is the day to turn on the seriousness… kind of.
So let’s get down to business and talk about the relationship between women’s sexual attractiveness and how it affects their perceived intelligence by others – others being men, and then we’ll talk about real stories of sexual harassment I’ve compiled.
My best friend is often mistaken as being “ditzy” or unintelligent by men. Why? Because she “giggles” and is considered attractive by many. And then when we tell these men that my best friend actually graduated as Valedictorian of her high school class, went to Rice University on a full scholarship, and goes to Yale Law School, the men are in disbelief and even respond, “Wait… really?”
And outside my girl-power posse, millions of women experience sexism across the globe.
You may have heard of the #ilooklikeanengineer movement. It began when OneLogin posted a picture of one of their teammates; see the image below (you can click on it to see the original size). The woman they used is Isis Wenger, who is actually an engineer for OneLogin, but I guess people thought she was just a model. As one commenter said, “But I’m curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like. IDK. Weird.” Yes… I guess it is weird that an attractive woman is an engineer… I’m also rolling my eyes as I type.
I also enjoy the bottom comment, “If their intention is to attract more women then it would have been a better to choose a picture with a warm, friendly, smile rather than a sexy smirk.”
Now let’s look at the beautiful Michelle Easter? What is she? A model?
Well… Michelle Easter is a model; she’s a model who loves fashion and makeup, but you may not know that she’s also an engineer for NASA. I know… she’s basically the woman my boyfriend would probably leave me for.
Easter posted this picture, with the hashtag “#ilooklikeanengineer,” in response to the comments on OneLogin’s picture. After all, we’re all curious about what female engineers look like…
You may think this is just another feminist blog post, but it’s so much more. This is about more than the “sexy smirk” on Isis’s face; this is about workplace equality and how we define equality.
So how do we determine what business policies are sexist? What should the cultural norm be? Is workplace sexism prevalent, or are we shining a light on contained incidences? Are we still operating as a patriarchal society?
If we allow women to do or wear one thing, should we reciprocate by allowing men to do or wear something else? After all, where one employer thinks one policy is good for the business, an employee may think it’s sexist or, perhaps, out-of-date.
Let’s face it. Double standards and hypocrisy will never die, but that doesn’t mean we should not try to change what we can, when we can.
Don’t believe workplace sexism is still an issue? Read the following 10 stories about women who have experienced sexism at work, and then read about the three lawsuits that weren’t so contained. And if you’re still unconvinced, then simply do a Google search about workplace sexism stories or read some forums.
Real stories about sexist experiences
1. Lily, 25
“After sitting on an interview panel, I heard my 62-year-old female boss and her 70-year-old male boss call the various female candidates the following things: A ‘femme fatale,’ someone who ‘smiled too much,’ and ‘cute, attractive, but didn’t make much sense.”
2. Queen, 59
“My boss let me know he liked the slit in my skirt. Believe me, it wasn’t much of a slit since it was as part of a suit. I think it showed two to three inches above my knee when I sat down. To another woman in the office who was away for the weekend visiting her boyfriend in another state, he asked if she had gotten ‘enough’ over the weekend. A male co-worker found any excuse to find me in any tight space so he could ‘brush’ past me. I started my professional career in 1985. I was the token woman. All other women in the office were secretaries. Many of the men believed I was there only because they were forced to hire a woman. It took a long time to get most of them to recognize my intelligence and value.”
3. Caitlin, 25
“As the only female in my office, I feel like I work in a frat house. I am constantly the butt of jokes, which for the most part I can take but sometimes it goes much too far. One day at lunch, I told them it felt as if I was constantly ganged up on and I’m tired of it. My boss responded, ‘Why are girls always so emotional?!’ And the VP said, ‘Isn’t that every woman’s dream, to be ganged up on?’ I stormed out of the office, and ever since then, they’ve gone to the other extreme and treated me like I’m fragile. If they drop the ‘f; word, they apologize profusely (and mockingly). It’s just so insulting as a woman to have to deal with this kind of treatment at the office. You can’t win.”
4. D, 31
“My boss made a joke that I might miss a flight to ‘f*ck a hockey team’ on a business trip in front of a client and a male colleague.
5. Lucy, 36
“A male colleague texted me ‘shut up’ while we were on a conference call with a client. I sent it to his boss. Then he and his white male boss had me ‘laid off.’ I should have done something. It was so blatant and wrong. But … the whole place [was] white 50-year-old men, so I just moved on.”
6. T.R., 57
“I was moved from the department that I launched and built for three years because a new General Manager felt that ‘young men’ or ‘young bucks’ would be more energetic. By the way, the performance of the department dropped.”
7. Elena, 23
“In my current job as a reporter for a local newspaper, a reader came into the newsroom and asked if I was the secretary and kept asking if there was someone else he could talk to.”
8. Sarah, 32
“A coworker at the office described the breasts of a prominent woman in our field while a group of coworkers laughed.”
9. Jane, 41
“At one workplace, we compared salaries and across the board, the women made significantly less than the men in the same exact jobs. In some cases, the women even had more experience. It made me angry. And to this day, it makes me angry when people say, ‘The wage gap doesn’t really exist.’ It does. I’ve lived it.”
10. R., 37
“I worked in a team comprised mostly of men. The boss used to invite all of my younger, white, male coworkers over to his house for poker night almost every week. They would have late nights, and my male coworkers would drag their butts in late, obviously hung over with no reprimands — except for the occasional friendly ribbing — from the boss. No women were invited until the boss’s boss once asked me if I went to the poker nights. I said ‘no’ and was immediately invited by my boss to attend that night. The worst part about the whole thing was that I liked my boss, but he didn’t seem to realize how inviting only young, white men discriminated against the rest of us. And it was clear that those very same men were the ones given opportunities that the rest of us weren’t.”
1. Nicola Thorp
You may have also heard about Nicola Thorp. Nicola Thorp was fired for choosing not to wear high heels. Thorp showed up to her first day at work at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) wearing a suit and… *gasp* flats that Thorp calls “sensible shoes.” And they are “sensible shoes.” But it seems that sensibility has no place for women in the workforce.
“They gave me a dress, which was fine, and then she pointed to my shoes, which were just plain, flat black ones, like the ones I am wearing today.
“The female supervisor said to me, ‘You can’t wear those. You have to wear heels or we are going to send you home.’
“A male colleague who was stood right next to me was wearing similarly flat, black, plain, smart shoes. I pointed out that he wasn’t being sent home, so I felt that the reason I was being sent home was because I was female, at which point I was laughed at, because it was beyond her comprehension that I would disagree with such a rule.
“She had had so many girls who had worked for the company who just did it, and she pointed out to me that there would be someone else who was quite happy to take over my role.
“I was given the option to go and buy a pair of heels from Marks & Spencer. I refused and therefore was sent home without pay.
“She [the supervisor] just laughed and when I did point to the male colleague, she continued to laugh at me.
“I wasn’t taken seriously. It felt like she thought that I was just causing a fuss.
“That’s certainly how I was made to feel on that day – and humiliated because she laughed at me in front of other workers.”
She continued: “It was even highlighted to me when I started the petition, with the comments I got online.
“That was incredible. I was interviewed by The Times; the journalist, who was very supportive of the campaign, then said, ‘What dress size are you?’
“This is the world that we live in. That is the media and the press and so on.
“But I answered straight away with my dress size. It was only afterwards that I thought, ‘Hang on, what’s that got to do with anything?’.”
2. Ruth Campion
Airline cabin crew member Ruth Campion said her dress code made her feel “extremely uncomfortable” – and detailed how her colleagues were ogled on flights.
“I do not know anyone who was given a formal warning, but you can certainly be spoken to about any aspect of your uniform. Lipstick, in particular, was one they were hot on. A couple of times I was told that I had to reapply my lipstick and I wasn’t wearing enough make-up.
“The particular one I got told off for a lot was that my hair was too frizzy. One manager once told me that my hair was fluffy like a cloud, which was charming.
“The manager who trained me – this was a manager who was well respected within the airline, because he is chosen to train new entrants – actually prides himself on the fact that he carries a can of hairspray around with him at all times, in case any of his female crew members have frizzy hair, in which case he physically assaults them with his can of hairspray to make sure they do not have frizzy hair.”
She added: “For me, personally, it was a bit dehumanising and humiliating to be made specifically to wear items of uniform that sexualised my appearance or enhanced my sexuality. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable, particularly because it was being done for the business.
“For example, I will freely wear make-up, high heels and skirts on a daily basis to a wedding or on a night out. I enjoy it; it is part of my personality and my freedom of expression. It does make me feel sexy and attractive.
“But for an employer to tell me that I need to do that in order for the business to have a certain image made me feel akin to being prostituted, to be honest.”
She continued: “The harassment suffered by some of these colleagues was absolutely unbelievable, particularly online.
“People would take the name off their name badges and send a lot of Facebook messages and stuff like that, to try to find them.
“They would get a lot of messages on social media from passengers who had flown with them and perhaps got the wrong idea about how friendly they were. People would try to find out which hotel we were staying in all the time.
“There would be a fair amount of grooming towards girls half or a third of their age about taking them out and stuff like that, which was highly inappropriate.”
3. Emma Birkett
“I felt offended, in retail, by the request to get better sales by flaunting myself, whereas I was a very good salesperson and I could use my skills and my product knowledge to do that.
“I felt offended that [the employer] would think less of my skills and more of the clothes that I was wearing.
“I certainly did get a lot of unwanted attention, more so in the reception job than the retail job.
“I was asked out on dates by customers; they wanted to know when I finished my shift. That was uncomfortable.
“There is always that fear that if you do that, you will be pushed out of your job. When you really need that employment, you have to weigh up how much fuss you think it is worth financially to you.
“Do you want to be out of a job? Do you want to go through the stress of having to fight for that?”
Workplace sexism is experienced by men and women; however, there are more incidences that negatively affect women than men.
And something I found equally disturbing were some of the comments on a blog about these stories… oh, how I love Internet trolls…
“Women privilege?” What is “women privilege?” I’ve certainly never heard of it.
There’s also the comment, “I’ve never seen a pretty feminist.” Considering that the definition of feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights, I think most Americans and people in the UK are technically feminists…
I understand that sexism is not black and white. After all, there’s always the slippery slope conundrum. If women shouldn’t be forced to wear heels, then shouldn’t we ban policies that require men to shave beards? I don’t know. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but businesses probably don’t want beards that could mistake their employees as Gandalf.
And then there’s the issue of men getting less paid-leave to tend to their newborns. After all, women usually get more time off to take care of their newborn, but companies seem to forget that the father also played some role in the pregnancy. Thankfully, this issue is being eliminated by some large corporations. “This summer, Netflix became the first company to offer one year of paid family leave for new mothers and fathers. Other organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, and Spotify, quickly followed suit, enacting similarly generous policies.”
I’m not going to get into the wage-gap in this, but I want to bring up an idea. If women get paid less because of “life choices,” such as raising a family, then shouldn’t men be included in those “life choices?” Why are women expected to work less? Why don’t men and women rotate their work schedule to spend an equal amount of time with their newborn? Perhaps because many people still live by the idea that women are homemakers and men are the breadwinners. Or, perhaps, it’s because most employers don’t offer much flexibility, which makes it impossible for husbands and wives to work around each other’s schedule.
Women are often judged by their attractiveness, and attractive women are often presumed to be in fields dominated by women, such as teaching. Furthermore, sexual harassment and getting fired for speaking up about sexism is commonplace in businesses. You’d be ignorant to think that workplace sexism doesn’t exist. Yes, it absolutely exists for men and women, but I cannot think of as many examples of workplace sexism against men than women. But maybe that’s my feminism speaking.
Do you have a story to share about your sexism experience? You can share it with me by commenting and you can write your story on Everyday Sexism Project. Everyday Sexism Project is an online forum where people share their stories about sexism.