Today I read this article about female equality in America. It is excellent, you should read it. A couple of days ago I watched the movie North Country and it was good too. My biggest problem with the movie was being able to believe that anyone as insanely and perfectly beautiful as Charlize Theron is would actually work in any field other than modelling or acting. I don't mean to sound sexist in a post about sexism, I'm sure she could be a miner, it's just...man, she's impossibly beautiful, and it is hard to imagine someone like her struggling in life, not being able to find work. Cause pretty people do seem to have advantages. But outside of that, it was good. Educational and uplifting.
The movie is a semi-fictionalized account of a long legal battle that a group of women miners undertook. It was a class action sexual harrasment case, as they had endured a hostile work environment and numerous and continuous insults as well as unwanted touching (and some spunk in locker) when they became the first women to go work at the Eveleth Mines in Minnesota.
Personally I've never experienced that level of sexism or sexual harrasment. But I have experienced a number of the things they did talk about in the movie, and that are talked about in the article I mentioned. I am underpaid. I know I would be paid more if I was a man. I work in a pretty sexist environment. It is frustrating as all hell. Because it is a delicate balance - that earning respect, loving yourself, keeping your paycheque game. Suddenly you have a mortgage to pay and calling out your boss on his idiocy isn't as easy.
I can't imagine dealing with the things that women in working generations before mine dealt with. It must have been really fucking intense to be, say the first female fire fighter. Or the first female line worker at GM.
I was actually the first ever female 'courtesy clerk' at a local grocery store. I got the job because my mom knew the manager and she told him she knew I would work hard. This manager wasn't keen to hire a girl cart pusher, but she kept bugging him. Thanks mom! So, I got the job.
This job entailed rounding up the carts from the parking lot, and cleaning up spills, and dealing with the 'bottle room', which was the room on the other side of that little black door where you used to put the 2L glass pop bottles for a refund (back in the day when those still existed. Wow, I am old.) That involved a LOT of spilled pop and ants and broken glass. The carts were heavy and didn't link together with 25 cent return links either. It sucked, but I did a bad-ass job of it and was promoted within 3 months. It wasn't all bad. The hardest part came with the attempt to train the fake-nailed over-makeuped woman who was to replace me, and totally failing at getting through to her that sometimes, just sometimes, you might have to break a sweat. In that situation, I suddenly realized why they didn't generally hire women for that job. She wasn't as stubborn as me - she didn't have anything to prove. I was kinda pissed off. I felt let down, when they fired her and put a male, 6' tall basketball player in her job. At that moment, I realized, sometimes it isn't about sexism. It's about the right person for the job. And ultimately, I guess, it was more a reflection on poor management and hiring skills than anything, but I think the manager just had the impression that if I could do it, any girl could do it. A good lesson in sexism on the job. One person can ruin even minor, semi-unimportant inroads that other people make. There was never another female courtesy clerk in the time that I worked there. Which was too long, by the way. My point to this? The fight ain't over man. That manager saw me as one thing: female. The same way he saw her.
I've been generally lucky; I never ever felt scared to go to work. I never felt threatened physically.
But what I do deal with on the regular is the lingering entitlement of older men who feel that being not-sexist on the surface somehow absolves them of all wrong-doing. It seems if they act like their comments are jokes they will be ignored. Worse still they feel like they are giving us some sort of honour by watching their comments in our presence. Worse than that, they don't even realize most of the time that the things they say and do are sexist.
There are two ways women usually deal with with the boys club. One is the ol' if-you-can't-beat-em-join-em approach, the "one of the boys" deals. Yes, I've gone that route before. It's easier. And lots of girls are dumb, and since I fit in easily with the guys it has often been an easier route to take. Look, I like tits too, ok? It is hard not to take that road.
The other oft-taken route is to ignore. I take this one too, sometimes. Better to walk away from that inappropriate comment about my weight/figure than to deal with it head on, right? Afterall, getting into an arguement with your boss about if it is appropriate to refer to a co-worker as an 'old biddy' is a lot of effort, might drive a wedge between you, and really, is it so bad?
But reading this article and watching this movie is a solid reminder that if you aren't fighting it, you are perpetuating it. If you join the guys in their slander talk instead of standing up to them, you are no better than they are. If you don't do something at work because you think it is the 'guy's job', you are letting them leave you, forever, in the 'women's job'. It's a simple as seeing us all as people rather than genders.
I think this gets easier the older you get. Maybe it is confidence. Maybe it is that you care a LOT less about what people think of you the older you get. Maybe it is that you have had a taste of the real world. I dunno. Whatever it is, it is important. Being called a feminist is a badge of honour.