IN A MAN'S WORLD

Some Daily Experiences of a Woman (Guest Blog by Anonymous)

Let me first introduce myself. For the past four years I was a student in a typically female field of study and I recently transitioned to professional job in a mainly male environment. Throughout my studies, I became increasingly interested in gender studies. Especially the question whether and in what way women might still be disadvantaged in our society captured my attention, not only because this question concerns myself but also because half of the population are women. For a long time, I had considered gender- inequality a non-issue in the western world; I thought it was no longer a relevant topic. When I read a lot about possible explanations for the gender pay gap (see discrimination, choice, evolution, the glass ceiling), I became increasingly confused.

 

Only in my current job now I experience gender differences and inequality consciously and firsthand. Generally, I do not believe the men I work with do not respect me or are working against me, on the contrary: Many of them are very supportive, creating a healthy working environment and, importantly, are very aware of potential gender inequalities. They have daughters of their own and emphasize that they will do everything in their power to give them equal chances; they aspire for their daughters to become engineers, economists, Nobel prize winners, or directors of a bank.

 

However, when collaborating with these same men, certain questionable behaviors become apparent. First of all, during the meetings they frequently make sexist jokes. To clarify, I do enjoy a nice joke and can handle some “tits” and “ass” with friends in my leisure time. Jokes of this kind in a meeting, however, are inappropriate and make me feel very uncomfortable, especially when uttered by my superiors. For example, I felt uncomfortable when one of my colleagues stated that a statistical effect was just as small as the “hole of a certain lady”. Or, when one of them stated it does not show that I love cake, gesturing towards my figure. Another example occurred during a skype meeting when one board member stated that the webcam is better directed at me “because this provides a better view”.  And more extreme, someone suggested to organize a lingerie party as part of the promotion strategy. Lingerie-me could be present for “research purposes”.

 

Next to being inappropriate in the workplace, these jokes exclude me, since my male colleagues often look at me shamefully after a joke, and mutter something about going back to work, which positions me as an outsider in the group. Often it is not even the joke as such, but the “we men and you woman” attitude that makes me feel excluded and may therefore inhibit my chances to network and get ahead.

 

A subtler form of inequality is exemplified by a difference in tone when these men talk to me, as compared to when they talk to each other. They give more compliments to me and are much more gentle with critique. There is nothing wrong with a well-deserved compliment of course, but it sometimes it also seems to signal a lack of respect, and lacking belief in my skills.  

 

To be honest, I am not sure how to react in the situations described above. Directly saying that their behavior makes me feel uncomfortable? Speaking up is an option, but this is difficult when the issue concerns your superiors. Fear of being even more excluded holds me back. Of course, it may very well work to put my opinion on the table, or make a rather sexist joke in return, but chances are that they do not appreciate it, and I am afraid of negative consequences, like losing my job.  Mostly, I just smile a little and suppress a response.

 

By saying all of this I do not mean to accuse these men of being horrible people with the aim of making my life harder. It is exactly the subtlety of the discrimination and their belief that they are already inclusive that is the most harmful to achieving complete gender equality.  I would hence like to urge men to be more considerate at the workplace regarding what they say to whom, and how they say it. I believe that most men truly care, and additional awareness of the impact of their comments would be beneficial to all. Please do consider these experiences from a woman working in a men’s world. 

 

~Please reference: Sudkaemper, A. (2016, April 25) In a man's world. Retrieved from www.antoniasudkaemper.com