KARMA

The recent comments by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on women’s ‘superpowers’ remind me of being taken on for my last engineering role. With great expectations of managing my own team and making the important decisions, I got put on a dead-end project, with incredibly unchallenging work, no respect or status, and no prospects for progression or promotion. I was put on this team to do a job that I was over-qualified for, that allowed me no management capability, and was extremely menial.

I had been placed in a junior role, despite having graduated 15 years previously. I was being spoon-fed and micromanaged, when I was working autonomously and managing projects in the not-so-distant past.

So I did the right thing, and spoke to my boss about my concerns. Their response? “Just keep doing your work, and it will be recognised”. Recognised for what? For being the go-to-girl for everyone’s donkey work? For being the engineer that no-one takes seriously? To be the person of whom others wonder why they even work there?

It was pretty obvious that their statement was secret code for “be a good little girl and do as you’re told”. This is exactly the message that Nadella is sending to all working women. “Don’t make a fuss. Don’t try to change things. Don’t dare challenge the status quo. Us men will take care of it.” Yeah, I’m sure they will.

Did things change for me?  It appeared so, at first.  Assurances were made, new opportunities were spoken of.  And then back to square one.  I fell into the trap of being a good “producer”, and so that was where they wanted to keep me. Plus ça change. Plus ça mème change.

WE DON’T GET IT

There’s a cartoon from Robot Hugs that did the rounds recently,  about how sexual harassment of women is a real thing, and explaining why it may go unnoticed and how society implicitly condones it.  It’s a straightforward and reasonable consideration of the issue, with advice on prevention that no decent human being should find problematic or objectionable.  I shared the cartoon on Facebook, as I had seen many of my friends (50+) do with only supportive outcomes.  But my experience was different (identities obscured to protect the guilty):

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Nicely summarised in this tweet from Bailey, but scarier:

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Let’s look at the comments with a bit of context (Haha, probably the word people criticising sexual harassment least want to hear – “context” is a great tool for telling people that they just don’t understand or are being killjoys. Yaaaaaaawn. At least I’m not going to talk about banter. Yeeeesh.)

Anyway, I’m in red.  All other commenters are male, and before you ask, no, I’m not critical of all of them.  Here goes:

Comment 1 (blue): On the face of it, this looks like a noble sentiment.  But it’s falling into the trap of saying that because everyone is capable of being unpleasant to everyone else, that we should ignore cries of sexism because we’ve solved that problem.  Which detracts from the very real issue the comic is talking about.  Dismissing the problem doesn’t make it go away.

Comment 2 (green): Well, women can be unpleasant to both women and men.  It’s unfortunate that some people feel that they have to comment on strangers appearances in public, but this isn’t about “presenting the other side”.  The fact remains that street harassment is experienced by women far more frequently than men. And that’s just the cases that are reported.

Comment 3 (red) is me, and I may have overstepped the line a little here.  I do believe that Mr Green was harassed, but perhaps I shouldn’t have asked (at least on a Facebook thread) about details.  This might have implied that I didn’t believe him, and I’m sorry for that.

Comment 4 (pink) is really easy to dismiss as stupidity and/or wilful ignorance, but just take a look at the comments to any article or post on feminism on the internet, and these attitudes are everywhere.  Why is that?  Is it a lack of education / experience, or a desire for things to remain as they are? Personally I feel much of it  is a misunderstanding of what feminism actually is (i.e. political, economic, and social equality for women and men), rather than a hatred of men.  Some of it will be fear of change.  This attitude is unacceptable but shouldn’t just be dismissed.  Ignoring the disaffected leads to all sorts of problems, and completely fails to address the issue.

Comment 5 (blue): Words fail me at this point.

Comment 6 (orange): A lone voice of sanity.  Robot Hugs is indeed excellent, and you should read more of it.

Click here for Manchester University SU’s policy on sexual harassment.