MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL, OR IT WILL BE…

 

BULLSHIT.  That’s right, if it ain’t inclusive, then it ain’t equal.  Intersectional feminism strives for equality for all genders, recognising that while gender oppression is a huge factor in an unequal society, it is also more complicated than that alone.  There are numerous other influences that are oppressive in their own way, or that combine with gender discrimination to create an even worse problem.  For example, a black woman is more likely to experience both racism and sexism, whereas a white woman is likely to only experience sexism, and a different expression of it.  Disabled and transgender women are at a similar junction – there are feminist issues specific to minority women that arise because of the traits that make them a minority.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, unless you’ve got your head stuck in the 1970s.

And you’d think, what with them being a switched-on feminist publication, that this would be easy-peasy for Jezebel (they’re often criticised, but the conversations they generate are usually important ones).  But they have really let themselves down today:

 

Did you really think this through, Jezebel?

 

The headline reads “The FBI, Which Still Won’t Address Online Threats Against Women, Arrested Someone For Tweeting a GIF at a Male Journalist”.  This is complete intellectual dishonesty.  That headline, while technically true, doesn’t talk about what actually happened.  The GIF was sent to the recipient, Kurt Eichenwald, specifically because the sender knew he has photosensitive epilepsy, and with the intention of causing him to experience a seizure.  Besides that, it’s possible for the FBI to concentrate on more than one problem at a time – they are a national government-backed organisation with plentiful resources.

This was investigated and prosecuted because there was enough evidence to bring a case, and because this crime crossed the line from threat to assault.  There is an issue of female journalists (and, generally, females) suffering disproportionate and gendered harassment online, and it needs to be taken seriously and investigated.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prosecute other crimes, and arguably this case works towards creating a safer online environment for women anyway, because there is now precedent for dealing with online abuse.

And then, back to the bullshit.  The article (click if you dare) and its headline are worded in such a way as to take a story about an individual, trivialise the main issue, turn it around and make it about women.  This is the exact derailing tactic used by the “what-about-the-men” trolls, and we shouldn’t be giving sexist knobheads any ammunition by behaving like sexist jerks ourselves.  Not to mention the intersectionality fail.  Mr Eichenwald was targeted for his disability (although it’s probably no coincidence that the person who did this had the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein).  It had nothing to do with his gender, until Jezebel decided to make it so by throwing the disabled under the bus.  Thanks a bunch, Jezebel.

 

FUJIFILM: SEXISM FROM INNOVATION

 

Today was a Throwback Friday! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  This week, we’re going back to the 1970s, so get your tank tops and platform heels ready!  Fujifilm, somewhat unbelievably, ran a press conference with a product demo that included a semi-naked female body as a prop for “testing the camera’s performance on skin tone”.  Yeah right, pull the other one.  It was a thinly-veiled excuse to cover up that they brought out a topless model to titillate the all-male audience.

Fortunately, one of them spoke out.  Everyone listened to him because, well, he’s a man.  Women have been complaining about this sort of thing for decades, but are routinely mocked and silenced.

 https://twitter.com/dannynorthphoto

The Metro’s article on this is surprisingly good (usually The Metro’s only any good if the train toilet’s run out of bog roll on the morning commute) – you can read it by clicking here.

My thoughts on this aren’t as stereotypically righteous as you might imagine.  While I do find it offensive that this was deemed an appropriate marketing technique in 2017, I’m actually really embarrassed for Fujifilm.  Like, seriously, did no-one tell them it’s 2017?

When I first started working in engineering; design offices and site cabins had nude calendars everywhere, hardcore pornography was sent round the office by email, and corporate jollies involving strip clubs were commonplace (this was in the early 2000s).  There was very much an atmosphere of it being a “men’s space”.  I did not dare question this set-up, as those in charge were the same ones who were responsible for my progression and pay-packet.  Worse than that, I was frequently underestimated and was the brunt of every “dumb woman” or “feminazi” joke going.  If Bernard Manning had walked in one day, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

As more and more women enter professions that are traditionally male-dominated, there is a transition period where nasty behaviours get exposed and weeded out.  The first women through the doors have to bear the brunt of the sexism and complaints that they’re ruining everything, and it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad or Feminism Going Too Far.  There’s an element of this still in motoring and gaming (please, please, please, no-one mention GamerGate).

While I find it really childish that groups of grown men left to their own devices are only comfortable working in a playground environment, I also find it fascinating.  Why does this happen almost universally in male-dominated circles?  Given that I know a ton of men who aren’t rampant sexists, but who also wouldn’t complain about it either, here’s what I think is going on:

A few macho types at the top of the food chain proudly display their masculinity by creating an atmosphere in which overt manliness is the norm.  No-one is going to question it, as to be seen doing so would make one “less manly” (oh nooooooooooooooooo!).  And in not questioning it, all of the men get to enjoy the benefits: loads of pictures of boobs, and none of those pesky women hanging around telling them they can’t make poo jokes all day.  Outside of this environment, these men (including the ringleaders, most of the time) behave like civilised human beings – they wouldn’t want anyone behaving around their mothers or wives like that, right?  Trouble is, it perpetuates the problem, and makes it hard for women to succeed in these fields.  As well as being made to feel uncomfortable, it’s a lot easier to dismiss and ignore those that you openly hold in contempt.

Apparently photography is a male-dominated field (quelle surprise!).  I wonder how many other instances of this there are that we don’t hear about.  I doubt any of those Good Men Who Say Nothing will be opening their mouths about it any time soon.  Maybe it’s because they are embarrassed too.

 

SELF-WORTH

 

This isn’t a confidence-boosting, self-help load of waffle.  This is actually about something totally wrong-headed I heard from an acquaintance with, uh, clearly different aspirations to me.

More than a difference of opinion, this is about some seriously harmful and life-limiting stereotypes that are still with us even in the 21st Century.  Worryingly, this is just one occasion of many that I’ve heard a variation on this theme, and there seem to be social penalties for those who don’t comply.

So I was on my way to the water cooler, when I happened upon two colleagues discussing marriage (not to each other, but I have no problems with that – more in a future post).  These two individuals were a younger woman (late 20s-ish), and an older gentleman, with, ahem, traditional views.  The younger woman was engaged, but not looking to get married and have children just yet.  You might not agree with that attitude (it doesn’t entirely align with my thoughts), but that’s what she wants, and what she’s getting in her present relationship.  Good for her.

And literally everything that was said after this point was a cringe-inducing train wreck of a conversation.  So the older chap suggests that:

  1. She should hurry up and get married because all men are commitment-phobes (I will address the myriad contentions I have with this idea below, but for now let’s just celebrate that at least this guy is an equal-opportunities sexist)
  2. [I feel it necessary to point out here that these were his actual words, because this is just such a bizarre phrase to actually come out of someone’s mouth]  “A person hasn’t achieved anything in life until they’ve had children” (he literally said this, and again, detailed analysis of the blindingly obvious to follow below).

And then he starts to engage me in the conversation.  Now there are some people that I work with that I can be my passionate, political and skeptical self with.  This guy is not one of them.  But seriously, I’m not going to keep my mouth shut about this.

WEIRD BLOKE: “Don’t you agree, Science Lady, that our sole purpose is to pass on our genetic material?”

SCIENCE LADY: “Um, no, actually.  There are plenty of ways to live a meaningful life.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you’ve already achieved things with your offspring, haven’t you?”

[here I need to point out that for numerous reasons I do not talk about my children at work.  This guy knows it’s something I consider inappropriate, but decorum certainly isn’t his strong suit]

SCIENCE LADY: “It’s complicated.  I don’t like to talk about it.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you know, you’ve fulfilled your purpose in life.”

SCIENCE LADY: “I have lots of things to live for, and not everyone wants to be a parent.  Many people choose not to, or are unable to have kids.  And they provide a valuable role as caretakers.  If everyone is focused on nurturing children at the expense of everything else, how can we develop as a society?”

[older gentleman looks aghast]

WEIRD BLOKE: “I don’t know what you mean.”

SCIENCE LADY: “We need other people to perform tasks that benefit the community, so that the whole environment provides suitable conditions for children to flourish.  And for some people, that’s a role they’re better suited to than parenthood.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “Oh, well I think you’re wrong.”

[awkward silence]

So that was depressing.  It’s amazing what things you learn about the beliefs of others when they let their guard down.  Anyway, time for some Grade-A ranting:

  1. So men are all commitment-phobic? Well, that’s not true, although men may generally have different requirements for wishing to settle down that don’t match those of many women, thereby creating this impression.  I also think it’s a lot to do with maturity, and the notion that other things in a man’s life need to be sorted before he allows himself to be vulnerable.  And the unrealistic ideals society has about relationships (oooh, another post on this, too!).
  2. It doesn’t really say good things about him, given that he’s saying how fickle his own gender is. Doesn’t matter if he’s repeating society’s lie, it’s still bullshit.
  3. This young woman is clearly happy in her relationship choice, and she doesn’t need some weird bloke telling her that she should do it differently.
  4. If someone is living with a person, and they’re engaged to be married, there is a certain amount of commitment inherent in that situation.
  5. While I have “passed on my genetic material” (could we make it sound any more clinical?), I have many ambitions, dreams, and goals. I want to be successful, to be remembered as a contributor to society, to enhance the lives of others who aren’t necessarily blood relatives.
  6. Unfortunately, having children does pose some restrictions on one’s life, especially in a society that still leaves most of the child-rearing burden on one parent. And many people don’t like kids, don’t want the responsibility, and just want something else from life.  They don’t need anyone’s approval or opinions on whether their lifestyle is valid.
  7. Some people are unable to have children, for a huge variety of reasons. Some of them are OK with that; many of them aren’t.  Attaching moral value to a distressing situation that cannot be resolved is cruel and simplistic.
  8. The world has 7 billion inhabitants and rising at the time of writing this. Numerous studies have demonstrated that there are too many of us, consuming resources at too great a pace, for the planet to be able to support us.  Of course many people will want to have children of their own, but forcing people down this route is slowly killing us all (have a great day, but don’t forget the ever-looming reminder of your own mortality!).
  9. This statement shows that this individual views the child-free as less worthy. You may think, “oh, well that’s just one individual’s bigoted opinion”, but there is evidence that those who choose to stay single and/or childless are seen as less mature, stable, and with lower status (Career-wise, not having children penalises men, and having children disadvantages women. Talk about a zero-sum game.).
  10. Women in particular are the recipients of an inordinate amount of questioning regarding the status of their reproductive organs. Not only is this intrusive and downright inappropriate, the sexist expectation that all women are incubators-in-waiting needs to be sent back to the 1800s.

So that was my Tuesday.  Let’s see what pisses me off tomorrow!

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN PART 3: THE DIET COKE EFFECT

 

Who remembers the Diet Coke advert with a bunch of female office workers ogling a shirtless site worker? <pssst… it’s 11.30>  At the time, it was a pretty funny ad, subverting the idea that women’s bodies are visual currency for men.  It made its point, and was a wildly popular ad, but it was 20 years ago, and the world has moved on since then – or has it?

Some of the women I work with speak about men in the same way; like they are objects on display for our entertainment.  It’s worse when its about colleagues of ours – it makes me cringe.  I work around the corner from The Birdcage – which I would like to visit, but not for this – which regularly has male strip shows with “Full Monty Guaranteed!”.  Call me a prude (ha, ironically maybe), but I think it’s rather distasteful.  Not to mention that the hairless, chiselled male bodies that we’re supposed to find attractive, look like children to my sex brain.  Ew.

When men speak of women in this way, they are rightly criticised.  But in 2016, it’s apparently OK for women to treat the other half of the human race like pieces of meat.  Sure, it seemed empowering 20 years ago, but it’s just embarrassing now.  There’s hypocrisy in that the same people who salivate over male bodies would get angry at men doing the same to women.  But there’s a worse hypocrisy; that I’m scared to call people on it because this is a socially accepted behaviour – and I’d be the weirdo for complaining.  I don’t feel that it damages men as a whole, sexism still has a disproportionately worse impact on women, but it does affect the way individuals see the world, and how they behave in relationships.  It’s toxic for the ogler, and for the ogl-ee.

Here’s a cheerful article on the rise of eating disorders among men.  It’s far more common than we had allowed ourselves to think.  I’d love it for gender equality to not be a race to the bottom where everyone is marginalised to an equivalent degree – we can do so much better than this.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN PART 2: MASCULINITY & MISOGYNY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

 

Masculinity and Misogyny in the Digital Age – Ditch the Label

Always one to look out for reasons to demonstrate why men need feminism too (because apparently gender equality is only worthwhile if you can link it to direct personal benefits ::eye roll:: ), I found an interesting paper on attitudes towards masculinity online. I wanted to read it because I’d seen some criticism of it on Twitter (although it appears that those making the comments hadn’t actually read the paper, because it addresses all of their questions).

Click here for a real-life example of why you should Never Read The Comments

Their complaint seems to be that the report discusses sexist stereotypes affecting men – but that’s the whole point! The enormous sample of data, collected over a very long study period, demonstrated that sexist attitudes towards men are all over the place. The authors aren’t saying that they agree with the data! And it’s an element of our patriarchal society that isn’t talked about nearly enough.

The paper is written from a feminist perspective, but concentrates on the experiences and perceptions of men. The researchers looked solely at Twitter correspondence generated between August 2012 and July 2016, in only the UK and the US. It is useful to see how sexist stereotypes affect all genders, and could help men to challenge their own behaviour – as perpetuating myths about masculinity is harming those who do it as well! [an aside: the paper notes that the majority of the perpetrators of misogynistic abuse were female – looks like we’re all responsible for the proliferation or reduction of toxic attitudes about gender]

I’m impressed at the volume of data that was amassed and analysed in this work, and that any biases are those inherent in the study cohort – the researchers did not rely on a self-reporting survey, but actual retrospective Tweets over a long time period. I did have concerns about the research being conducted by a marketing company – but given that the work is about determining attitudes of potential consumers, they could well be the right people for the job. Their clients include Unilever, Cisco, Whirlpool, British Airways, Heineken, Walmart and Dell – and they’re not the sort of companies to tolerate duff sales advice.

The concepts of masculinity defined in the study came from the data gathered from the 19 million Tweets that were scanned over a period of four years – so it’s not finding facts to fit the theory; the work was done by the data. The researchers looked at Tweets that were positive, negative, or neutral contributions to the discussion, and broke them down into categories such as profession, activity, and preferences. So the tweets aren’t being looked at in isolation: context is everything, and some tweets were studied in terms of the responses and conversation threads in which they occurred, and whether the Tweet was intended as an insult, or discussion of the issues.

I’ll not give too much away, as the paper is concise and easy to follow. But one thing that I will add: the research was commissioned by an anti-bullying charity to see how we can improve things for boys and young men, and support those who are often dismissed or forgotten. And that’s something we should all strive for.

You can download the paper here:

Masculinity  and Misogyny  in the Digital Age – What social data can tell us about the climate surrounding  masculinity constructs and use of misogynistic language.

Aside from the intro, executive summary, and conclusions, the paper is broken down into the following sections:

  1. What is masculinity?
  2. How do people feel about masculinity?
  3. Key issues surrounding masculinity constructs
  4. Forming the future of masculinity
  5. Misogyny

It’s an enlightening read. While it does challenge some perceptions, it depressingly reveals some less upstanding attitudes; including homophobia, intolerance of non-conformity, misogyny, violence, toxic and fragile masculinity, and more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at (how many exactly is that? Is there a limited amount of possible stick-waving? Maybe your arms get tired or something).

Of course there is hope – the authors recognise that general discussions about masculinity and misogyny increased in number during the final 6 months of the study. And I’m having more conversations of this nature with my peer group. It’s an interesting and relevant part of human interaction that deserves some of our time. And once we’ve identified a problem, we can make a start on putting it right. And we all must: it’s not masculinity that’s broken, it’s society.

 

WOMEN ASKING QUESTIONS

 

I attend a lot of public talks (usually of a scientific and skeptical nature), and frequently most of the audience questions come from men.  It’s been noted that more women attend the talks in the first place over time (good), but it’s still the men that are the most vocal.  So there are two different parts to this problem:

1. It used to be a male-dominated environment, but now it isn’t. 

2. Women still don’t ask as many questions as men, regardless of audience make-up.

So, regarding the first point, there are many reasons that the gender balance is closer to parity. Maybe it’s because there are more female speakers (solving the visibility problem), but I’d be tempted to hypothesise that it’s because there are more speakers and topics generally, thus reaching out to a wider and more varied audience. So it is an issue of accessibility, but only because the range of topics is not so narrow. Unfortunately I don’t have any data on the groups I attend, so I can’t actually test the theory. Dammit.

However, this article in The Guardian does cover this notion, that “the fault lies with past generations of [atheist] leaders who didn’t address the issues that matter most to women and minorities“.  Note that I’m not a fan of the term ‘leader’ when applied to atheist groups, as it has connotations of religious ‘leadership’, and I don’t think we should be putting rational thinkers on a pedestal.

So now that many atheists have moved with the times and looked beyond their own experience, matters that affect people who might not necessarily be like them are brought up.  And it’s a good thing.  And it’s been done silently and with relatively little fuss.  Which brings me on to the next part of the problem.

There is an argument that the newcomers to the group might still be finding their feet and less likely to speak up.  Well, ok, seems plausible.  But also there’s the issue of what has been studied, measured and reproduced in many psychology and sociology papers.  That when women speak up it’s received differently to if a man was talking.  Unfortunately it’s not just in the workplace that this happens, and if you see a pattern occurring every time you dare to open your mouth, then the safest thing might be to keep quiet.

One way is for the speaker to pick more questions from women audience members.  And I think the success of this lies in the execution.  If it’s done subtly (i.e. so that it’s not obvious what’s going on  – I didn’t say imperceptible, mind), then it can work, and builds a foundation for a more balanced mix of questioners at future events.  I attended one talk where the speaker specifically asked for questions from women because they feel women are often under-represented in this respect.  This gets a mixed reception – it just so happened that at this event it worked out well, no-one objected, and we got a good mix of questions from male and female audience members.  Maybe that would have been the case anyway, but there’s no way of knowing.  It was important in some ways that the speaker highlighted this problem because people do feel a bit uneasy about addressing feminist issues – like it’s a dirty word or it might upset the men – and we need to get over that.  However, some people complain that it seems patronising (or even a form of benevolent sexism), and that’s always a risk you run, especially to an audience containing women who already feel empowered.

I think the best way is to encourage women to speak, but in more subtle ways, and ensure that we give them the airtime without interruptions, without some oaf ignoring what they’d said and repeating the same idea and claiming it as their own, without explaining things to them that they already know.  Basically to demonstrate that it’s a respectful environment for anyone to ask questions.  And yes, I know that in the majority of cases, this is so – but it’s the exceptions that stand out in people’s minds and have a more damaging effect.

 

CASHBACK!

 

I’ve just met a “charming” fellow (read: totally up themselves), who seems to have a rather confused and/or dated view of relationships. Let’s just say I didn’t warm to this chap too much, mainly because everything that escaped their mouth appeared to be for the purpose of self-promotion and/or offending people for the merry hell of it. What a card! So they entered into this piece of rhetoric with both the gusto and wit of Alan Partridge, and described how he thinks he’s “punching above his weight” because his girlfriend is younger than him. Uh, a whole 4 years younger. It’s not exactly J. Howard Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith, is it?

So this was a little weird, and it sounded kinda dumb.  Is that still how we place a value on people these days?  Their age and nothing more?  And the younger the better?

One of my friends sarcastically remarked that Mr. Science Gentleman must really have scored because our age difference is far greater than that.  But that’s the thing, isn’t it?  What the hell is this strange assumption about?  If I was more than a decade older than my boyfriend, would I have grounds to think of myself as particularly lucky?  Perhaps you could call me a cougar or something else to arbitrarily categorise me.

I don’t think so.  For me, it’s more complicated than that. I see my partner as an equal, but often I have dated older people.  But not always, and I don’t see age as either a barrier or benefit.  Some people may do, and based on other people’s relationships, they don’t follow a rule book.  If you want evidence of this, look at the marriage records.  But there are stereotypes about what makes a good partner.  And when we are faced with something that challenges this, ranging from disability, to fetishes, to polyamory, to simple preferences, the weird ideas and jokes all come out.

Humour shouldn’t always be PC, and we should admit to occasionally being amused by the offensive and taboo.  But it does get a bit boring after a while.  Have we really not come up with any new material since 1975?

 

ENCOURAGING WOMEN INTO ENGINEERING

 

This is a thorny topic for me. On the one hand, yes, this country has a shortage of engineers, and a great way to resolve that is to encourage more women to take up roles in this field. On the other, I think that a lot of the highly-publicised profiles of women in STEM careers are not representative of the experience of most women who work in these fields. And the statistics support this. Women in comparable STEM roles to men are paid less, valued less, and progress more slowly. How could I recommend that sort of future to another person?

And then we face a chicken and egg issue. Without a representative workforce, the prevailing culture will remain unchallenged and unchanged. But the workforce will not be more representative until there are more women and minorities working there.

The UK government has been advised on the consequences of not supporting more jobs in engineering, and it is recognised that if women do not enter or remain in the profession, we are effectively cutting the talent pool in half.

The Guardian featured an article (link below) promoting careers in engineering to females. This is great for visibility, but it really doesn’t tell the whole story.

What’s it like to be a woman in the engineering industry?

All of the women in this piece talk about the exciting things they do in their work, which is great. Engineering can be fulfilling and rewarding, and fun. But the politics, culture and personalities in the industry can get in the way of actually getting the job done.

One of the engineers in the piece talks about proving herself in a male-dominated industry. This is something I’ve encountered many times. Why should women have to prove themselves any more than men should? Or have to work harder than men for the same pay? Oh, except it isn’t the same pay.

Another says “My advice is do not hide your femininity at work and relish in your different perspective – act on what you believe is important”. Two things: most successful women I know in my sector of engineering act very masculine. And if you do look quite feminine, people will comment on it. And if you act quite butch, people will comment on it. So either way you’re damned, but if you try to be one of the boys you’re more likely to succeed. Another: “relish in your different perspective”. Well, it would be great if different perspectives were acknowledged, but in my experience groupthink is encouraged and anyone with a contrasting idea is swiftly put in their place. Where are these workplaces that encourage this sort of thing? Because I haven’t found one yet.

Someone else says “There are many women where I work in very senior roles which just goes to show that gender does not affect ambition and that you should always aim high.” Well, I agree with the last part. Ambition is genderless. But I’m not seeing the women in exec-level roles. I attend events specifically for women in engineering, which have a core regular attendance of maybe 30 people. I enjoy meeting other female engineers, hearing success stories and about other projects. But that’s just a small handful of people. How many other engineers out there are male? Women make up just 9% of engineering professionals in the UK.

“You’re not treated differently and gender isn’t an issue”. That may be the case where you work, and I’m very happy for you. I wish that all workplaces were the same.

“I think it’s fantastic to see more and more women joining our ranks in what used to be a traditionally male industry”. Well, yes, that’s the overall goal. Things are changing, but we’re really not at the point where we can say that it used to be a traditionally male industry. 91% male is a pretty overwhelming figure.

I suppose it makes me sad that we’re still having these conversations these days, or that there is a need to target women specifically to encourage them into STEM subjects. If the playing field were truly level, everyone would feel welcomed and we wouldn’t be talking about certain groups being “turned off” by certain subjects. I feel that very little has changed with regard to the perception of women in my (rather niche sector) over the last 15 years. The only place I’ve truly felt an equal is at University, being on a fantastic undergrad program with great tutors and the chance to shine. A step into the world of work was a shock. Of course study is different from the workplace, but I was totally unprepared for the marginalisation and disillusionment that I experienced. It seems that my goals become further and further out of reach, while they are easily attainable by others around me.

A final thought. This article in the Harvard Business Review details research carried out on women’s career trajectories, and finds that common beliefs about women’s career progressions are unfounded.

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women

It’s also referenced in this article from NYMAG:

Stop Blaming Women For Holding Themselves Back At Work

KARMA

 

The recent comments by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on women’s ‘superpowers’ remind me of an old workplace.At the time I was working on a dead-end project, with incredibly unchallenging work, no respect or status, and no prospects for progression or promotion. I had been moved to a new 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.

And what happened to me after that? That’s a story for another post. But I refused to put up with shoddy treatment and downplaying of my skills. I took a chance and it paid off. A scary, career-altering chance, but one that I had to take to retain my integrity.

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):

IMG_0785

 

Nicely summarised in this tweet from Bailey, but scarier:

IMG_0783-0.PNG

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.