Another Voice to Add: #YesAllWomen

I keep backspacing over my thoughts regarding #YesAllWomen when it comes to Facebook and my Twitter feed. I know that I want to say something, but I’m not sure if what I could say would matter, or if it would get me in trouble with my dayjob, or if I would lose listeners or followers or clients.

Someone referred to the #YesAllWomen hashtag as an ‘incident that weekend.’ Did that person really understand what it was about? Probably not. Did that comment bother me?

Very much so.

Did I tell that person?

No.

Why the hell not?

Because I didn’t know how to explain to someone that the ‘incident’ of three powerful words made me realize that there are too many of us who chalk up everyday sexism as something that goes along with being a woman.

I’m bothered that it’s taken me this long to get these thoughts into words, and I wonder if that’s a function of the gender that I express or the behaviors that I’ve learned and that others have reinforced over my thirty-five years. Looking back, I know that I have experienced a lot of passive-aggressive sexism, from middle school onwards. In the parochial school I attended from fifth to eighth grade, boys were allowed to be boys and make horrible comments about my breasts while I sat in the classroom. In high school, I reported an algebra teacher for showing a Playmate Information Sheet as a transparency when he used the bust, waist, and hip sizes of the model to announce his favorite number set. When I spoke to the director of the program, the incident was brushed off as a new teacher just “being a guy” and that I should forget about it. When I didn’t forget about it and my parents brought it to the attention of the principal, I earned a public apology from the teacher and a reputation among my classmates for not having any sense of humor.

I ignored a lot of passive-aggressive sexism in college because I was in a major with very few female students, and I wanted to do well. I was lucky to have grad student TAs who were strong women and who held everyone equally accountable during labs. When I graduated and moved to D’Iberville, Mississippi, I endured some of the most horrific passive-aggressive sexism at the planning yard for the shipyard in Pascagoula.

“Don’t wear skirts to work; they won’t let you in the shipyard because the guys will stare at your legs.”
“She’s my secretary! No, just joking, she’s a junior naval architect.”
“Don’t speak up, older guys don’t like hearing from a sassy girl. Just put in your time…”
“Are you married? Want to… oh, engaged. But he’s not living here, is he?”

There were worse. I was fortunate to have a supervisor who valued my work ethic and wanted to keep me on the team, so much so that he wrote up the researcher who told the Undersecretary of the Navy that I was just a secretary after I ran calculations to make sure a damaged ship wouldn’t be further stressed so it could be towed out of the Persian Gulf for repairs.

I gave up on engineering after those fifty-three weeks, and naval architecture became just another chapter in my book… and I went into academia.

Since I’m still working at the university, I do worry about detailing the number of events that have happened that are examples of passive-aggressive sexism. I’ve had mostly male supervisors, and many of their comments were made out of ignorance. I’ve had older male professors touch my arm or shoulder in a paternalistic way, and one is expected to smile and move forward. I have had male faculty shut me down in meetings by talking over me, and I have had male students try to intimidate me with size and volume. I have had people ask me about having more children versus completing my schooling, and I have had male colleagues and administrators downplay my concerns about treatment in meetings and verbage toward me in emails.

I have been scared to walk to my car, and I have arrived early to make sure that I get a parking space underneath the security light.

I feel like I have to work twice as hard to earn my doctorate, because my body of work up until now is not valued and I need to have irrefutable evidence that my work is worthy.

I have lost some of the fire for my dayjob in academia, because a woman who is passionate about her career and doing well is criticized for being emotional and hypersensitive. I document everything, and I use statistics to back up claims about programs because that will place me on equal footing with older male administrators who can go on gut feelings and no hands-on experience.

I have to argue for funding for sexual assault awareness and programs to better inform students, because they are not standard in the program that I run, because it’s not important enough to have a consistent budget.

Now, I stand up to students in the classroom. I don’t allow hateful language when I teach, because I’m allowed to work in a safe environment. I don’t let comments pass, because my students – all of my students – deserve a safe and respectful learning environment. When I hear female students questioning their male professors’ actions and words, I tell them to trust their instincts and speak to someone in authority.

I am not perfect; speaking up scares me. Saying that something isn’t right in spite of the fear of reprisal can be the most terrifying thing. And yet… if I don’t speak up, I can’t work to change what happens around me.

#YesAllWomen, because fear shouldn’t be the driving factor in our decisions.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 5th, 2014 at 6:46 pm and is filed under positive change. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

8 Responses to “Another Voice to Add: #YesAllWomen”

  1. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    I think you’re wise to wait until you’ve worked your reaction out like this. Maybe you feel late, but this is a really touchy subject that needs to be handled very carefully. {pause}

    I seem to see things just enough differently to get my comments labeled “irrelevant” when I thought they were on-topic. Which probably just indicates a failure to communicate, but what a terrible time for that. {resigned look}

    But enough about that; it is mostly irrelevant to what you said, so there’s no reason to point that out this time. {small smile}

    What is important is that I’m listening. I understand feeling intimidated in engineering. It’s both a masculine field and a macho one. I’m not as familiar with finding the problem in academia. I suspect I’ve been very lucky there, myself. However, you’ve said enough to show me how that can work, too. I’m very sorry to hear it has been that way.

    I do understand more directly the problem with parking and safety. I used security escorts in graduate school whenever I had to be out after dark, which was a lot more than anyone else I knew did. Still security had officially offered after-dark escorts at the beginning of my first semester… and I do have a bad habit of jumping at shadows in dim lighting. Of course that’s the best encouragement I could give them to jump back. So security got to know me so well, they took me to the wrong dorm when I moved mid-semester. That got straightened out fast, I’m glad to say. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Doc Coleman Says:

    Thank you for speaking up.

    I know I had mentioned that the #yesAllWomen hashtag was sparked by two incidents on Memorial Day Weekend. That was what I knew at the time I said it. Now I’ve learned that it was sparked by a hell of a lot more.

    I’m still unsure about the concept of male privilege, but I’m damn sure that women should not be disadvantaged just because of their gender. I grew up learning that everyone was equal, and it still surprises me the insidious ways that society uses to try to put some segment of the population down. More so when I discover that my egalitarian worldview is tainted by aspects of bias that are ingrained in the culture.

    Interestingly enough, I find that the people who have earned my respect in the workplace are almost all women. These are my heroes. My role models. And now I’m gaining even more respect for them as I become aware of just how much of a disadvantaged start they have had because of cultural bias against their gender.

    You are one of those heroes, V. I admire the quality and the breadth of work that you’ve done, and the drive you’ve attacked each project with. My respect deepens as I begin to realize how hard you’ve had to fight for each of these accomplishments. You shouldn’t have to repeat that fight every day.

    Thank you for speaking up. This is the first step towards changing our culture so that no one has to be afraid to speak up against injustice.

    Doc

  3. Veronica Says:

    I’m not sure if “male privilege” is the best term, because that seems to indicate that female dis-privilege (best term I could manage on one cup of coffee) would be the norm, and that’s not a place where anyone who understands or who seeks to understand the #YesAllWomen hashtag wants to be. Maybe it’s a case of opportunity or expectation?

    As a Caucasian cisgender female born into an upper middle-class family with educated and blessedly liberal-minded parents who taught me to question just about everything, I did not encounter a tenth of the bias that many of my colleagues and heroes (of all genders, ethnicities, races, and creeds) endured. It’s why I used that term ‘passive-aggressive sexism’ because I rarely encountered something that was in-my-face horrifying; at the same time, it was easier to pass it off as just normal because it didn’t hurt enough each time it happened.

    Another note: in academia, we encounter ageism mixed with sexism. I’m reminded of this today as I sit in defiance wearing jeans… because an administrator here (a older female who also told me that I should be grateful that I got half of the maternity leave I did, and had a job to return to once my kids were old enough for daycare) once told me that it was unprofessional for me to wear jeans at work unless they had a crease. Last time I checked, PLENTY of guys my age in similar or higher positions wear jeans as a rule, and dress out when the situation demands. Sooo… yeah. Sometimes, the discrimination comes from those who may not have had the benefit of equality in their younger years.

  4. Jeremy Carter Says:

    Thank you for this. It continues to make me angry that women have to endure this.

    I teach children aged 11-18 and I think this is the crucial age to confront these issues. I teach physics and maths so I’m often having to deal with cultural stereotypes about science and gender.

    Would it be ok if I added this to a set of documents and resources to aid teaching?

    ps Always enjoyed your voicework, I listen to a lot of different podcasts and your work is always great.

  5. Doc Coleman Says:

    Anne,

    Macho has no place in engineering. Macho ignores good design without looking at its merits. It is neither efficient nor elegant. Macho is bad engineering.

    V,

    I agree with you. “Male privilege” is a poor term because there is no baseline. Even that status doesn’t get one out of a lot of hard work. I think I prefer advantaged and disadvantaged instead, as they are relative and do not require a baseline.

    Yes, some people have encountered more disadvantage than others, but that doesn’t mean that life hasn’t been more difficult for you than it should have been. We need to level the playing field by filling in the holes, and making sure the people who are stuck in them get pulled up first.

    Doc

  6. Veronica Says:

    Thank you for the kind words about my voicework. :)

    There are a lot of great resources available for kids; you’re welcome to add mine, but with math and physics, having a wealth of examples of people from ALL walks of life can be the most important. I’ve used Speak Up at School (http://www.tolerance.org/publication/speak-school) with my students; many of the activities and ideas could apply to your students, too.

  7. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    Doc, I can see your point that good engineering has and should have no place for macho attitudes.

    Probably “macho” was the wrong word anyway. What I’ve noticed is a male-oriented culture to that field, which is not necessarily the same thing as macho. It could be much more sensitive than I realize, and still be male-oriented. It’s still noticeable to a former anthropology and library science major. Anthropology taught me to analyze cultures, and exposed me to a relatively gender-neutral field. Library science immersed me in a female-dominated field, where both library school and library conventions take on a notable “hen-party” atmosphere. I admit I don’t h ave the best possible view, but engineering tend to look like a rooter-party in comparison. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  8. Jeremy Carter Says:

    Thanks for the resources, I’ll add them to my list.

    My wife is also involved in academic research and your comments chimed with her experiences (unfortunately).