Author’s note: Sexism does not only happen to women; however, this essay focuses specifically on female workplace harassment.
The other morning while working, I experienced a disheartening, and yet, all too common situation. I had just begun my workday when two men approached me, whom I greeted with a “good morning” and a smile (as is required by my job). Immediately, one of the two repeated my phrase in a higher-pitched voiced and with an even bigger smile. It was obvious that the man was mocking the way I said hello. I was quite surprised and immediately annoyed for more reasons than one, but mostly I wondered how I could be greeted so quickly with hostility for smiling.
Although most businesses teach their employees to treat every guest with kindness no matter what, I decided to be visibly affected by the behavior of these probably not-meaning-to-offend-anyone gentleman. Before we continued, I lowered my tone, unscrewed my smile, and asked if they would prefer I speak to them in a lower register. The men appeared first flabbergasted and then embarrassed, and then they began begging for me to “not act like that” and assuring me that they “love people like me!”
The thing is, I need to be like that. I need to react to things that commonly don’t get reacted to. The problem with soft sexism (common demeaning behavior based on gender that is usually subtle) is that women often don’t say anything about it, and when they do, they are told that they are just overreacting, or worse, just being “too sensitive” (which is a sexist dig in itself).
When I told this story to my mother, she said “That’s just the world we live in.” It’s true. We live in a world where women are very commonly treated as less and for the least sensible reasons. If women don’t smile, they are told to “smile more!”. If they smile, they are told they smile “too much,” and therefore are “asking for it.” Being a woman in America is a constant struggle between being too female and yet not female enough. These troubles come in so many forms it’s hard to keep track. Sometimes women are taken less seriously, sometimes women are flat out ignored, and other times women are degraded in the millions of other ways that actually exist and are real and should not be dismissed as oversensitive reactions.
For those of you who suffer through subtle yet common digs for who they are, there is little relief I can offer you; however, my recommendation is to say something. Speak up, if you can. Stand up for yourself and pave the way for others to do so as well. Every time you fight for yourself, you fight for someone else, too.