Sexism and Casual Discrimination Today

Today, a slight departure from my ongoing Bug work.

Sexism at work, in life, at home, and among friends is being discussed more and more in society, but what has and hasn’t changed? How are we affected day to day in ways that people are so inured to that they don’t notice them or accept them as how things are or should be? I am opposed to all discrimination and imposition of will on others but this is simply and observation and statement of what I have seen and read personally not a statement of what should be done. It is important to note that discrimination is not being told you can’t discriminate, that is a fact of life when you are part of a society and share space with other beings. A requirement to not discriminate and to follow the rules is not discrimination. But let us return to what are some day to day things we deal with.
As an office manager at a public garden I deal with a wide variety of people in a lot of different situations from office business to private events, simple transactions to technical discussions, I lead tours of the garden and I coordinate events. Other offices I have worked in include construction, medical, university, hospitality, and industrial. If you have worked in these fields as a woman you know the relative amounts of discrimination to expect in each. Everyone knows the major and blatant issues of being clearly passed over, insulted, ignored, payed less, disregarded, and having your work or credit stolen. But what about the simple things that can be just as blatant to us or not but are typically not noticed by men?
Just this week I had an example in a large group arriving for a tour. We set up in front of the building as we always do and the other docents went to do their final things while I prepared to greet the group. This is standard procedure and often the other docents are all men since we only have a few docents and they are most available. As the group exited their bus and looked where to go, the woman (I particularly note it is a woman in this case) that coordinated walked down to the office area where we were set up. She has dealt with me for over a month as Office Manager coordinating scheduling on the phone. She walked past me with no response to my greeting, asked if that was water quite brusquely and proceeded to ignore me. The moment one of the men stepped out of the bathroom her whole demeanor changed. She smiled, stuck her hand out, and stepped to introduce herself and ask where they should go. He directed her to me and walked off after a brief greeting to help organize the group. This in itself is pretty common, I get the response that basically boils down to hello little girl direct me to someone actually in charge and working here. As He and I walked over to start the tours ( was actually leading one of the tours that day) I mentioned it and he noted that he was apparently more inured than he should be to that type of thing but it seemed odd. My only comment was that it isn’t unusual even if it is a bit odd, it is rather common actually.
This is itself what I am talking about. He didn’t notice, not out of any sense of it being right but just because it is so ingrained that it is part of the background. He even acknowledged that, and as the one person trying to change those type of things here he meant it. But that is something directly professional, what about other interactions?
Recently I went to lunch with a friend. He and I went along the line getting our food separately and I approached the counter to pay for mine. I had to prompt her to ring me up because she was waiting for him. When she did ring me up she included his order. I had to get her to redo it so we could get our lunches. Again, servers typically hand the receipt to the male present or speak to them when they have a question about the bill. Many women are okay with that or prefer that, but it is rooted in an assumption that doesn’t fit a huge portion of society. As people marry later, go out with friends, prefer to keep expenses separate, are not necessarily identifiable at a glance, or for any number of other reasons do not have a male head of house or split bills that way when out, it isn’t reflective of the broader view in many areas. I always appreciate, as the only income in our home, the places that set the bill on the table between us with no preference or give it to whomever asked for it or has a card ready. But, although it has gotten better, more than half the places I go still hand the bill to my husband or friend not me or speak to them like I can’t answer.
When the news shows doctors being questioned about credentials for no apparent reason other than being a black woman, and this is not the first and only case in emergency situations. When we have an event here with a lot of things to be carried, someone will invariably say something about getting the men to carry things. When I worked at Aulani as houseperson (I set up events and carried the heavy stuff) it was constantly remarked on that I was the only woman and I was small. Why do we ask for a man to carry something when what we want is someone strong enough to carry said item? Why do people defer to the male when people approach?
As a woman that has spent a lot of time alone, that has a lot of male friends, and that has a relationship where I am the breadwinner, I am made very aware of the issue regularly. When I am out, places assume he is deciding and paying. When I am at work people assume I am just the secretary and don’t know anything. Since I also look significantly younger than my age I also am made very aware of the age discrimination from the perspective of having had the years to develop myself and look back and still being treated like a new intern with no experience. The combination often highlights and exacerbates the issue.
Work increasingly takes most of our time. People my age and younger are working a lot of hours and often have multiple jobs, as I have typically done over the years myself. So the situations that arise will most often be noticed at work and in relation to work. This about applying or interviewing for positions, or listening to the discussions about applicants in your office. How many times have we heard comments about applicants with a sense of amusement because they were female or a casual disregard because of age or gender. How many times have you heard them debate whether she will be out for children or pregnancy, or illness, or other thing they associate with women. I know many single fathers and married fathers that actually take the time with the kids equal with their spouses. I also know both genders get sick and that no job has the right to use any of these as a reason not to hire.
But one of the issues in evaluating and even just describing many of these situations is the way many types of discrimination intersect and overlap. When I am at an event with our donors, I am the lowest paid person in the room and many of them will act like it and it is clear I am “the staff” or unimportant unless needed. When I am with a business group I am young looking and obviously don’t know anything. I have had them flat out tell me no one wanted to hear what I had to say I needed to just be quiet and be myself. Consider that. I have been to told to be myself and told that means to be quiet, to be separate, to be submissive…I am none of those things.
When I was in school for Architectural drafting I was often the only woman in the class and despite being older than most of the other students was often treated as the youngest. The bank has asked for my husband to confirm things despite the fact that he was only recently added to an account I have held for decades alone. When filing taxes last year I was told that I couldn’t file as head of household as a woman despite being the only income in the house. When I go to town with the gardener at work to run errands for the garden people stare and occasionally comment on us together because he is an older Mexican man and we are obviously comfortable together after 4 years working together in a small office. When I ride motorcycles or work on them I am in my leathers and a full face helmet and assumptions are made. When I go in for parts I have waited for a significant amount of time and eventually had to insist someone help me but if my husband goes with me they speak to him within seconds of entering. He typically directs them to me since I am the one getting parts if we are together, he gets his himself and often online.
The results of dealing with stores has led me to more and more do my shopping online. I don’t feel like the hassle of justifying myself to simply shop. I get some food delivered, all my mechanical and electronic parts and equipment, most art supplies, and frankly anything I can get online for a close price to what I can in person I am likely to look there now. It is more than price that pushes us out of stores, for me it was both how I was treated and social anxiety making that even harder to deal with when I was already having issues with just being in a crowded public place. It is creating a further separation from society and a growing distaste for dealing with any business or person that does any of these things not just to me but to anyone that I see or know about. I don’t own a Harley and likely never will because they have always been horrible to deal with. Honda has only once shown an issue and I own 3 Honda including my car. When I am negotiating for my own business I have people ask for the owner or the person that can make decisions. It is my company and I design all the pieces, create all of them, am the only one that sells or distributes items, I make all decisions. I had to add my husband’s name to get a response in several areas.
In groups I am a part of I see the shock at men that are exceptional sewists and the slight differences in terminology referring to a woman’s art as crafts and male’s as art. The differences hit everyone and when they collide you may get a very blatant situation. But these subtle things are the ones that perpetuate the problem and keep it acceptable to our psyche. They are the everyday accepted details that are internalized from childhood on. How was it different as little girls than for the boys? How many years of these things have led to the internalized acceptance of place that many feel?

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