I've been pondering my experience in the workplace and wondering if it's unusual. I've had a (mostly) happy career with supportive people around me, most of whom were men. My only truly lousy work experience was due to crappy management and a workhouse atmosphere, not sexism.
I don't think I've ever experienced true sexism/sexual harassment. If I did, it wasn't anything that registered high enough on my radar to worry about. Yeah I know... I'm sure there's women out there that have had someone make their condition of employment based on sexual favors (I'm looking at you, Hollywood), or were not fairly considered for employment or schooling because of gender. However, I'm not sure how prevalent it is these days. And I'm talking about real, straight up harassment – not “Oh, a guy at work told me he liked my new outfit. I find that offensive.... boo hoo.” Sorry, but that's not sexist or harassment.
I began thinking about this because of an IT news story that popped up a couple months ago:
In a nutshell, a woman at a programming conference overheard two guys talking to each other about “forking a repo”, and making a dongle joke (“Forking a repo” is actual programming slang). As for the dongle joke – so what? It's silly, adolescent and kinda funny, but certainly not offensive.
The guys in question weren't even speaking to this lady. If she was really bothered by their comments, she could've put on her big girl panties and asked them to keep it down because it was distracting from the lecture. (She claimed she didn't say anything because she didn't want to be heckled, or ruin her experience. Geez Louise. That's fucking life, isn't it? For everyone, male and female. If you're going through life avoiding confrontation, you're not living.)
But no, she handled the situation in a passive-aggressive manner meant to publicly shame them. She took their photo, posted it to Twitter and her (apparently popular) blog, indicating she was offended by their sexual remarks. One young man lost his job. The young lady lost hers as well. Some morons made rape and death threats. On top of everything, her company ended up with a denial of service attack courtesy of Anonymous.
Scenarios like this really frost me because throughout my career I've been told to look for any form of sexism or sexual remarks. Anything that could possibly insult my delicate female sensibilities should be reported immediately to human resources.
I didn't get into IT thinking I could behave as a hot house flower. The field was male dominated and the work was hard. I didn't want special treatment, I wanted challenging and interesting work. I wanted to be treated fairly and move forward in my career because I did a good job, not because the guys were afraid of being reported, or because I met a human resources diversity requirement.
Back in the 1990's, I had an HR director that would pull me into her office almost monthly to make sure I was “doing okay, since I was working with all men”. Seriously, she said that. HR Lady made it sound like I was working with a team of sex-starved maniacs that have never seen a female before, have no manners and behave like animals. In that scenario, who was the one actually being sexist? Two guesses and the first one doesn't count.
I went through great pains trying to explain to her that nothing weird was going on, I didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable and yes, I really enjoyed working with the guys. These are the same men that gave me the opportunity in the first place, trained me, and most of all treated me well. She couldn't wrap her brain around this so every few weeks she'd “check in on me”.
After a while, the HR Lady realized she wasn't getting any juicy details from me and tried a different tactic: she would regularly try to persuade me to join the local “women in business” group that she belonged to, which I declined. She sold it as a support system for career women - which at the time sounded reasonable especially if you're looking for a job, but based on her behavior it put me off.
In retrospect, maybe I should have joined if only to say that in order to succeed, sometimes you need some perspective and a sense of humor.
Were there dongle jokes? Nope, most of them were way worse - especially by today's standards. And guess what? We all had fun.
Did I have some men say rude things to me? Yep, and I said rude things back. In my experience, dishing it back usually put an end to it. Sometimes people are just assholes and it's not about gender.
On the other hand, I'm sure there were people I worked with who thought I was inferior simply because I'm female - but they didn't articulate that. Nor did they prevent me from being promoted or doing my job. In other words, their personal thoughts about me weren't acted upon, and therefore have no impact on me.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, maybe my experience is unusual. I still don't work with a lot of women, but the ones that I do work with seem to have similar career experiences as me.
Are there women still being harassed, or being treated in a sexist manner? Probably. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Maybe certain career paths attract it? Guys get harassed too, but that rarely makes headlines.
It just seems like I'm constantly hearing about how sexism/harassment/chauvinism is rampant, and it makes it sound like women are still being treated like it's 1950. The thing is, the article above demonstrates the extreme consequences of making a mountain out of a dongle.