In the short years between my grandmother's high school graduation and her wedding, she worked in an office as a secretary. She once told me the story about how her married boss, twice her age at least, tried to give her a pink fur coat while simultaneously suggesting that he could give her "lots of nice things", if she was "nice" to him. I told her that experience was basically a plot on Mad Men. I usually think, "It's okay. Things are better now because #feminism," and assume outright sexist instances are a thing of the past. But all too often I'm faced with the fact that women experience and hear the most sexist things in the workplace on a daily basis (and on the streets and at school and at home and everywhere. Everything sucks, you guys.)
Personally speaking, I haven't encountered much sexism at the workplace, at least not on the teams I've been a part of (and trust, me, I realize how lucky I am and I'm so very thankful that I haven't been harassed or discriminated against). Then again, the fact that I feel lucky tells you something about the sexist society we live in. No one should have to feel gratitude for being treated like a freakin' human being. Too often we hear horrible stories of gender discrimination in the workplace in the media so, honestly, asking women to share the moments they've experienced sexism at work isn't necessary to prove a point. Trust me, you guys, the point has already been proven and things aren't changing. But, apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment and wanted to hear from women I actually know. So I asked real live women: what's the most sexist thing you've heard at work? Here are their brave answers, but fair warning, be ready to experience some full-on rage.
A coworker told me that mothers who work when their children were little were subpar employees because of their emotions. My coworker is a female, by the way.
I was denied the opportunity to apply for [a tech job with a company] and given the job as cashier strictly because I am female (despite my computer science heavy degree).
True story: I was told that it wouldn't do to have just female figures on the cover of a novel I was editing. I had suggested removing a male figure more for aesthetic reasons than anything else and my male boss groaned and said, "Why, because women readers hate men?" Yes, that's exactly it, you've figured it out. [The] same boss also once said that the reason I was editing books with strong female characters was, "To advance your feminist agenda." (That part was true, though.)
I have not experienced this at all in the workplace! And, I think that is remarkable and says a lot about where I work. I have experienced those comments outside of the workplace though! Or my second workplace, ie. the playground.
Right now I am blaming the negative perception my boss has of me on sexism. He asked in a one-on-one today if this job is too "demanding" for me. I leave at 4 and have two kids so I can't think of any other reason. It's not performance based because I'm in sales and it's very clear to see by looking at numbers that I hit my goals.
I'll share something that happened to my husband. I spent the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy on bed rest, and his employer was really generous, allowing him to work from home 2 days a week during that time and giving him 3 weeks off after she was born. He went back to work and as far as we were concerned, all was well, until he got his annual review. At this point our daughter was 4-5 months old. His review said something to the effect of, "M has been off his game lately. I know there's a new baby in the house, but it's been some time and we need to see him get back to his normal levels of productivity." It was super frustrating and demeaning for them to assume that he's less productive because of the baby and write it in his review. I felt like it's something they thought was okay because he's a man, his life should return back to normal with no changes after a baby's born, whereas with a woman you'd expect everything to be different.
"YFF" was an insider business acronym that my bosses used to describe "young fun female" ski instructors that were available for private lessons. Y'know, like escorts. But on skis.
Not necessarily from within my company or office, but in dealing with partners and customers I've heard numerous times, "Are you a forecaster?" to which I reply, "Yes, I am," [which is followed up with], "Is there a male I can speak with?". Not kidding at all. Even when another male may not be available or may be ranked below me. I have a college degree and worked hard to get where I am. I was also ridiculed for being 2-4 minutes late, even after calling ahead to notify [my work] I was running late to drop my child off at school/daycare. And at the end of a shift when I needed to leave promptly while others were milling around and lazily finishing their work, I was criticized for the fact that I had responsibilities that did not revolve around work.
A little different because I was in Japan where a lot of women don't work after marriage or babies. I took time off to go home for our wedding in the States. On the morning of my first day back my boss expressed surprise that I returned to work. Mmm, that's why I took vacation time and didn't just quit. Later that morning I was called to [a] meeting with the school's owner and her assistant. They congratulated me on my wedding and then immediately asked if I was pregnant. In shock, I answer no. All follow-up questions were regarding family planning and if I planned on getting pregnant within the next year. Every shocked and emphatic "no" was evidently the right answer as they went upstairs and fired the teacher who covered my vacation time immediately following this meeting. Joke is on them because a different teacher got married soon after me and immediately got pregnant. They forgot to do the whole, "are you pregnant?"/family planning song-and-dance with her. So they engaged in maternity harassment with her instead. Great school, great school.
I don't know about "most sexist," but I had a difficult time explaining to my childless male co-workers that my 12 weeks of maternity leave was not a "vacation." They expressed jealously at my extended time off. When, in reality, working a 9-5 is way easier than full-time newborn care. Never mind surgical recovery and emotional minefield of carving out the new "normal" in one's marriage. One guy even put his foot so far in his mouth on my first week back. "You look tired," he said to me. Oh yeah? Sweet revenge came back when he and his wife had their first baby. Boy did he look tired after his "vacation"!
Although there have been plenty of [sexist things I've heard] (i.e. why does she have to leave right at 5 every day? I bet she just doesn't do the work; oh her kid is sick again, I'm sure she just wanted to stay home today; it's probably because she wears those skirts to work that he picked her for the team, etc). The most sexist thing I've experienced in the work place is the constant prevalence of male employees of equal or lesser experience who are constantly selected for the "bro-opportunities" to socialize, advance, meet with clients, etc. The female employees get work done in half the time with just as much quality and then manage to take care of their families, [but] males are promoted faster despite fewer results. The most sexist thing I've ever heard in the work place is being described as a woman first an employee second. Because men are never described that way.