I was talking to an HR representative from another company the other day and while explaining her job to me, she mentioned some complaint about sexism that she handled. It involved one colleague calling another some gender-specific slur, I can’t even remember the details. She then asked about my expression that I wasn’t aware I was carrying, and I proceeded to explain the situation in stagehand business.
She didn’t believe what I said.
She couldn’t believe that a colleague shouted the most disgraceful things at a female pedestrian and didn’t get reprimanded.
She couldn’t believe that there was a case of blatant abuse of power for sexual intimidation and though the company knew about it, no one was fired.
She couldn’t believe that some women refuse to drive with certain co-workers not because they are annoyed or insulted, but because they are afraid.
She even questioned the lightest example from the top of my head, where several people ganged up on a woman when she brought up one person’s sexist remarks.
Some of them -and more- I witnessed first-hand without acting upon it. I’m not sure if I have an excuse, either. Usually the whole thing is over by the time I realize that I should speak up. Other times, I wait until the situation escalates before I react, which it rarely, if ever, does.
Our company has a long history of junkies, ex-convicts, school dropouts and borderline criminals for employees. Things are much better now but all of the above examples occurred in the past 2 years. We have plenty of women in the crew, and in general they are respected as equals. But they are, first and foremost, women, and will be addressed as such every single day.
Generally they don’t seem to mind, because they are strong enough, or too naïve to catch on. Or, in some cases, they just like the attention, but it still ruffles my feathers every single time. Not so much because of the principle, but because it goes against my principle and when a girl responds positively to it, I feel like it proves me wrong.
I have felt seriously embarrassed by my colleagues, to the point where I feel like adding, “This opinion is not representative of this company, line of work, or gender,” with every remark. In the past, I have actually taken people aside and tried to explain this to them.
So why don’t I react when it matters? Probably because it wouldn’t end, and I would be discussing political correctness all day every day, which is a lost battle in this business. Because I’m not sure of myself enough to verbalize the limits of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I’ve decided for myself I’d like to break that habit and in the way that I tend to, loaded a few replies in my head like bullets in a gun. I want to avoid a discussion at all cost, lest I get a reputation as a feminist (in this place you might as well just be gay), but in the worst cases I’d like to start putting my foot down. Pointing out sexism has no productive effect whatsoever, but telling the idiot in particular to shut his hole might do the trick, after enough instances. No stupidity is beyond classical Pavlovian conditioning. (Ironic because that too, involved drooling dogs.)
And so, we can work towards a world where gender neutrality is a thing. Though I’m pretty sure I will have fallen out of a tower by that time.