I was both reading and participating last night in the #ShoutingBack twitter conversation about sexism in the workplace, when I realised something quite sad. Out of the many sexist experiences I’d suffered, none of them had caused me to leave a job. Despite the sometimes horrific treatment I’d still stayed. And looking at the hash tag I suspect I’m not the only one.
So why do we such around in these situations? Why is unequal party not enough to cause us to leave? Why is it more important to stay than avoid sexual harassment? Why don’t we walk away from jobs where we are treated with little or no respect?
Obviously there is always going to be an element of needing the money, especially in tough economic times, but I know that not all my experiences were from times when jobs were scarce and I used to be quite employable. Walking away wouldn’t have been so risky. I still didn’t do it though, at least not over sexist treatment.
I know I also didn’t report sexist treatment to anyone higher in the company. It always felt like I’d be making too much of a fuss, it never felt like something serious enough to warrant further action. I know colleagues felt the same.
The girl I worked with who was stalked by a customer never spoke to the police, and management didn’t either. They also didn’t refuse service to this man, if he came into the shop the staff member was told to go wait in the stock room instead.
I can think of a few other incidents where it was seen as preferable to remove the staff member rather than the offensive customer, their custom was rated above the needs of the staff member. I know it happened in two separate jobs for me, again I suspect it happens more often than not. In my experience it’s also similar when it’s other staff members, I know I ended up being given separate shifts to a sexist staff member wrote taken against me rather than lose his job. Even violence didn’t lose him his job. Guess who got moved to another store though?
And still I stayed with that company for another year.
It seems that not only does society expect us to put up and shut up, but we expect it of ourselves too. Preferring not to make a fuss, worried we’ll come across as weak or whinging. We live through it and do nothing.
It needs to change, and that doesn’t just men we need to speak up (we obviously do), we also need to be taken seriously when we do, and not belittled just because we have spoken up.
We’re often in a catch 22 situation, if we complain we are shrill/hysterical, it we put up with it then we are either weak or “secretly enjoying it”. This treatment needs to be less commonplace so that we know that pointing it out won’t just get shrugs and comments about that being how the world is. And the behaviour would be seen as so abhorrent that those who do it face consequences, rather then their victims being forced to adapt.
How do we get there? I guess we keep #ShoutingBack and hope that we can change the general apathy towards it.