“You have to pick your battles.” That’s what my friend says to me as we relate the different ways in which we have dealt with sexism over the years. The culture of silence. Why do we have to pick our battles? Because it is so stinking pervasive. That’s why. If it only happened every now and then, you could hit it head on, and get past it. You wouldn’t have to weigh out the consequences and implications of possible conflict in the work place and out.
I wrote this post last year and never published it. Since then the #metoo movement took off and more women have been speaking up about sexism and sexual harassment.
Sitting on the sidelines of my kid’s soccer game as he was playing another team that was co-ed. Boys and girls. There was a mom behind me screaming at her son to, “Get her. Let her have it.” Then she spoke to the rest of us. “He (my son) told me he didn’t like playing teams with girls because he had to be careful. I said, no you don’t! If she’s playing on a boy team she’s asking for it. You let her have it.”
I was horrified. And yet, as is so often the case when we are involved with sexism our shock and confusion render us silent. Is this really happening? She feels supported enough in this environment to be so rabidly sexist toward these young soccer girls and in what she is teaching her son about how women should be treated. The whole, ‘she’s asking for it’ line.
What’s wrong with teaching your son to treat the female soccer players like humans, with good sportsmanship?
Another woman asked me how I felt about co-ed teams while in the same sentence saying that she didn’t like it. She said that girls develop faster than boys and that gave them an unfair advantage (we were losing to the co-ed team). I told her that I was glad to see that there were girls on the team and that they were doing well.
But I think that if they hadn’t been doing well, that mother would have said instead, “well, what did they expect, playing on a boys’ field.” No matter how it was going these women had it out for girls on the ‘boys’ team.
These are grown women. Mothers of 12 year old children. And I said nothing.
As a small business owner for 10 years I hadn’t had to deal with workplace sexism. I was the boss and I set the tone for my environment. But when I got into nursing in an environment that serves a predominantly male population, it was everywhere. Patients grabbing me inappropriately, talking about the nurses with reference to sexual fantasies, and from coworkers who would say, “aw let him have his fun. He’s not hurting anybody.”
Once I had a nurse (in a superior position) approach me with my patient in the hall. My patient was demented and needed to be walked continually to feel that we were going somewhere. He didn’t know where he was going but he knew he wanted to get out of there. The other nurse said to the patient, “Why do you want to get out of here? You have this hot nurse here helping you out? Look at her. You’ve got it made here.” He continued the conversation with the patient, referencing me as the hot nurse repeatedly and in different ways. I stepped away from the two of them. My face was flushed. I had witnessed this nurse trash talking women disrespectfully with almost every encounter. This was the first time he had spoken about me in that way in my presence. When he was leaving I came back to the patient’s chair and said to the nurse, “It is not okay for you to talk about me like that.” The nurse apologized and he hasn’t done it to me since then. He has not however, stopped disrespecting other women on the floor to their face and behind their back. They probably felt as disempowered as I so often have, and haven’t found the words or courage to fight it.
More recently there was a nurse assistant who was talking about how rough his life was since he couldn’t get out to the strip clubs. It’s his right to spend his time as he wants. But in our work setting I felt uncomfortable listening to him detailing the things he was missing out on because he was working so much. This wasn’t a private conversation he was having with an intimate friend. This was him boastfully and loudly talking to all of us in the nurses station about how rough his life was because he couldn’t get to the naked dancers and there was no porn available. Again, I said nothing. It wasn’t directed at me personally, but it was assuming a comfort level with a sexual topic that objectifies women and devalues their humanity.
I think it’s a combination of shock, fear, and shame that makes us remain silent when we should speak up when being dehumanized. Even while writing this post I question if I should write certain aspects of it. I question if I will even post it. Why? Because, what if somebody I know reads this, what if I lose my job for talking about the realities of workplace sexism, what if the soccer moms blacklist my son from events because I’m weird and not a part of the ‘good ole boy network’ that believes that women have it coming to them. We feel shame when we are denigrated like that. Whether our logical mind buys into the abuse or not, we feel ashamed to be that which is so easily ridiculed and put down. Our culture is not supportive of rational discussions of sexism. Our culture, whether it intends to or not, is supportive of silence. Put your head down and it will be over in a minute.
I hope that my sons will see a female opponent the way they see a male opponent, as a human to be treated with respect and good sportsmanship. I hope that they will stand up for women in the workplace and recognize that it is not good sportsmanship to allow an elderly man to grab a nurse’s breasts because, “let him have his fun. He’s not hurting anybody.” The fact that these elderly men haven’t learned that it is assault to grab a woman’s breast should not be a deterrent to educating them now.
I hope for myself that I can recover more quickly from the shock of these situations in the future and hit them head on without fear of backward consequences that blame the victim. Because of course, according to some people, I’m asking for it. What I’m truly asking for is to be treated like a human, that all women be treated equally as humans.
Wendy Finn is the mother of 4 boys, former owner of I.M. Spa, registered nurse at a hospital, Raw Food Enthusiast and educator, runner, world traveler in pursuit of superior massage education, a Master Massage Therapist of 24 plus years, a massage therapy educator, and a gardener. She’s passionate about touching people and sharing health.