I have to brag a bit; our youngest daughter has been named banquet chef at a large Missouri hotel/casino. Landing the job was very difficult, not because she isn’t capable, but because she’s a woman. The gender bias and discriminatory comments and innuendos she had to get past were remarkable for only one reason: most of the time, the people saying the offensive things had no idea they were uttering improper verbiage. True! Questions about her size, (petite), appearance, (she’s quite a beauty, but not an imposing presence when you first meet her), and strength, (she had been actually doing the job for quite some time and was physically capable of everything required by the job), regularly came up in conversation.
Sadly, this was not the first job in which she had encountered these problems, and the comments had always come from men. The whole process took months longer than it should have, and at one point she called me to say she was going to pull her name from consideration for the job and look elsewhere for employment. I understood her position, but I told her she absolutely had to see this thing through to the end, simply because she is a woman, and a very capable woman. If she bowed to the pressure of discrimination, where would that leave other women who were capable of becoming chefs in that company? She needed to be the example that overcame the obstacles, I told her.
Evidently my counsel took root, because our daughter’s wife got sick of hearing the daily tales of woe and told our daughter to just quit. To which our daughter replied that she couldn’t, because of the other women. She had to stick it out. (She probably apologized for complaining so much.)
After our daughter was finally named the banquet chef, I asked her if the discriminatory remarks subsided. “Well, for the most part,” she said. “But when someone does say something inappropriate, I just look them in the eye and say, ‘You really can’t say that to me,’ or ‘You can’t legally ask me that question.’ They always get funny looks on their faces, but they are beginning to understand what gender discrimination is.” We both agreed that most of the time, the men had no idea that there was a problem with what they said.
I think this is true with a lot of discrimination. We don’t realize we’re doing it, it’s a cultural thing we’ve grown up with. Look at the bullying issue. The whole world has seen a lot of it at the national level in my country. The world recognizes it because it seems so out of place in that office. But the rest of the USA sort of understands, because that’s the stuff our culture puts up with all the time. We try to make students understand that it is inappropriate at school, but if it is allowed at home and on the streets, what difference does school make? (none) TV sitcoms regularly address the issue, and have for years, but the reality of what’s being said goes right over most people’s heads, and they just think it is funny. They adopt the inflammatory language into their regular bullying style and the problems just get worse.
Our daughter had to wait until she was in a position as an equal to be able to address the problems. What if we didn’t wait, though? What if, whenever we witness or are confronted with inappropriate comments or questions, what if we name it as inappropriate right then? What if we stand up for ourselves and the other victims of abuse, (nicely, of course)? Dealing with an issue right when it happens is usually more powerful than waiting.
I’m obviously proud of our daughter, and I’m hoping that the example she has set will make a real difference in the place she works. I’m hoping that in that male-dominated business, people will come to respect each other as people, not depend upon the stereotype attitudes they’ve grown up with. What is your situation? Is there a place you can begin to make a difference?