Last week I had dinner with 3 of my girlfriends – each one a successful, beautiful and intelligent woman in the workplace. We discussed challenges faced in the workplace and the topic of sexism came up. One recounted a time when one of her clients, intoxicated and inappropriate, slapped her ass. After she walked away the first time, he approached her again and repeated the rude gesture. When he knew she was offended, he laughed. Now, one may think that being upset is overreacting – after all, isn’t an ass grab from a drunken fool pretty harmless? But is it?
True, an ass slap may be regarded as harmless relative to more serious offenses. But the root of the act is symbolic – in this context, it was a derogatory gesture that showed that he saw his supposed peer as, quite literally, a mere piece of ass.
While North American women have made great strides in achieving equality, there are still characteristics that public perception naturally assigns to women. While yes, we can be business women, students, managers – we can often be perceived as caring, nurturing, mothers, objects of desire first and foremost. The characteristics that are often associated with females are the very characteristics that can result in a woman being perceived as less effective than her male counterparts(1). On the other hand, theories such as the Gender Role Congruency hypothesis show that “masculine-acting women were not well-liked by peers…being less positively valued and more threatening than male leaders”(2). It seems like a double bind – show too many “feminine” characteristics and be perceived as less effective, less of a leader, behave too masculine and be disliked by your peers.
Seems pretty black and white. Or is it? Can a woman have both? Can a woman be attractive and “feminine” and be truly regarded as an equal to the same degree as her male counterparts? Or does she need to be perceived as a “ball buster” or “butch” to gain the same respect?
Sexism, racism, and all those other negative ‘isms’ will always plague the minds of many – whether it be consciously or subconsciously. There will be many who are not aware of the deep roots of socialization that have trained them to see things in a tainted lens. There will also be those who are open and proud of their sexist perceptions. One cannot control how these people act and think, and I’ve come to terms with that. However, as long as I endure and behave with class, dignity and respect for myself and others, then screw the rest who try to take that empowerment away. I think that a woman can be beautiful, sexy, intelligent, successful and respectable just as much as her male counterparts without having to sacrifice parts of her identity. Some may criticize that such a mentality is not realistic as it is “pretending that the game doesn’t exist”, but I beg to differ.
And I plan on being an example of it.
1) White, Judith. “Mindful and Masculine: Freeing Women Leaders From the Constraints of Gender Roles”