4 Comments You Hear At Work That Don't Seem Anti-Feminist, But Are
Sexist things are said to women every day in the workplace, in case you missed the memo. Often, it's overt. Just as often, though, sexism comes in the form of comments you hear at work that don't seem anti-feminist, but are. They're a particularly insidious breed of sexism in the workplace, because they can be so subtle that you often don't even realize that you're being taken down a peg solely based on being a woman. The reality remains that, despite the many strides women have made climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, corporate culture still slants heavily in favor of patriarchal values — and this often creeps to the surface in casual conversations and every day interactions. It's a real problem, y'all.
Sadly, women are so used to being subjected to sexist comments on a day-to-day basis that we often just have to overlook them or shrug them off. This is especially true in the workplace, where many women already have to fight harder to earn the same respect (and still don't earn the same amount for the same work) as their male colleagues. Who can blame us for not wanting to rock the boat sometimes? Still, at least when the sexism is overt we register it immediately and have time to react to this obviously inappropriate office behavior, should we so choose.
When the sexism is more subtle, like the following anti-feminist workplace comments we've likely all heard at some point or another, it sometimes takes a minute to dawn on us, which means we might not get the chance to open up the conversation with our colleagues about why it isn't cool. (To be clear, the fact that the sexism is subtle doesn't negate the fact that it is sexist.) But it's worth getting attuned to — because if we don't speak up for ourselves, who will?
1. "Calm Down — Don't Get So Defensive/Emotional."
I kid you not: I once had a boss who said this to me whenever he asked my opinion about something work-related and it turned out I didn't share his own opinion — every. Single. Time. On the surface, this may simply seem like a reactionary response or, coming from a superior, constructive criticism. But when men express their opinions in a firm, impassioned way in the workplace, they get branded with qualifiers like "visionary," "forward-thinking," and "leadership-material." When women do it, we are reduced to a chromosomal stereotype: We're women, so our passion must be coming from a place of unbridled and irrational emotion. If I'm trying to do my job and you dismiss the validity of what I'm doing by chalking it up to emotionality, it is insulting. And sexist. And played out AF.
2. "Wow, Smart And Pretty!"
This is one of those insults that masquerades as a compliment — it's tricky like that. Who doesn't love a compliment, right? The problem inherent with this kind of compliment, however, is that it ties a woman's worth to physical beauty. It also implies the two are typically mutually exclusive in women, i.e. women are generally smart or pretty, but not both. Before men see this and start slinging their metaphorical "lighten up" arrows at me, let me say this: I get that you might just be trying to be nice. You might honestly believe that you just paid your female coworker/employee/what-have-you two compliments. But that's why we have these kinds of discussions — so we can be more aware of this sort of insidious sexism.
3. "Can You Take Notes?"
Looking back to my former job at a company where I was one of the only women, I can't actually recall a conference meeting we had where I wasn't asked to take notes. And I did, always, without question. But now that I have the benefit of time and retrospect, I keep thinking how anti-feminist it was. I was an executive level employee ... but I was a woman, therefore I was most suited to secretarial-type work in my superior's eyes. This request is seemingly innocuous — and nor do I say this to demean secretarial work, which is incredibly important — but it all depends on context. If your boss — whether that person is a male or female, because woman are capable of anti-feminist behavior too — routinely asks the female employees in the room to assume secretarial responsibilities outside of her actual job description, it's an issue, particularly if they don't do the same with the male employees.
4. "Do You Have/Want Kids?"
You probably would instantly assume it was sexist if you were asked this in a job interview — which you should, because, in fact, it's unlawful for a potential employer to do so. This question is sneakily anti-feminist, though, when it comes from a colleague. As a woman in the workforce who does have kids, I tend always to respond to this with a proud yes and then rattle off my kids' names, ages and proof of adorableness; however, there have been times when something about the question hasn't felt right to me or made me uneasy. It's only after the fact that I've realized that the question is inherently sexist. I've personally never heard a male colleague get asked about their kids. I've heard them bring their kids up, but whether or not they have or want kids doesn't often come up otherwise. In this case, it's largely a matter of who is doing the asking and why. Is it anti-feminist to ask a woman if she has or wants kids? The argument could be made that it's not always sexist. But is it anti-feminist, in the workplace, to focus on a woman's personal choices regarding family and her body at the exclusion of work-related issues? All day.