These Are My Truths

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend a while ago about feminism.  I appreciated hearing her views because it caused me to scrutinize my own ideas and values.  I have decided that my experiences have taught me that women are still in need of a voice, a place, and empowerment, especially in the public sphere.  Here are some of those experiences.  I don’t claim that everybody has the same experiences or that everybody should agree with me.  I do claim that these are my truths.

In fourth grade, I had an excellent male teacher who pushed me and encouraged me.  He was tough, and I learned much from him.  He pushed me to increase my memorizing capabilities, and to become an excellent speller.  I won the fourth grade spelling bee.  However, at the end of the year, when he chose the class’s “top student,” he told my mother that it couldn’t be me because I was a girl.  He said this honor always had to go to a male student.  I’m still not sure why.  I recently found an essay I had written about this in seventh grade.  That many years later, it still bothered me.

In tenth grade, I had a “boyfriend” who mostly walked me to class and talked to me on the phone. We never went on a formal date.  One day during our regular lunch together with our group of friends, he took an orange, peeled it, and then without warning, smashed it in my face.  He laughed and thought he was funny.  I left and never spoke to him again.  This is only one of the demeaning and violent incidents with him.

During my junior year of high school, I had a boyfriend who convinced me that I was his.  He worked on this slowly, like a snake.  When he left to serve a two-year mission for our church, he spied on me through my friends and tried to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to date while he was gone.  (This is the mildest version of this period of my life.)

During these high school years, my mother and my step-father had difficulties.  (Well, they always had difficulties.)  Their marriage was continuously unhappy and contentious.  When my mother spoke to a male church leader about some of the problems they were having, the leader told her that it was her fault and that she should be a better wife.  Perhaps some of that was true, but it seemed awfully sexist to tell a wife that she should sleep with her husband more in order to curb his pornography addiction.

When I worked my first job, I had a boss who often reprimanded me harshly, although I was the most obedient and competent of the clerical staff.  I think he thought it was funny to upset me.

public domain image
public domain image

At that same job when I sat at the front desk, a creepy mail man often visited and came around my desk, trying to touch me and smiling a slimy smile.  When I complained about him and his unwanted touching, he was removed from that mail route, but not fired or reprimanded.  He continued to plague all of the young secretaries in the building.

Once when I visited a restaurant with a group of coworkers, both male and female, the man who took my order repeated it in a high-pitched and nasally tone meant to be a funny imitation of my voice.  I was twenty-two years old at the time.  It upset me, and I felt attacked and demeaned.  To his credit, that man realized what he had done and visited our table later, quietly issuing an apology to me.  (Unfortunately, that apology turned on the water works, in front of all of my male coworkers, including my mean boss, previously mentioned.)

When I worked a temp job during my husband’s internship in San Francisco, a coworker spent most of his day asking me out on dates.  I constantly refused him.  He would not take “no” for an answer and instead took to sneaking up to my desk and stroking my hair or putting his arm around me without warning.  He did not see me as a person, but an object.  He was eventually fired after I complained and wrote a letter about the situation (at my supervisor’s urging) to the corporate headquarters.  Apparently, he had been doing this to many of the company’s young women, and the previous solution had been to transfer him to different branches.

When I was promoted to be an editor at my first “real” job, the interview involved hinting at asking me when I planned to start a family.  The man interviewing me was concerned that I would not stay in the job for long and violated laws by asking me those personal questions.  Perhaps if that corporation had wanted me to stay, they would have offered me flex time or work-from-home hours after I did eventually become a mother.  But they refused.

I know in talking to female classmates and friends, many of them have similar experiences.  Of course, we all have good experiences too, but in what ways do these workplace and classroom problems that hinge on gender create difficulties for everybody?  Is there a better way?

What are your experiences?

41 thoughts on “These Are My Truths

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  1. When it comes to handling the delicately nurtured, it appears that the level of economic development does not really matter. A sorry state of affairs originating perhaps from a feudal mindset which may take a long time to correct.

    1. With economic development, there are certainly some improvements, but yes, women are still the second sex and I look forward to a time when that changes. I guess change comes slowly.

          1. I agree Nish. We can’t use the language of our oppressors and expect any change in ourselves. Like Tina Fey says in “Mean Girls” “You have to stop calling each others ‘whores’ and ‘bitches’, it just makes it okay for guys to say it too.”

  2. In school, I remember there was academic competition between me and a boy. I beat him in the finals. On the result day, when we went to collect the report cards, this boy’s father started publicly shaming him for getting less marks than a girl. At that time I was too young to really understand what it meant. Even today, I don’t see people taking it too well if a woman is better than a man in any way.

    1. Oh my! How terrible for both you and the boy. I’m concerned about this societal belief that women are automatically “worse” than men and that to be a woman is somehow shameful or less-than. Not true!

  3. I have had talks like this with my husband quite a bit. I have told him that in the church sphere (we are both pastor’s kids) there is a lot that makes me feel uncomfortable. I think I’ve been slowly opening his eyes to this. For example: when a woman takes a strong vocal stand on something (even a clear moral issue) she is looked at as contentious and told to be a quiet woman only involved in the issues of her home. I won’t stay long in a church with those kind of men, btw.

  4. The worse type I have encountered has been in the last two years (currently looking to move on) is women against women in the workplace playing some nasty games that includes targeting, hostility, borderline bullying.

    1. Thanks, Carolyn. This was a scary post for me to write because I have a hard time being at the front of activism. I am not terribly brave, but I have strong convictions.

  5. Women have come so far but we still have much ground to cover. I read that Twitter does not have a single woman on their board. And up until 1990s women at Harvard were getting “Radcliffe-Harvard” degrees while taking the same course load of men who were getting just Harvard degrees. And of course we still have not had a woman president. But I think it is the little things, like the examples here that eat away at our self-esteem and make it hard for others to appreciate women’s accomplishments. And what is worse is that women can be very nasty toward other women, using the media to fight the breast-feed/don’t breastfeed and stay-at-home/work full time battles, instead of supporting what individual women and families want or can and can’t do.For women to continue to rise in the world we need to support each other in our endeavors, whether domestic or out in the industries and not demean people who live differently.

    1. Excellent, Caitlin. You are advocating a brand of feminism that I particularly love, that we value differences and embrace each other. I know a lot of third-wavers do this, but it is also grounded in some multicultural feminism as well. You make some great points and raise a lot of the issues that still need to be addressed. These issues play out on playgrounds, in families, and certainly at the higher levels of society as you mention.

  6. Emily, I am sorry you have been exposed to so many of these affronts to women. As a man and father, please know that not all men are assholes (best word I can use) , yet we seem to have more than our share who feel it is their right to treat women poorly, including those who are in the position of minister or supervisor. I have written before about my friend whose husband was beating her and her minister told her if she was a better wife, he would not be beating her. In my mind, that minister should go to jail for abetting a crime. Let me close by saying you have been in the right to stand up against men who do this and I applaud you for doing so. All the best, BTG

      1. Thanks Emily. I have been reading the many poignant and heartfelt comments. When I see how women are treated even worse outside of the US, I keep coming back to the very hard to – but must be read, “Half the Sky” by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. Women hold up “half the sky” so if we treat them poorly, the sky could fall. Sheryl Sandberg got it right in “Lean In.” Men don’t have the all the answers, but that does not stop them from letting you think they do. Her key point is “you are just as qualified” so lean in. Good post. Best wishes over the holidays, BTG

        1. Thanks, BTG. I just read Half the Sky and it was heartbreaking and gut wrenching. It is an amazing book that reminded me just how much privilege I have and how, as a male classmate in my feminist theories class taught me, we must use that privilege to lift others up. Thanks for reminding me of that!

  7. When I graduated from college years ago, there were very few jobs in the state where I lived. I finally got a horrible job working as a manager of a youth detention center. After I had worked there two years, a job with my employer as a social worker opened up. I did not have a social work degree, but I had a BA with a minor in education and I had some teaching experience. Instead of me, they hired my coworker and teammate (we worked in pairs), who had been working there for only one year and did not have his degree (which was in religious studies). When I asked about it, I was told by my boss’s boss that “We really wanted a man for the job.”

      1. It was the 70’s, and I had to weight it against the fact that this was my first decently paid job in ten years (and by decent, I mean $10 an hour, so it wasn’t great). Shortly thereafter, I moved to Houston.

  8. This is such an interesting post, Emily. Thanks for bringing this up and for sharing your experiences (I’m sorry to hear that you had gone through all of that).

    Growing up I remember often feeling very intimidated by the opposite sex, because of what I would only later understand to be sexual harassment. It started in school and continued into adulthood. I worked at a university after college and there was a recently divorced dean literally more than twice my age who was constantly badgering me to have lunch with him (leaving me notes to interrupt him at faculty meetings, etc.!). I also had a horrible experience just taking driving lessons – the instructor was nasty and I later learned that he gave all the male students to his partner and he took all the female students in their 20s.

    When I spent time in Japan the sexism was different. My husband and I worked together, and sometimes colleagues would speak to him instead of to me. For example, we were leaving to get married and go on our honeymoon, but everyone gave their congratulations to my husband instead of to me. We have our own business now, and sometimes clients will send their news to my husband but not to me, even though I may have been the one who worked closely with them. This irritates me and I have to keep telling myself that it’s a different cultural norm.

    Most recently I’ve been paranoid that doctors talk to me differently at our son’s appointments if my husband is not there. I really don’t know if this is true or just my imagination. I do know that if my husband is there with me the doctors are always wonderful – they shake hands, smile, make eye contact, take the time to talk to us. When it’s just me it’s more of a mix. I get really angry if I allow myself to think and worry about it.

    You can probably relate too, but my other obstacle in addition to being female is being petite and young looking.

    Thanks for writing about this! I honestly have not thought about it but once I did all these memories came back…

    1. Oh my! The intercultural communication adds a whole new dimension to this. I have similar experiences with doctors as well. We had a female doctor who would ask me about my career aspirations when I was a lot younger and ridicule me and speak harshly to me when my husband wasn’t present. She then treated him like a king. It was so strange and annoying, and my husband had a hard time believing me that her demeanor could be so different when he wasn’t around.

  9. Great post. Men have to be educated in how to behave around women. Some of your experiences are awful. Predjuice comes in many forms and until we educate people to respect and love one and other then such incidents will continue. We should educate people to become better human beings not how in to make more money. Another brave post.

    1. Thank you, Stephen. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: love. We all need to love more. And I agree that education always plays a huge role in righting wrongs. Thanks for your great comment.

  10. Interesting post. Like (I think) you, I could write a list of situations where I have been treated differently, generally as an inferior or an object, because I am a female. But I also could develop lists of perceived mis-treatments as a result of other facets of my demographic or personality. I work in a traditionally (actually still) male-dominated field, where by far most of my co-workers over the past 10 years have been men. In general, I have earned the respect of my colleagues by proving my abilities of their terms, but there have been situations where hard-headed men (sometimes chauvinists, sometimes just ignorant, rurally-isolated individuals) refused to accept or even evaluate my skills. However, what might be an even worse symptom of our society is that I rarely enjoy spending time with women, particularly groups of women, but prefer the company of men… and women seem to feel the same way about me. I guess I don’t have a point here. I completely agree that feminism still has an important place in our world – we’re not “there” yet on gender equality. But the same could be said about any race, religion, or personality attribute other than the white-protestant-male-sportsman (in the USA, or at least the part of the US where I am). Do we need feminism (nationalism, ethno-centrism, sexual-equalism, or any other advocacy theory), or do we need to work on making our culture more accepting of differences in general? It seems that the internet, facebook, etc. is actually makingus more homogenous, and is this the route we want to go?

    1. This is a great point and so well-written. I have the same feelings of being more comfortable with men, but at the same time finding myself marginalized by some of them. I could also write a list of wonderful and uplifting experiences with male colleagues, bosses, and mentors. It is so true that we are all different, and lumping all men as chauvinists is not fair nor productive. I hear what you are saying about valuing differences and having come off of a feminist theories class, some types of feminism address this. Third wave feminism comes to mind, that there is no one right way to be a woman, but multicultural and global feminism also address this. But do we call it feminism, or do we need to recognize some feminist ideas as human values? Maybe feminism is a tool in the box for making the world a better place, but certainly not the solution to all problems.

  11. I think basically, it is the mentality of our society. The fact remains that the males are seen as the head and better one, so we the female ones have to keep encouraging ourselves and being our best. We are all equal.

  12. As a male I sometimes cringe at the way I see some members of my gender treat women. I see feminism as an unfinished struggle, one that should involve both sexes in a debate that transcends tradition and prejudice. Beware anyone who quotes any texts in order to support their subjective opinion!

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Peter. And I hate to admit that I may be one of those using texts to support my subjective opinion! 🙂 I think we all do that sometimes, but I love what you said about men and women working together. It will definitely take all of us to come to some sort of equitable culture.

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