So 3 years ago I made a video on feminism which received a lot of support from most of my viewers. I filmed it virtually “in the heat of the moment”, after reading Warren Farrel’s “The Myth of Male Power”, also some online articles and blog posts expressing similar views while providing bogus statistics which I didn’t even bother to verify. Shame on me for that.
In the above embedded video I mentioned how those views hit close to home because (at the time) I felt they reflected my personal experience. I want to elaborate on that a little bit, because I think my attitude in that video was absolutely counter-productive.
I’ve been working in a variety of fields ever since I was 16 years old. At first I did some waitressing and bartending, then I worked for a little bit in retail, then in shipping, banks and insurance. In all that time I personally never FELT discriminated by my employers, who for the most part treated me and paid me equally to my male co-workers who were hired on the same position.
In a previous post I talked about the sexual harassment I experienced while working as a waitress. If you haven’t read that post yet, please do so for the sake of context. I have never seen or heard of male waiters/bartenders being subjected to the same type of treatment from their customers. In the interest of fairness, I must also mention that I and the other female waitresses/bartenders also made bigger tips. Again, this reflects only my personal experience, which I know is not much evidence of anything, but might be interesting to some of my readers.
My first “real job in a real office” was as a secretary for a small shipbroking agency. The only other employees besides my boss were 2 agents (both males) and an accountant (female). I worked there for some 3 years and my job description entailed doing all the paperwork for when one of our vessels entered or left the port, which included the Bill of Lading , Commercial Invoice, Certificate of Origin + the lists with the ship’s complete crew (name, position, etc), the merchandise, personal possessions on board and so on.
After 2 years or so when one of our agents quit his job, I asked my boss if I could be promoted as an agent, since I was familiar with all the procedures for when a vessel enters/leaves the port. On many occasions I had accompanied the agents when they were performing the arrival/departure procedures, so I pretty much knew all there was to know. I didn’t get the job. Instead, my boss hired a new agent who had no experience and had to go through one month of training in order to familiarize himself with all the things I already knew by heart. My boss never said I wasn’t qualified enough for the position, in fact he specifically said he would personally “love” to promote me. But he simply couldn’t, because – being a girl – I would lack authority and I would not be taken seriously by the other agents, ship owners and charterers – who were almost exclusively men.
At that point and for many years after, I didn’t see this as discrimination. I just saw it as “the way things are”. Sure, it may be unfair, but there’s nothing I can do about it so I may as well go ahead and settle for a “female job”, such as a secretary.
On the other hand, the secretary position at all companies I ever worked for, was specifically asking for women. No man could apply for the job, even if they were qualified for it and they wanted the post.
Many years later, when I started working in insurance, I was at first hired as a secretary as well. After almost a year I was promoted as an insurance agent, then later on promoted to be a leasing agent, then later I became a leasing manager. I was always paid the same monthly salary as my male co-workers who had the same positions.
However, most of them made bigger commissions than I did. Whenever a “big deal” was in talks (for instance the insurance of a big property, like a villa or a yacht or a chain of stores, etc), my company would send a male to handle the transaction. Every single time. And I never even saw this as a problem. Again, I saw it as “the way things are”, and I rationalized that this happened because most property owners were men and they would rather do business with another man. And no, there were no “written rules” about it, but everybody thought the same and everybody accepted this *reality*.
To be completely honest, I never stepped in and asked to be assigned on a deal like that. Neither did any other of the female agents, even if they were just as qualified as the men. Maybe if we did, our boss would have considered it. I will never know. He was (still is I presume) a very open minded guy who believed in giving his employees opportunities to prove themselves.
All this says something about the society I live in. Whether it’s the men who prefer to deal with other men rather than with women, or whether it’s the women who don’t feel confident enough to take on bigger tasks, we must accept that there IS still a problem, that our culture still promotes the idea that men are generally more capable and/or more qualified.
Just like the same culture is still promoting the idea that being a nurse, or a day carer, or a babysitter and so on is not a “man’s job” and women are preferred almost exclusively for these positions.
In my removed video I also talked about how in a family with children, the men are expected to be the primary money-makers, while the women are expected to be the child carers. I asked my audience how many women would be willing to have a stay-at-home husband while they are making all the money, how many would be willing to pay all the bills and also all their husband’s expenses (from his clothes and aftershave, to his get-togethers with his friends) – while still respecting him. I assumed the answer would be “not many”. And from what I’ve been witnessing (in my country anyway) for over 30 years, I would still say “not many”.
But this doesn’t mean that we should throw our hands in the air and say “this is just the way things are”. These gender-role models we are still holding on to are oppressive to EVERYBODY. And once we are able to see this truth and recognize it, we almost have a “civic duty” to make the rest of the world recognize it as well. Because awareness is the first and probably most important step towards change.