Originally a comment by iknlast on The endless supply of mother-in-law jokes.
I had a job about 15 years ago where sexist jokes were routinely e-mailed around the office, an office divided into (male) engineers and (female) clerical, with a handful of us (mostly female) in hard-to-define positions at the bottom of the echelon of professional positions, doing work that was essentially clerical, but with a “specialist” title that made it look like their highly educated, well skilled people were actually being utilized properly. The first day I was there, my e-mail was graced with a visual joke about a woman-only parking lot. It was a junkyard.
I had just come there from a job where I was an intern who could expect nothing more because they didn’t offer full time jobs to women (they always did it in a way that made it hard to prove – no jobs available today, sweeties. As soon as the woman eligible for the full time position had moved on, they emptied her desk for the male they had just hired for the non-existent position). At that job, I was called a feminazi by my boss. I challenged him, and he “acknowledged” that I wasn’t really a feminazi, it was just a “joke”.
I have been subjected to sexist “jokes” my entire life, and yes, they did affect me. They created an environment that left me depressed and half-alive. They slowed me down in my path, because I internalized a lot of this hateful humor, and couldn’t find my path until I was already in my 30s and was able to clear the cobwebs out of my head enough (from the youthful conditioning) to realize that, hey, I was GOOD at science! I could actually be a scientist! When I think of how much time I wasted, and how much more I could have contributed, it makes me burn.
Then, I became a scientist and faced the situation mentioned above. Since moving on into academia, the sexism has been more subtle (at times), but is still very present in the dean who refers to female teachers as “Sunshine” (teachers with a doctorate degree in their field, highly competent professionals) and talks down to females, often without even realizing it. If told, he would deny that he is sexist or has ever done anything sexist. As would the people passing on these jokes, or denying jobs to women in subtle ways.
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: sexist jokes at work hurt men too. By which I mean to say: driving women out of fields where their contributions can really matter, hurts men in the sense that we DON’T HAVE THOSE WOMEN’S CONTRIBUTIONS.
I’ve probably told this story a million times, but freshly out of graduate school, and with a software patent under my belt and a belief that I could honestly do something really innovative & cool, I tried to start a company. I found a partner who was business-savvy, and we obtained provisional funding to start the company, but it ended up failing. Why? Because there was nobody to hire, and I needed people with very specific skills, specifically embedded-systems computer science graduates, which is a field usually associated with STEM. I could blame the outsourcing of the 1990’s for driving jobs overseas, and yes, that played a part. But what I noticed more and more was that the few people who were (very occasionally) answering my queries for employees were, without exception, men. Why. Why were only men graduating out of computer science graduate programs with the skills that I sought?
Yes, I know, there are obviously women graduating as well. But in 20+ interviews over the course of a year, not a single woman applied. This is not because the work was uninteresting, because I’m doing it now as an *employee* of another firm, and enjoying the daily challenges (as are my colleagues, all men). Nor is it because “women cannot do the work” because that is a patently ridiculous idea, given how many women I’ve known who have beaten me hands-down with their technical skills. I am convinced that it is because of the boys-club atmosphere of Computer Science as a discipline, and probably STEM in general, which limited the pool of women who even considered that course of study in the first place. And that atmosphere isn’t only created by men being overt assholes, telling women that they “oughta be in the kitchen” (although those overt assholes do indeed exist), it is also created by what seem (to us men) to be innocuous jokes, body language, attitudes, and all the rest. It is the Tim Hunts of the world, and the Richard Dawkinses, and the Joe Average. Mostly the latter. Almost entirely the latter. And, I am sad to say, people like my sister, who refuses to encourage my niece to pursue her love of science, for whatever her reasons are. (I have a whole set of ranting essays in my head about that.)
So, thanks, sexist men. You fucked up even my very modest hopes to have a company of my own in a field that I love. You arbitrarily prevented half of my potential employees from even considering being in the field and, as a result, helped me to lose my provisional funding, which was based upon being able to build the company in a timely fashion. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is affecting us all as a result. My company-that-never-was could have been adding to the US economy now, enriching us all in some small way, but it’s not. I’m not.
iknklast, I am truly sorry that you had to put up with that. If it helps, in any way, to know that there is at least one man in STEM who recognizes the damage and is trying to consciously reverse it, then I hope this personal anecdote does.
When I finally went into science (where I have been very happy, for the most part), my mother was horrified. This is not a thing for women! All my teenage years, she had insisted that the one female doctor in our town had to be a lesbian. I know what was going through her mind – my daughter is a lesbian. After my ex turned out to be gay, I’m sure she really worried about that, because homosexuality is, in her Bible, one of the worst sins possible.
Of course, the sexual double standard works both ways. My second husband is a librarian (uh, oh!). In addition, any male teaching elementary school (like my favorite reading teacher in 6th grade) must, by definition be gay, because he went into a “woman’s” field.
This is another way in which it hurts men, too. For some men, those suppositions could keep them out of a job they love. My librarian husband just laughed it off, but not all men can.