May 8, 2017
Disclaimer: I come to this as a queer, cisgender, young white woman. My experiences are the consequence of my own social positionality and are not representative of all experiences within the vast category of ‘woman’. I cannot and will not speak for all women. Every experience of sexism is also informed by race, class, sexual orientation, ability, and other social identities. I am not the person to tell these stories, but #Blackwomenatwork was a movement on twitter at the end of March. Read them.
Recently, I attended a conference session on being a young woman in student affairs. The presenters asked participants to share their experiences of sexism in the workplace and, as you can probably imagine, woman told stories around the following themes:
Participants went around the room telling these stories which were, admittedly, ridiculous. Each woman would finish telling her story and others in the room would laugh and nod before moving on the next experience. And that was it. It was a chance for young women to tell their stories and for us all to laugh at how ludicrous our colleagues sounded.
In March, the “Humans of Higher Education” Facebook started a March Madness competition which featured a picture of a young, white woman with the caption “Actually, I work here…” and again this was met with women sharing their own stories and more laughs from colleagues of all genders.
But the blatant sexism in our field is not a funny story. It is not just a joke for a tweet or a Facebook post with #SAChat. It is a continuous degradation of the work that we do in student affairs. It is pervasive and harmful not only to the careers of bright, emerging professionals but also to the students that we serve. It is counter-intuitive to our missions of inclusivity and our goals to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.
These stories about sexism in the workplace, while they can be therapeutic for some to share, need to be a starting point for structural change. In particular, men who encounter these stories need to examine the part they play in allowing these attitudes to continue. For every man that has assumed I am a student, there were five men who had the same thought but chose not to vocalize it and zero men who challenged this display of sexism.
This is not to say that women should not be sharing their experiences with sexism in the workplace. This is, however, a call for those listening to laugh, nod, and then do something to change the system that allows these stories to continue.
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Emily Horton is currently a Research Assistant in the Minnesota State System Office of Equity and Inclusion. She recently earned her MA in Higher Education from the University of Minnesota. Find Emily on Twitter at @EmilyMyanna.
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