Spoiler: We are not there yet.
I have two infuriating stories to relate. They’re real-life stories, I’m sorry to say.
I was at a conference a few weeks ago, and during the morning of one of the days, I staffed a table for WooCommerce. My role was to answer questions about WooCommerce, essentially. It was a busy morning, and I quite enjoyed my time (although it turns out that I’m not used to three hours on my feet). However, towards the end of my shift, someone came up to me and asked if I could go get someone technical, because they had a technical question. In a piece of fiction, this would probably be a man, someone leering and careless. But this is a true story, and it was an older woman who looked no-nonsense. I stared blankly for a moment, leaned closer to her and blurted “I am the technical!” She looked flustered, and immediately apologized and made it worse, by saying “I’m so sorry! I just assumed you were the booth babe!” Then we both inspected her mouth to see if there was any chance of getting her foot back out. Based on her face and demeanor after she called me a booth babe, she was mortified. I suspect she was flustered from her first slip, and it just snowballed on her. I helped her move on from it, and we had a good chat about what she wanted to do with her site. But still, it didn’t feel great. If you look a post or two back, you can see the link to my talk; that’s what I was wearing for staffing the table as well. It shouldn’t matter. I should be able to wear a dress and still be taken seriously.
This story isn’t about me, but was related to me by one of my close friends. She works shift work. She’s got a bachelor’s degree, and has been with the same place for the past 14 or 15 years (I think – might be 13 or 14). Anyway, a significant amount of time. She’s the backbone. She never calls in. She switches holidays with people who have small kids. She covers shifts when others are sick. She works extra for anyone at any time. And she’s done this for more than a decade. A few years ago, she applied for a posted job at her work to move to a different shift – one that is significantly more popular because it’s first shift. She got the job, and was assured that she could move once they found someone to replace her, in the far less popular second shift. The replacement was never found. The job went away. More recently, she applied to be the manager of her group. She’s got the tenure, she’s got the degree, and she’s got the professionalism. She’d genuinely be great at it, too – she has great rapport with people, and can keep a lot of things in motion at the same time. A far less qualified man (in all ways – no degree, no tenure, bad enough people skills that my friend was actually asked if this man really swears all the time) ended up in the role. He bragged later that he had been through so many internal interviews that he knew what to say. My friend is looking for a new job. She resisted for so long because she was loath to be at the bottom of the heap again, except that she’s never gotten out from under the heap in the past 14 years. What can she do? There’s nothing left but to leave, and start over somewhere new, with no guarantee it will be any better. A qualified woman shouldn’t be passed over for a less-qualified man, much less one who apparently swears at customers too much.
It’s all infuriating. I mean, I’m glad that some men who use their power and influence to rape and otherwise sexually assault women are getting held accountable, but that is really only part of the problem. It’s a huge part, and we need to fix it, don’t get me wrong. But there’s also the passive sexism – the status quo – that people have trouble seeing or don’t think they engage in until they catch themselves doing it because it’s so ingrained, that we also desperately need to fix. If we don’t, we’re not going to rid the world of the people who think they can touch a woman because she’s there; they’ll keep re-forming in every new generation. There isn’t a quick or easy fix. This is going to take a long time, and we can’t ever give up. Look at the history: women have only had the right to vote (in America) for fewer than 100 years. White men have had the right to vote for the past 241 years in America. And of course have controlled all of society forever. So yeah. It’s gonna be a slog.