Welcome to Feminisms. First things first, some business -- here's the intro to the series so you know what you've jumped into here if you're new:
Feminisms is a series of weekly feminist diaries. My fellow feminists and I decided to start our own for several purposes: we wanted a place to chat with each other, we felt it was important to both share our own stories and learn from others’, and we hoped to introduce to the community a better understanding of what feminism is about.
Needless to say, we expect disagreements to arise. We have all had different experiences in life, so while we share the same labels, we don’t necessarily share the same definitions. Hopefully, we can all be patient and civil with each other, and remember that, ultimately, we’re all on the same side.
If you think you'd be interested in writing a Feminisms diary one week email me and we'll try to get you set up in the calendar. We've had some excellent people hosts and topics so far. If you have something special you're itching to write about and we haven't covered it yet, please email!
I'd like to start this evening with some background information that I think is relevant to the stories I am going to tell. I'd also like to offer up some definitions and links for everyone. So, first things first,
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.The legal definition of sexual harassment is "unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment."
Conduct is not sexual harassment if it is welcome.For this reason, it is important to communicate (either verbally, in writing, or by your own actions) to the harasser that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and that you want it to stop.
Conduct Of A Sexual Nature
Many different kinds of conduct—verbal, visual or physical—that is of a sexual nature may be sexual harassment, if the behavior is unwelcome and if it is severe or pervasive. Here are some more examples:
Verbal or written: Comments about clothing, personal behavior, or a person’s body; sexual or sex-based jokes; requesting sexual favors or repeatedly asking a person out; sexual innuendoes; telling rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life; threatening a person
Physical: Assault; impeding or blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person or a person’s clothing; kissing, hugging, patting, stroking
Nonverbal: Looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; following a person
Visual: Posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature
When you are treated differently because of your sex and when the different treatment negatively affects the "terms or conditions of employment," it is illegal. "Terms or conditions of employment" include position, pay, title, being hired or fired from a job, and advancement and training opportunities.
Students can also be the victims of sex discrimination if teachers or other students discriminate against you because of your sex.
Examples of Sex Discrimination:
Note: I'm including Hiring and Firing here, but there are more at the link.
These examples of sex discrimination are to help you decide if you are being discriminated against because of your sex.
You apply for a job as an executive consultant.Although you have experience and excellent qualifications, you are not hired because some of the company’s long-time clients are more comfortable dealing with men.
You are told that you are laid off due to company cutbacks and reorganization.However, men in the same job and with less seniority keep their jobs.
And now, some stories.
I live in Bible Belt territory. Not quite in the middle of it, but the northern edges. This is my third year working at a nearby Community College. I am up for tenure this semester and I have been informed that the procedures at this point are basically a formality. Tenure will be officially offered to me in about one month. I don't have any intention of accepting that offer when it is made. There are several reasons for my decision. One is that I'm interested in making a career change. Another is that I've been living in this area for 11 years and I'm itching for a big city. A third is that the atmosphere at work is toxic.
When I say the atmosphere is toxic at work I mean several different things. There are problems that exist that some of us attempt to address only to be met with "these things take time", or "it isn't possible to fire or demote a tutor who insists on helping students cheat on exams and plagiarize papers", or the fact that I can't walk down one hallway by Administrative offices without having one Vice President stand in his doorway and look me up and down every day. Doesn't matter what I'm wearing: a suit, a dress, a skirt, jeans, baggy pants, a school sweatshirt on a Friday or "Spirit Day" (I hate those btw). No matter what I wear, he ogles. He can't seem to help himself. Some days he takes the pleasure of adjusting himself as his eyes linger. And he doesn't just stare at me. He stares at other faculty members, staff members, he stares at students! The toxicity doesn't stop there with that one Administrator, or with those few other examples. It gets worse. There's more. I could write a weekly series on the variety of bullshit that various faculty and staff members or students have had to put up with. I have tried to make it better. In some ways I have been successful, in others, I am exhausted trying.
With regard to the Administrator with the staring problem. He and I had other issues. He had a small respect problem. Whenever I spoke up during Committee meetings he felt that it was acceptable to roll his eyes, sigh loudly, tap his pen on the table impatiently, and/or interrupt me mid-sentence. I spoke to the Chair of my dept. about it and nothing was done. I spoke to my boss, the other VP, (I also mentioned the staring to him), and the behaviors stopped for a few weeks. When they returned before the break and he interrupted me for the third time during our last committee meeting during finals week I finally stood up at the table and said, "I apologize to the rest of the Committee for having to interrupt our business here and deal with your behavior, but the way you interrupt me, the way you treat me, the way you look at me, is unacceptable, and if it doesn't change you're going to have a serious problem on your hands." He has been avoiding me this semester so far. Today when I passed by his office he was in the doorway. He held eye contact with me and nodded and started to go back into his office as I passed. Of course, I turned my head seconds later to see him staring...again.
This week I learned the stories of 2 other women working at my school. These two women are staff. They aren't in a union like I am. They don't have as much protection as I have. There are other differences between us. I am 29. These women are older. Both in their late 30s now. They grew up here. They have family ties here. I didn't and I don't. They have children. They are going through or are recently divorced. I don't have children. I have never been married. I have myself and myself alone (well, and my three cats, but that's hardly similar). Our situations are different. This is why they feel they must stay and this is why I choose to leave.
The first woman, we'll call her Kim, began working as an Administrative Assistant 18 years ago. She was around 20 at the time. She had an Associates Degree. She was single. Fourteen years ago she became pregnant. She was told by her boss then (who is now the President of the college), we'll call him Harry, that being single and pregnant was unacceptable. She was told that if she didn't get married she would be fired. She didn't know her rights. She knew that was "wrong", but she didn't see another way. So she got married.
Kim stayed in her first marriage to an abusive alcoholic for 3.5 years. She got divorced. Harry told her in so many words that divorce was "unbecoming to a woman" and that she shouldn't expect to get far in life as a divorced woman. Sounds like a threat to me, but again, Kim didn't know what to do. She was a single mom with a child to support. She had only her Associates Degree and her family nearby to help her. A few years later Kim got remarried and had another child. About two years ago she got divorced. After her second divorce Jim told her that she would need to complete a Bachelor's Degree in order to keep her current position. Kim enrolled in school to complete the degree. She recently met with Harry to discuss the fact that she's about to complete her BA. His response to her was: "Well, I don't know why you spent your money on that. You're not getting a raise and you're certainly not getting promoted." Some time in the last few weeks Harry had his current Assistant tell Kim that her drinking on the weekends at that "Black Bar" was having a negative effect on the College and that it was recommended that she stop visiting such establishments and hanging around with "those" people.
In case you haven't noticed yet, Harry is a real winner.
The second woman I'd like to tell you about works in an accounting-related position. I'll call her Rita. Rita was up for performance review a few weeks ago. Harry told Rita's supervisor to give her a poor review. What, you want to know some of the things Rita does poorly as far as her job is concerned? Well, Rita wears clothes that are "unprofessional". Her boots are "distracting". Her shirts show too much "cleavage". Her skirs are too short. You see, someone might see Rita and assume that there are whores working at the college!
What else does Rita do poorly? Ummm...well...ummm...she may have gotten into a disagreement with one faculty member recently where she was a bit short with them after they apparently filled out some forms wrong and caused a near accounting disaster which almost cost the school a large sum of money. Okay, so maybe Rita should have been nicer to that person. We'll give them that one.
Rita was also told that her behavior outside of work wasn't considered acceptable. You see, Rita's divorce was recently finalized. She's been hanging out at those..yep, you guess it... "Black Bars"!! And rumor has it, she might even have a Black boyfriend!! OH NO! What will people think?! So, Harry has told Rita that because she received a poor performance review, she will be reviewed again in 6 months. In other words, Rita has 6 months to clean up her act and get rid of that Black boyfriend, the Black Bar, and stop wearing those slutty outfits. Only then will her job be secure. If not? Well, I don't know what you're expecting, but I'm expecting Rita will get another poor performance review.
One of the things we're starting to do is try to get the staff at our college to join our faculty union. They are allowed to do so under NEA rules, and adding them to our ranks would make us one solid bargaining unit. It would offer them the protection that they so clearly need for so many reasons. I could continue telling you horror stories. This is just a small sampling of some of the things that have happened at this college. Oh, another priceless one was the creation of a "Minority Faculty Recruitment and Retention Committee". Guess who was on that committee the first year it existed? If you guessed "every minority (i.e. black person) who works at the college" you were right. They added me and two other female faculty this year as well as a few white female staffers. You know, because women are the other minority.
I have asked these women about their rights. I have talked to them about considering legal advice and maybe action. I have talked to them about other opportunities in the area and outside of the area. I have encouraged them not to let this behavior stand. I certainly won't be letting it go. I plan on talking to our union representative to see what the best course of action is.
I felt compelled tonight to share these stories. I know there are people out there who believe this behavior doesn't exist anymore. I don't know where they work, but it sure as hell isn't where I work. Do you have similar stories to share? Do you have advice to give? We need to make these stories public. Only with sunlight will the behavior be exposed and hopefully be stopped.