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About a decade ago, the fairly self-contained division of the company I worked for had a clear line between the professional staff (a dozen or so men and me) and the clerical and support staff (a dozen women). Given that dynamic, I was frequently in meetings or at informal meals where I was the only woman. Invariably, one of three or four of my co-workers would tell a sexist joke or make a very chauvinistic remark. I tend to be the shy introvert in the corner personality-wise anyway, plus ~ like most women ~ I had learned to ignore that those sorts of comments in favor of getting my job done more easily.

A couple of the men would often say to the loudmouth of the day "Umm.... there's a lady present....," at which point the loudmouth would change the subject. However, after listening to this for several months, it was clear to me that the two less unenlightened men were not telling the chauvinists to change their opinions/actions, but to keep it quiet when someone who wasn't a member of the club was around.

I've been one of the lucky ones, overall.

My parents were remarkably egalitarian.  If I was discouraged from doing something (which was rare), it was because of my particular abilities, or lack thereof...., not because I was a girl. My father didn't have a sexist bone in his body, and he really didn't understand how someone could be abusive.  

There was some lingering sexism in the schools I went to in the 1970s and 1980s, but it wasn't so pervasive as to keep me doing what I really wanted to. I took auto shop, but the stereotype the teacher had was the smart kids coming from the honors school, not (at least openly) gender-based ~ he treated the boys as badly as the girls. As an undergraduate, when several women in a class had concerns about inappropriate questions in an economics problem set (the TA used something with his wife's lingerie as the basis for several questions), the head of the department took us seriously, offering to let any of us who were uncomfortable switch sections even though it was the week after the deadline for doing that, and that TA was removed from the next semester's schedule when he didn't get why he had made female students uncomfortable.

I travel alone when that fits my plans. My career for the most part would have not been any different if I had been male ~ I've tended to work for fairly decent companies and/or in jobs with good unions.

And, yet....

One of my best friends was raped while we were in grade 6 (aged 11, if anyone is keeping track ~ we barely knew what sex was, and there she was, wondering if she was pregnant or had an STD). She didn't recover well physically or emotionally, and dropped out of school a few years later, pregnant at 15 from what would now be called a date rape.

Another friend I was close to in high school was raped and murdered just after her high school graduation.

Went years with misdiagnoses of a fairly serious illness because a doctor didn't take my 'female complaints' seriously ~ and I was too young and naive to stand up for myself and find a different doctor.

Had a couple acquaintances (including one who is a commenter here) say things to me that ~ if said in a workplace ~ would have gotten him a reprimand for sexual harassment.

In my twenties, I was in a leadership position at a Quaker meeting just as issues about molestation in religious organizations were beginning to get widespread publicity, and ~ when a case came to light in the meeting ~ had several men in the meeting try to convince me that I was taking the issue way too seriously, that it was just 'normal' male behavior and the complaining mother was an overreacting female. Thankfully, the committee that dealt with the issue was more enlightened and not only dealt with the existing issue (no, an adult male fondling an 11yo girl is not normal) but wrote well-balanced standards to hopefully prevent future issues.

A very close friend married at 18 to escape an abusive father, because she saw no other way out.... no money or expectations in her life for college. Kids came shortly after marriage, and almost 30 years later, this wonderful and talented woman has a low-paying childcare job because that's what she has experience doing.

All of these have influenced decisions of mine ~ about taking the more expensive second floor apartment (instead of one on the first floor) so I could more safely have the windows open on a nice day. About not going to that late movie on a Monday night (when Monday and Tuesday were my 'weekend') because of not wanting to walk across a dark parking lot alone..... while misogyny/other chauvinistic stuff has touched my life much less than for many women my age, it has been there in the background, a silent partner for too many decisions.

The final bit on that introductory story. I had a fairly good relationship with the two men who did sometimes speak up, and I did finally point out to them that they were condoning the behavior/opinion, despite speaking up about the audience particulars. One of them got what I was trying to say right away ~ that much of what the loudmouths were saying was inappropriate (anywhere, but especially in a workplace setting) whoever the audience was. A bit to my surprise, he actually went a step further and asked me outright if any of the other men had been a problem. Again, being one of the lucky ones, none of them had harassed/otherwise bothered me, and I said so. I also knew one of them had been an issue for a couple of the support staff, but waited to say that to him later, as the other man didn't get the issue, and neither of us explaining it in several different ways got through to him. The second man seriously thought that the only issue was that the loudmouths sometimes swore around became clear in that conversation that his issues hadn't been with the chauvinistic/misogynistic content of what the loudmouths were saying ~ but their use of 'four letter words' around me. And yet he saw himself as an ally in the struggle for equality....

So, yes, even though I'm one of the 'lucky ones' who doesn't have many direct stories of harassment or being silenced, I am well aware that is not the case for too many women.

Originally posted to mayim on Sat May 31, 2014 at 06:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism and This Week in the War on Women.

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