Posted by: *carrie* | May 3, 2010

Women’s Work at the Office – Just Ignore The Sexism!

Yesterday I read a brief post over @ Equality Myth about subtle sexism at work. Their post, Are You the  de Facto Office Secretary? How to Deal, was prompted by this piece in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Essentially, the article is about how the sole women working among men often gets stuck with responsibilities such as note taking, coffee making, cleaning up after the meeting, etc. That dreaded women’s work. The advice the article doles out is to avoid the sexism issue, and instead treat it as a fairness issue.

Don’t focus on the sexism but rather on the fairness — or lack thereof, says Christine Probett, a professor of human resources at San Diego State University and former executive at Goodrich.

In the case of taking meeting notes, Probett recommends you say something like: “Sure, I’ll do it this time, but we should rotate the task.”

And here’s one of the trickier parts of dealing with sexism in the real world. On the internet, or among friends, or maybe even at school, you can call out sexism. You can debate the validity of someone’s ideas. You can reject sexist acts or lash out at them.

At work, however, you’re going to have to deal with various types of repercussions. It might be pettiness from your male coworkers that were called out for their behavior. It might be not getting good assignments, either as ‘punishment’ or because people are afraid of what else you might say or do. It could prevent you from moving up, getting a promotion, getting the best clients, because you pissed someone off.  Every work environment has its own politics and balance, and sometimes you have to play it very carefully, and more so if you’re a woman.

A duty sharing wheel really is the fairest way to go about dealing with these tasks. Just don’t be surprised if some of the men (and maybe other women) roll their eyes or call you a bitch behind your back if you actually bring it up, though.

Of course, suggesting that us wimmin folk just hold our gosh-darn complaining for once is a classic example of putting women in their place. Girls and women spend a great deal of their lives trying to please other people, and being taught that it’s their responsibility to sacrifice for and do things for everyone else around them at all times.

If a man complained and said, “You know, I’m the only man in this office, and I always have to take out everyone’s trash. They think that because I’m a man, it should be my job. I just want a little fairness!” I know exactly the advice 100% of advice columnist-type people would give him. They would say, “It’s not fair that your coworkers expect you to take out the trash every week because you’re the man. You should tell them, gently and politely, that you don’t mind doing your fair share, but that if they want equal treatment, so do you.”

To reiterate:

Women: Do Not Shake the Boat and Under No Circumstances Actually Address the Problem. Men: Be Direct and Firm and Address the Problem.

I sympathize with the reasoning behind dodging the sexism issue. At the same time, I am royally pissed off by it. We’re always having to “choose our battles” which too often means we’re letting sexism slide by, which subtly reinforces the notion that it is okay. When it’s not. Can you imagine if women across the country went just one week where they called out every sexist act they saw, every sexist statement they heard? Talk about an outrageous act.

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