Showing posts with label sexual harassment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexual harassment. Show all posts

02 July 2020

How the System Gets Systemic and Other Tales


I see the grand opening of America is going well. Especially in Florida and Texas. But more on that later. Or maybe not. It's too easy a shot.

What struck me about the Tulsa Rally, the Arizona "Students for Trump" Rally, and (I'm sure) tomorrow's 3rd of July Fireworks at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota* were the "Front Row Joes". The ones who show up early, camp out, bring the kids and grandkids, travel from rally to rally, wear special outfits, have slogans, legends, beliefs, and a whole culture that goes with following the object of desire from one venue to another. You know: the conservative version of Deadheads.


God bless them all, and may they not get the virus. BTW, I can't help but wonder how many of the older crowd were Jerry Garcia fans back in the day. I'll bet if someone started humming "Friend of the Devil" a lot of people would take up the song...

BUT BACK TO THE MAIN THEME

Meanwhile, though, I've been thinking about systemic racism. Now I have not experienced this as such - all of the people who have ever harrassed me about my ethnicity have so far gotten it wrong: I am neither Jewish, Native American, Italian, or mixed-race, although I would not mind in the slightest if I were. What this dark-haired, dark-eyed, large-nosed cantankerous crone is, is Greek, and my Ancestry gene test proves it. (God, I wish racists would bother to do a little research and get their hateful ethnic stereotypes correct.)

But I certainly have experienced systemic sexism. As has every woman I know. So, let's go over some of the issues.

Dress Codes - "Show us your legs, ladies, and don't be shy about it!"

My first official job was in 1971 (I lied about my age, and other things), as a switchboard operator in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids gets cold and very snowy in winter, but we were required to wear dresses to work. And the manager could require us to wear dresses, even though no one in the public ever saw us. (Most of us wore pants on the way over and changed.) Women couldn't wear pants on the job anywhere at that time. It wasn't until the mid-70s that the pantsuit became popular and women could wear them at work.

But not everywhere: women weren't allowed to wear anything but skirts on the floor of the US Senate until 1993, when Senators Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun wore pantsuits in defiance of the rules. That took a while, didn't it?

But sometimes it takes even longer: As late as 2019, a federal judge struck down a rule at a North Carolina charter school that prohibited girls at the school from wearing pants. It required them instead to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers. The school had argued that the dress code promoted “traditional values.” (HERE)

And I note that the rule is still - on the Weather Channel and Fox News among other places - that female broadcasters wear (often sleeveless) dresses and spike heels all four seasons, while their male counterparts can actually cover their legs and arms with multiple layers. Still.


Jobs - It's hard to get one if you are barred from even applying.

Help wanted ads in newspapers were listed by gender until 1973. Jobs for Men; Jobs for Women. Betcha can't figure out what kinds of jobs were listed under JFW - secretarial, receptionist, clerks, low-level accountancy, waitresses, hostesses. CPAs were listed under Jobs for Men, along with everything else that paid a living wage.

But in 1973, in Pittsburgh Press Co. v Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376 (1973), SCOTUS upheld an ordinance enacted in Pittsburgh that forbade sex-designated classified advertising for job opportunities, against a claim by the parent company of the Pittsburgh Press that the ordinance violated its First Amendment rights. (Wikipedia) And finally, the barriers broke down!

Long history of discriminatory newspaper ads | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It still took a while for things to actually change throughout the land, and in many places, a token woman got hired, and that was enough, despite the fact that (ahem) women do make up 50% of the population. So far we're settling for 23% of Congress, and 5% of CEOs, and 0% Vice Presidents or Presidents. To quote the great RBG when asked "'When do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is when there are nine." (RBG)

Meanwhile, we're still earning 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Higher Education

While there's a long history of women's colleges in America, beginning in the 1800s with seminaries, almost all of them were aimed at teaching teachers. Full education and co-educational college education was a long hard slog. It wasn't until the 1950s that - again - SCOTUS weighed in with a number of decisions that said public single-sex universities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

"The Ivy League schools held out the longest: Yale and Princeton didn’t accept female students until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977 (when it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College). Brown (which merged with women’s college Pembroke), Dartmouth and Columbia did not offer admission to women until 1971, 1972 and 1981, respectively. Other case-specific instances allowed some women to take certain classes at Ivy League institutions (such as Barnard women taking classes at Columbia), but, by and large, women in the ’60s who harbored Ivy League dreams had to put them on hold." (Wikipedia)

Health - When you're not included because you're just an inferior man.

BTW, even today, most clinical trials for medicine and medical procedures are done exclusively on men. This is because - as we're always told - women have menstrual cycles that would screw up the research and men don't, and besides, "the average human is a '60 kilogram man'"**. One size fits all, right? Well, this has had some grimly hilarious results - did you know that the first major study ever done on breast cancer was done on men? True. But even today, studies on heart disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer's, and cholesterol are done primarily on men, and even when women are included in the studies, "they often fail to stratify data by sex or include information about hormone status or any other gender-specific factors." Which means we still don't know how well various drugs or treatments actually work for women. (HERE)

BTW - it's even worse for minorities. "Nearly 40 percent of Americans belong to a racial or ethnic minority, but the patients who participate in clinical trials for new drugs skew heavily white—in some cases, 80 to 90 percent. " (Scientific American)

The Pill

In 1957, the FDA approved of the birth control pill but only for “severe menstrual distress.” In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. In both cases, it was only for married women. And even then it was only legal in some states. It wasn't until the late 60s through early 70s that it was made legal and available for both single and married women.

Credit - Or, how do you start a business without any money?

Until 1974, a woman was not able to apply for credit without her father's or husband's signature. If you were a single woman, you were SOL. The Equal Opportunity Credit Act changed that. BTW, it was Congresswoman Lindy Boggs who added the provision banning discrimination due to sex or marital status, because the committee hadn't put it in the original bill. She photocopied the new version of the bill and told the other committee members, "Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included. I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval." The committee unanimously approved the bill.

Credit - Small Business Loans

Took a long time to get. And I know a number of women who were rejected by a bank - because we generally don't have the assets of a man - and started their small businesses using credit cards. Lots of them.

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Pregnancy

Besides trying to even get a job, or trying to even get credit to start your own business, or to get credit to buy or rent the furnishings or clothing you needed, women could also get fired, legally, for getting pregnant until the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Speaking of Pregnancy, how about the Age of Consent?

In 1880, the ages of consent were set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7. Yes, you read that correctly. By 1920, however, I'm happy to say that 26 states had an age of consent at 16, 21 states had an age of consent at 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent at 14. Georgia which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 in 1995, and Hawaii did the same in 2001.

And how about consent, period?

Well, if you were married - you couldn't say no. Spousal rape wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states until 1993.

And, for most of us who have not been living under a rock, we all know that rape is damned hard to prove in the courts of public opinion, public gossip, and the law. Especially since as many as 200,000 rape kits are still sitting around police stations in the US that have never been and never will be tested. Kind of makes you feel like it just doesn't matter. But it does... (HERE)

And sexual harrassment at the workplace was not made illegal until 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment can be sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. However, as some of us know, it still continues...

(See a host of stories on that topic, including my own "Pentecost", in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor.)

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Health Insurance

Charging women more for health insurance than men wasn’t outlawed in health insurance until 2010 with the Affordable Care Act. Let me repeat that:

WOMEN COULD AND WERE CHARGED MORE THAN MEN FOR HEALTH INSURANCE UNTIL 2010's ACA!!!!

If the ACA is tossed out - as the current administration is trying to get SCOTUS to do - that will end and women can be charged more again. And undoubtedly will. (NPR)

Jury Duty

Many states excluded women from jury duty until SCOTUS declared that to be illegal in Taylor v Louisiana in 1973. Gives a whole new insight into the all male juries of Twelve Angry Men, and Anatomy of a Murder, doesn't it?

BTW - Barring women from practicing law was only prohibited in the U.S. in 1971.

"I thought you were a man"

Previously shared in a comment on Melanie Campbell's blog (HERE):

Back in the late 70s, I made the finals for new play contest, and I went down for the public reading of all 5 finalists. Now, I'd submitted the play under the pen name M. V. Fisher. When I arrived, the person in charge looked at me, and said, "We thought you were a man." And sure enough, all the other finalists were men. I didn't win.
Systemic sexism is real.
Systemic racism is real.
Fight them both TOOTH AND NAIL!!!!

Love always,
The Crone.


** For an absolute classic on how women have been measured by the male over the millenia, real Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman. https://www.amazon.com/Mismeasure-Woman-Carol-Tavris/dp/0671797492

A quick quote: On hysterectomy for a 'precancerous' diagnosis: "Although prostate cancer is far more common than uterine cancer, no one recommends preventative surgery on the prostate. The very idea would make most men premurderous."

18 October 2016

Not Just Words


by Barb Goffman

The now infamous tape of Donald Trump bragging about how, as a celebrity, he can get away with anything in regard to women has resulted in thousands of articles and social media posts about sexual assault and sexual harassment. One article I read recently has stuck with me. It addressed how men often think sexual harassment isn't such a big deal because they don't realize how often it happens, and that's at least partly because, from a young age, girls are taught to de-escalate situations. Downplay things. Laugh them off. Ignore them. Harassment is so common, we don't talk about it until things get really bad. Until we are physically assaulted. Until we are raped.

The article suggested that women should talk about the harassment that happens to them regularly so it won't be hidden in the shadows and good men will see what we put up with. That is what I'm going to do now. This is a list of every incident of sexual harassment (or worse) I can remember in my life, and my memory isn't that good. You may think that everything on this list isn't sexual harassment, that's it's minor stuff, no big deal. At the time of some of these incidents, I would have agreed with you. But now, looking back, I think they are. They all add up to rape culture.
  • At age 6, a boy offered me twenty-five cents to look up my skirt. 
  • At age 9, my sister's boyfriend exposed himself to me. (Me and a bunch of other people. This happened at camp, and my sister wasn't there). The guy was 18 or so, and the rest of the group members were around his age. I don't know if he was thinking about me when he did it, but I was there, and I did see his penis, and I was nine years old.
  • In the fourth grade (age 9 or 10), the boys in my class regularly rated the girls on a 1-10 scale. The day I was listed as a zero, I wanted to crawl through the floor and die, though I pretended I didn't care.
  • Also in the fourth grade, I'd just rode my bike home from a friend's house and was on the driveway, walking toward our garage. A man drove up to the edge of our driveway and called out the window to me. He'd found a puppy and was looking for the owner. Did I know anyone who had lost a puppy? I said no, sorry, and walked inside the house. When I told my mom about the lost puppy, she ran outside, but the predator was gone. I didn't believe her back then when she said the man had been hoping I'd come to his car window to see the puppy so he could snatch me. I believe her now.
  • In my first year of junior high (age 12), we girls learned to always wear shorts under our skirts because you couldn't walk down a hallway at school without a boy lifting up your skirt.
  • When I was 14, I was traveling alone on a plane. A man sat next to me and said, "So, you're my sex buddy for the trip." His wildly inappropriate talk continued throughout the flight. I tried my best to ignore him. I wanted to tell the flight attendant, to make him go away, to change seats myself, to simply make it stop, but I didn't because I feared I wouldn't be believed. He was a grown-up, and I was just a kid.
  • When I was 16, I participated in debate club activities. One weekend at an event at another school, my boyfriend showed up for the Saturday night activities. He got angry with me when I wanted to spend time with him because he wanted to flirt with other girls. But then when I cried (literally) on another boy's shoulder, someone saw, and for days (weeks?) thereafter his friends taunted me at school, accusing me of being a slut.  
  • When I was 16, I went on a double date. My boyfriend and I split off from the other couple (one of his friends and one of mine), and we ended up in the backseat of the car. Things got a little steamy, but no clothing below the waist was removed. Yet his friend proceeded to lie and tell everyone at school that the car was literally rocking and I was a whore. I protested the lie, but I figure people believed what they wanted to believe. My boyfriend was no help with this matter.
  • When I was 16, my boyfriend's friends bet him that they could all get me to have sex with them. Instead of standing up for me with them, he got angry with me, beginning one of several periods where he put distance between us, making me feel as if I'd done something wrong, even though I'd done nothing.
  • When I was 17, my boyfriend said I looked like a slut every time I wore a particular sweater (and it wasn't even revealing). I never understood why he hated that top, but he got upset each time I wore it. Eventually I put the sweater away. (And yes, it was the same guy in all these incidents. Why I put up with all that crap is an entirely different column.)
  • When I was 18, I worked as a proofreader at a local newspaper. It was summertime and hot, and I was young and naive. I wore shorts to work one day, and I had to walk through the press room to get to my desk. So many men ogled me that I stayed at my desk the rest of the day so I wouldn't have to pass them again. I had learned my dress-code lesson.
  • The summer I was 19, a house down the street was being renovated. I had to walk past the construction crew multiple times. The foreman paid me compliments. The first time it felt nice, but each time thereafter it felt creepy. One day after the renovation was over, I spotted the foreman sitting in his van outside my house, staring at the front door. I hid inside, waiting for him to leave. After a while, I called a male friend, told him my situation, and asked if he'd come over, thinking it would make the guy in the van leave. But my friend refused, telling me I was being a drama queen. But in my gut I knew if I went outside, I'd be in danger. The construction guy sat in his van outside my house for hours.
  • When I was 22, I walked past four clearly drunk guys. They called rude comments after me. I was afraid and humiliated. I didn't turn around. Didn't say anything. I just walked faster and faster until I got home and locked the door and ran to my room and closed that door and closed the curtains. Then I curled in a fetal position on my bed.
  • When I was 27, a man in an outdoor coffee shop exposed himself to me. I gave him a dirty look, and he left. I wish I'd screamed or made a snide remark or something, but there was a little part of me that was afraid he might hit me or something. I also feared that I wouldn't be believed. (There have been several other stranger-exposure incidents over the years, but I'm blanking on the details right now.)
  • That same year a guy in my law school class told me I had "the biggest breasts he'd ever seen." I felt so conspicuous and self-conscious and humiliated. I told a good male friend about it. He said I was getting upset over nothing.
  • When I was in my early 30s, a cable-repair guy groped me in my apartment. I had an issue with the small TV sitting on top of a dresser. He told me he needed me to hold the TV while he stood behind me, adjusting ... something ... to ensure the TV wouldn't fall. As I was doing that, he felt me up and ground his pelvis into my backside. It happened so fast. I was so surprised and humiliated that I jumped away but let him finish the work. I'm still not sure why. I guess I was in shock and didn't quite believe what had happened. A couple of years later, the cable company called me to see if I'd ever experienced any issues with this particular guy. They must have received many complaints from many different women. Probably a lawsuit. I told the caller that nothing had ever happened. She told me it was okay, that I could tell her if something had happened, but I lied and said it hadn't. I was an attorney. I was a grown woman. I knew I'd done nothing wrong and should have told the truth. But I was humiliated that it had happened and that I hadn't reported it immediately, so I pretended I hadn't been groped.
  • When I was 40 or so, while walking outside my local supermarket, a car drove past and a teenage boy leaned out the window and called me a whore. 

These are the major incidents I recall. This list doesn't include any of the demeaning and humiliating things people have said in my earshot and directly to me all my life about my weight, including a mean comment from an adult man--a stranger--straight to my face when I was 11 years old. This list also doesn't include things that have happened in business settings (condescending interruptions and things of that nature). And the list excludes an uncomfortable incident that happened at a mystery convention a few years back--something that wasn't sexual or violent, but it was physical in nature. I don't want to go into the details of that incident except to say I don't think it would have happened to me if I were a man. I would guess my female friends all have had many experiences like mine. I would bet my male friends largely have not.

I know that many people have experienced far worse things than I have. Rape. Beatings. Other forms of violence. I'm grateful I haven't experienced direct harassment at work as so many women have, being asked to expose themselves in job interviews or being told that sleeping with the interviewer or boss was required to get or keep the job.

In a way I'm quite fortunate that my list is short and tame. It makes me uncomfortable to even mention some of these things because they probably sound like no big deal. But that would be de-escalation, which is what I'm trying not to do here. (To read the article that sparked this column, click here.)

This is the world we live in as women. This is why it's disheartening and degrading to hear anyone characterize Donald Trump's remarks on that bus as "just words." Those words are a part of a culture in which some men feel entitled to grope women, to expose themselves, and to do far worse things. It's a culture in which women often feel scared and humiliated and violated.

It's a world that needs to change for all our sakes.