Congress, Part II: New Sexism in a New Place!
It’s not that most women don’t experience some type of (low-level, subtle, or even well-meaning) sexism frequently, but if we’re often in the same environments with the same people, we get used to it. Pretty much everything I ever say to the contrary, I like most of the people I see on a regular basis, so when they ask me questions like if my husband (!!) minds that I’m eating out and not cooking for him (!!?*#!!?%!), it’s not too hard to shrug off.
The class I attended was an opportunity to become exposed to a whole new set of patronizing or dismissive comments and behaviors from a bunch of people I didn’t know and didn’t care about, which brought the everyday sexism into pretty sharp relief.
I watched some men in the class call one professional staffer by her first name after they had addressed all the prior male speakers as “sir.” To be fair, I’ll admit that she looked young — not that that should really have anything to do with it. That night, I looked her up and determined that she is exactly my age, which means she’s in her mid-30s. (I also hate her a little bit as she seems to be into sports and fitness and won a beauty contest once, but that’s another post.) The next morning, I heard one man ask if she really knew enough to be advising on their work: “I’m sure she’s a smart girl, but …” He literally said that! About a 35-year-old professional!
Another time, when a man asked a woman speaker a question that didn’t get answered in the way he wanted, another jumped in to say, “Maybe you don’t understand what we’re asking …” (I was thrilled that she responded, “I get it and what I’m saying is ‘no.’”)
Most of my contempt was reserved for the man sitting next to me, who spent nearly the entire class playing with Facebook on his phone, muttering loudly when he had an opinion he wanted everyone around him to hear, and taking up more space at the table than anyone else, with the notebooks he never wrote in and the trash he couldn’t be bothered to throw away, even though the trashcan was literally behind him and freeing up table space would have required him only to swivel his arm slightly. Like other women at my table, who promptly threw their own used wrappers and coffee cups away, I was so cramped that I was writing on my lap.
I wish I had something profound to say about the right way to handle these things, if they should be handled at all. But I don’t. I mean, I’m sure I’m a smart girl, but …
Photo: National Statuary Hall, U.S. Capitol, September 2016