Thursday, May 17, 2007

On Feminism in the Workplace

At the International Women's Conference, held in Beijing in 1995, Hilary Clinton said "It is time for us to say here in Bejing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights ." And I agree wholeheartedly. This type of thinking comes up a lot. For instance, the proposed/actual "Jewish History Month." (courtesy of SaraK)Really? Jewish History Month? Or excuse me, "Jewish American Heritage Month." Pardon me while I hurl.

You see, while I love Jewish history, Women's history, African American history, Military history, etc, etc, but I hate the fact that we separate it out. I don't really think that you can talk about "Women's history" as women make up half (or 51%) of the world population. Where were they during history? If Women's history exists, does that mean that "standard" history is only (and should continue to be) White, American Men's history? You can't have history without context, and all of these stories should be intertwined. Yes, I think that you can, and should be able to talk about specific groups' contributions, but by having a separate discipline and month you make it seem like that is enough. Kudos, you have a month! Now you are recognized! Please stop trying to change our textbooks. It cheapens the discipline of history, and the contributions of the minority group, and continues to marginalize them into a particular story. After all, if there is African American history, shouldn't it only be for African Americans (with a few exceptions).

This has me riled up because I hate "separate but equal." I know that sounds weird coming from a woman who considers herself Orthodox, but let's ignore my religious beliefs for the moment. I believe firmly, strongly, and determinedly that I should be treated the same in the workplace as a man in my position would be. My gender should never come into play in the office unless I so choose. I shouldn't have to choose between a fulfilling family life, and a fulfilling career. I should be paid the same, have the same advancement opportunities, and respect as a man with my same qualifications.

While the last two are an ongoing battle for the feminist movement(s), the first statement is the one that has been a problem lately. You see, the Jewish world suffers from a lack of gender parity far worse than the secular world. We are ages behind in terms of women being given positions of respect, running organizations, and chairing/sitting on boards. Many mainstream organizations don't have official maternity leave policies, and individual women have to arrange their own careers in a "catch as catch can" fashion. After years of fighting this, I can understand why a woman my mother's age would be tired. And more willing to make concessions. But I'm still full of the fire and passion and idealism of youth, so I will not.

Why do I care about this now? Recently, a co-worker gave me (and a female co-worker who is approximately my age) a bouquet of flowers, each, for completing a difficult and tedious project. Sweet, right? Well, let's add in that he is my father's age. And then consider that he would never have given them to men. Gee, thanks, that was sweet, but must I be reminded of my gender in the office? Thanks for rubbing it in with your well-meant, but paternalistic gesture. An older woman in my office suggested to just let it go, because the co-worker will never change. Fine, I didn't say anything to him, but just because someones behavior "won't change" doesn't mean that they should just get away with it.

If I worked in a large office/the corporate world I could go to HR and file a complaint. One of my friends suggested that the reason that the corporate world has made such advances in terms of sexual (and other) harassment is because it is CYA, or "cover your ass." That's fair, I don't care how it came about, the end result is preferable. However, in the Jewish world (NB: I don't technically work in the Jewish world) everyone is a "family" all the organizations are interconnected, so one comment about sexual harassment to the wrong person could deep-six your career.

End result? I have a beautiful bouquet on my desk, and I am stewing in my own juices while applying to corporate jobs. Is it any surprise that talented young people are leaving non-profit?


Liberal Jew said...

Annie a few things.

Your gender shouldn't come into play in your office. Flowers from this older co-worker/boss was a nice thing to do. He would not have given a man such a gift but he may have given him a cigar or taken him out for a drink. Now do you suspect that your co-worker/boss gave you a gift because you got your work done or you got your work done as a woman?

Additionally, young talents are leaving non-profit because it costs a lot of money to live in NYC; it has little to nothing to do with a lack of sexual harassment protections. For profit work isn't for me, but I understand the draw towards making money. It is nice to be able to afford to give your co-workers flowers...

Annie said...

LJ- I don't know that he would have gotten a guy a cigar or a drink instead, also maybe I like cigars or drinks.

Additionally, I'm not leaving for the money (although it is a nice incentive), I'm paid pretty well, it is the lack of efficiency, as well as the idea that "we're all a family." This isn't my family, these are my coworkers, and I think that that distinction should be maintained.

Anonymous said...

I shouldn't have to choose between a fulfilling family life, and a fulfilling career.

Guys have to make the same choice all the time. No one wants to work 80 hour weeks and never see their kids, but guys make that sacrifice all the time in order to have a fulfilling career.

Now maybe CJ will be willing to stay home with the kids while you work, but then his career will be held back. If you don't put in the hours you won't get paid/promoted, there is no sexual discrimination involved.

DaGirl said...

Annie: What if your boss got you a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble? Are you annoyed only because he got you a "female-only" gift?

If your boss were a woman and gave you flowers would that be ok? If so, isn't that the same problem in reverse?

I respect your feminism, but at some point you have to let it go and just accept a gift from someone who thought he was doing something thoughtful. It's not like he gave you lacey underwear. There are worse things than being recognized for good work.

Annie said...

Anon- yeah, but you can work 80 hours a week and still be considered a traditional father. Sucks, but it happens. Also, women who want to have children have to take off more time than a man in the same situation. The choice isn't equal.

DaGirl- a barnes and noble giftcard would have been awesome. My problem is not with the idea of a gift, but with flowers. I'd also be uncomfortable if my female boss gave me flowers. Although, for the record, this particular guy has a history of making comments that are kind of unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Anon- yeah, but you can work 80 hours a week and still be considered a traditional father. Sucks, but it happens.

Agreed, but that's a societal problem, it's not related to where you work.

Also, women who want to have children have to take off more time than a man in the same situation. The choice isn't equal.

True, but you only need to take off the couple days you're in the hospital. Anything more is your choice because of comfort(before) or wanting to spend time with the baby(after).

harley said...

I think maybe taking off work a few days after pushing a baby out of your vagina makes sense. For recovery. Because you did just push an entire baby out of your vagina.


What possesses people to do that on purpose?

Ezzie said...

I'm with DaGirl and the others who don't see anything wrong with giving flowers. What if someone gave me sports tickets? Should I be offended because they gave me a "guy" gift?

That the man has a record of saying wrongful comments is a problem... but that doesn't mean that a boss giving flowers is somehow a sexist statement. Men and women are different, and while most men may prefer a drink or sports tickets, most women would probably prefer the flowers. So he went with the flowers as a thank you. Unless they were roses or he said something suggestive, there's nothing wrong with that.

Annie said...

Ezzie- they were roses. And he isn't my boss, just a co-worker. From my boss it might be different.

Harley- ew.

The Pedant said...

I always thought heritage months were a problem because some months are longer than others. Notice how 28-day February is for African-Americans and 31-day March is for women? Are African-Americans three days less important than women?

I totally agree with your position on Title VII. It has made Americans in the corporate world a lot more conscious of how they deal with women and minorities, more so, it seems, than in countries that actually impose legal restrictions on the kinds of things you can say in public.

Jack's Shack said...

Where were they during history?

Cooking and cleaning. Where else would they be. ;)

rockofgalilee said...

My gender should never come into play in the office unless I so choose.

I think this is the key problem with female complaints in the workplace.
If you decided that you should be treated differently in the workplace then you would be upset if they treated you like one of the guys. At the moment you decided that they should treat you like one of the guys and not like a woman, but based on what you wrote that can change any day.

That being said, if he is giving presents it is appropriate to give presents to everyone on the project and not just the women (unless she worked extra hard on it and deserved special recognition), though I have no problem with someone buying different things for different people based on his perception on what they would appreciate.

Chris said...

I'm going to buy you a nice, meaty male gift to counterbalance the flowers. Do you want mail-order steaks or a stripper?