One woman’s life experience of workplace, gender-specific harrassment, prejudice, bullying and disadvantage.
Aged 18 – Two occasions in one workplace over the space of 9 months of older male colleagues making aggressive unwanted sexual advances. One individual progressing to aggressive and humiliating sexual harrassment.
Aged 20 – Two occasions of severance of employment based on pregnancy, despite this having no bearing on ability to do the job or contravention of employment contract/conditions.
Aged 21 to 30 – Repeated employment application and position offers withdrawn on learning the applicant had children, with this being explicitly offered as a reason the prospective employer did not believe the applicant could “do the job”.
Appropriate jokes, remarks and harassment based on gender.Advice and warnings from management, leadership and random colleagues regarding “unladylike” and “unfeminine” behaviour pertaining to job and volunteer performance.
Denial of opportunities in advancement of position due to gender, as a “man is better suited” or “a woman in this position would impact the performance of men.” Restriction of opportunities based on institutional culture of instating men over women despite qualifications or experience.
Aged 30 to 50 – Denied positions due to “cultural inappropriations” based on appearance, with justification given “women in this position should look a certain way in terms of their personal presentation and choices”.
Stalking, harrassment, bullying and trolling on social media, in the press and in person in the course of conducting business, employment and volunteer roles.
Attacks on business as a result of advocating for women’s right to safety in their workplace and saying “no” when asked to do something they do not feel comfortable with, whatever the circumstances.
Yep, this is my life experience, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. With few exceptions, there has been very few occasions since I started getting jobs, volunteering and being involved in community-based organisations, including churches, where sexism and gender based prejudice hasn’t been present. Often, such organisations claim their workplace or structural “culture” means they’re excused from accountability, but this is just an excuse.
The same excuses allow the toxic culture permeating Australian Parliament to continue, amongst other institutions at the foundation of our society.
Having not one, but two much order male colleagues try to bed you when you’re living on board a cruise ship for two weeks at a time as an eighteen year old by stealing your laundry and bailing you up alone in the mess hall is frightening. Being sacked when you’re pregnant, single, vulnerable and need the money sucks. Being told by church elders you shouldn’t take a job that would see you work Sundays because they need you to lead the worship, despite the fact your husband is trying to support you on apprentice wages and you have a small child, is disgusting. Being informed you didn’t get the job you were clearly best qualified for because they didn’t want a woman with tattoos and dreadlocks in their shop is absurd. Having people on social media vilify you because you refused to call a cab for a stranger is just plain silly. But it goes on, both my own list, and the actions themselves.
There’s something wrong with our culture. Our society isn’t any better at dealing with gender-based prejudice, sexual harassment and employment bias than it was thirty years ago, fifty years ago, and beyond. It’s just something women have learned to deal with, expect, and at best, get justice for.
Can you imagine living in a world where these things didn’t happen to us in the first place? Some days I can, some days I just give up and feel like the energy I might spend trying to change it is better spent elsewhere.
I hear our Prime Minister giving his serious speech about all the things the government is going to do now about all these things. I can’t help feeling a little patronised. As I see it, a hell of a lot of people have been working hard to facilitate these changes for a long time, and getting nowhere. It’s only now the powers that be are “allowing” that momentum to move forward at last, all the change-makers can have some leeway to make progress. I feel like we’re being “let” challenge these issues now, where before we didn’t have permission to, or were denied the space and resources which would’ve helped change occur long ago. It’s like if you put your hand up in class enough times and the teacher can be convinced you’re actually about to explode, they might relent out of sheer annoyance and give you your little green pass so you can get the fuck out of there and deal with it.
One day, we won’t need to wait for permission, attention and resources. One day, the little green pass will be redundant. I hope if not in my lifetime, then my daughters or granddaughters.
Because if anyone dares sack one of them because they’re having a baby, or because they get a tattoo, or they act in a way some dinosaur thinks is “unladylike”, or treats them like a steak they paid for, they’ll have me to deal with. I write my own green hall passes.