‘But isn’t that an engagement ring?’ he demanded of my 19 year old self.
‘Yes. So?’ I was young and insouciant.
‘You’ll just run off and get married and have babies after we’ve invested all that time in training you.’
I gathered I wasn’t going to be accepted into the journalism training scheme. I was too young, too educated (I had already completed my BA in Eng Literature) and importantly, I had made the important error of carrying a pair of serviceable ovaries.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of my experience with sexism during my career. Oh no, it was only the beginning, but it was over two decades ago now and I had hoped that my daughters would leave University for a working world that was more equitable. I had hoped that would be the case, and then I read Newsweek’s article on the eight most sexist professions, and felt so disappointed. What was the point of all that bra-burning? What a waste of Elle MacPherson’s finest!
Guess what’s on Newsweek’s list in the first spot! Journalism.
4/Science and Engineering
5/Film and Entertainment
It’s an interesting list, and the article is certainly worth reading, but I wonder how true to life it is. If it is true to life, is it because workplaces haven’t changed to accommodate women’s lives, which are notoriously stop-start through the child-rearing years? Or is it because society’s expectations of young women have changed and reverted back to a 1960s stance?
I know I’ve experienced some interesting cases of sexism in business and in journalism, but I’ve never been a lawyer, professor or nurse. I did start out wanting to be a nurse but they wisely turned me down. They mumbled something about attitude realignment and pigs flying. I don’t really like being told what to do, and fail to accept that doctors are God’s representatives on earth.
I was once told that I had the wrong voice for radio, despite years of voice training. Of course the problem was organic. ‘Listeners don’t like hearing female voices, they’re too shrill,’ the Station Manager told me. ‘Some women get away with it by smoking and that deepens the voice,’ he advised but as I was unlikely to get into a two pack a day habit I parked that desire.
When I worked for one of the largest IT companies in the world I was horrified to be asked to manage the sales manager’s diary alongside managing the $200k marketing budget. And yes, I was even asked to get the coffee in a meeting.
‘Milk and two sugars, love.’
But that was over twenty years ago now, surely things have changed?
My friend Muddling Along raised the issue in her post about ‘waity Katie’. In that piece she asks whether sitting around waiting for your prince to come is truly the hallmark of a modern woman with a university degree under her belt.
I don’t think it is but maybe I’m out of touch with the younger generation. Is it the behaviour of a generation who have seen first hand the difficulties of fighting the war against sexism in the boardroom trenches? Is this the reaction of a generation of younger women who have seen their mothers grow old before their time as they struggle for validation as intelligent women in the office and in the home? Has the clock turned back? Is that why these bastions of sexism still prevail?
I’m teaching my daughters that they can be whatever they want to be. I also tell them that what they do is not the same thing as who are, and to guard against trying to do it all! I remind them that Cinderella was a fairy tale and the prince aint coming. I hope that I’m a good role model for them – that being an independent intelligent woman is a thing of pride, and that there is more to life than babies and teatowels.
But I do worry that in this, the Year of the Woman, expectations of women’s contribution in the workplace are so low, particularly in these 8 professions. Please tell me things have changed in your stories about your work place, in the comments below….
Image: Flickr CC