In the mid 1970s when I was looking for my first job the idea that I would be treated differently from men had not entered my mind. It could be because of the way I had been brought up but having chatted about that with school friends that I still meet after all these years, they felt the same.
The first interview I had was with a well-known Scottish bank and I was asked whether I had a boyfriend and if I intended to have children “when I got married”. I recall even then thinking that both of those questions were inappropriate and although I can’t remember how I answered I didn’t give the interviewer the information they wanted.
The same happened at the next interview, and the next. I got offered jobs with all three so my answer was clearly not a deal breaker and it makes me wonder now why they were asking at all if that was the case. Maybe I was such a standout candidate that they could put up with the fact that I was female!
So as I think about sexism and its impact on me I am left wondering. I experienced it myself and sadly there are still too many stories about it happening today. What has changed?
Thinking about this as a parent as I have a daughter, it was only when she was researching her dissertation on the impact of pregnancy on a woman’s career that she discovered that sometimes women get paid less than men. I didn’t know whether to be proud that she had been brought up to accept equality unquestioningly or sad that her research showed this to be the case.
I have a son. Clearly I am not with him all the time but I do believe that he has a healthy respect for everyone, including women! I did spend time with him explaining how the behaviour of some men is unacceptable but not all of them. I worry that some of the language around sexism implies that this is the norm.
Thinking about this as a woman, I was thinking about incidences of sexism for me or where I think there was a gender element and a couple came to mind.
Firstly I recall a (male) colleague who had come from another office for a meeting with a client. He arrived and sat at the spare desk in my office and as he got settled he suggested that I get him a cup of coffee. Not in a nice way. I asked him if he spoke to other colleagues that way and he was shocked by my response and tried to challenge back with a comment about me being “too sensitive”. He got his own coffee. Was he being sexist? I think so. That said I have worked with women who have bad manners too.
During a Christmas night out with girl pals we got onto the topic of older men with younger women, and and let’s say the drink was talking, (poor excuse I know) the old stereotypes came up. And then I watched a group of women my age hassling a young waiter with comments that if the roles were reversed might have involved the police! He was responsible for the cloakroom at the end of the night and I thanked him for being so patient. He smiled and said that this was by far the toughest job he had ever had but that he had been well warned
I am sure I am not the only one who feels uncomfortable with some of the adverts that show women making a fool of men in a way that if the boot was on the other foot there would, quite rightly, be a public outcry. Is it really OK to ridicule and insult ANY sector of society, in this case to sell things?
So back to my original question. I don’t have any suggestions except to highlight incidences of sexist behaviour, along with what was done about it, to help make the case for change and share ideas of how to deal with it.
Jackie Cameron is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.