You’ve Come a Long Way Baby? Maybe.

Friday: Nov. 4, 2011: I have always been a supporter of equal rights, and when I first entered the work force in the 1980s I was at times appalled by the sexist terms used by male co-workers toward their female counterparts. I also was a bit shocked as a young career woman in my 20s to learn how many married men hit on young women when traveling on business trips.  It seemed the combination of booze and their wives being out-of-sight and out-of-mind led to a phenomenon my co-workers and I jokingly referred to as “road lust.”

Virgnia Slims cigarettes used this slogan in an ad campaign in the 1960s and 70s.

However, as we moved into the 1990s and beyond, and we as a society welcomed more women into the work force and further into the management ranks,  issues of sexism decreased, at least for me personally. At least the use sexist terminology seemed to lessen.

Sometimes sexism raises its face in very public ways. Currently news reports say that two women have accused Republican presidential hopeful Herman Caine of sexual harassment. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45156001/ns/politics-decision_2012/. I saw on the news this morning that Caine was recently interviewed by none other than Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexually harassment by Anita Hill back in the early 1990s. I remember it well, as I had just moved toWashington,D.C., and was dating a young photographer who was covering the hearings and gave me the inside scoop.

The issue of sexism recently hit close to home. I have become friends with several women who I met at job networking groups. The other night one of these friends called me in a tizzy. She, as well as myself, and many other laid off Americans are currently among the millions of underemployed. A couple of months ago, my friend began working part-time in a store. The store recently hired a new manager and after the first few days of working with him, my friend thought he seemed like an ok guy. However, she did feel uncomfortable when he put his hand on her shoulder a couple of times on their second day of working together. That made me cringe. I think it’s inappropriate in almost most circumstances when a superior touches you in the workplace, even if it seems like an innocuous friendly pat on the shoulder. It’s too easy for it to be misconstrued, not only on the receiving end of the pat, but by other co-workers. Of course some people are ok with it, but I think any boss or supervisor with an ounce of common sense and awareness of sexual harassment laws shouldn’t do it!

Then the following day during a conversation regarding work, the new boss referred to my friend as “babe.” My friend was surprised, but she thought maybe it was a fluke – a slip of the tongue. However, just a short time later, he called her “sweet pea,” followed later by “honey.” My friend was shocked – she wasn’t sure how to react. Even more surprising to my friend was the reaction she received from some female friends when she told them what had happened. A couple of them said it wasn’t any big deal. One of her friends said, well it’s not like he called you a bitch or something!

I find the words of my friend’s boss and her friends’ responses equally surprising! I mean really. It’s not as if this is the 60s and my friend is working at a Playboy Club, which, I might add, a new TV series based on these clubs was cancelled after only one episode. Now granted my friend is working in a different environment than to what she is accustomed – a retail setting versus a corporate environment, but why should that make any difference? Don’t women, and men, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity no matter where they work! And terms of “endearment” toward employees and co-workers are not appropriate or acceptable in any workplace.

Maybe, baby, we haven’t come all that far along after all!

Lisa, Talented and Respectful Job Seeker

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One Response to You’ve Come a Long Way Baby? Maybe.

  1. I think this article really nails some of the excuses people use for that kind of behavior –> http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2011/11/herman_cain_s_conservative_defenders_are_going_totally_overboard.html

    Sexual harassment in the workplace thrives on statements like “he’s a nice guy so why are you making a big deal of his joke/physical affection” or “you are so touchy” etc…

    Unfortunately I think you are probably right that it’s as bad as ever. I’ve had experiences in the last few years that confirmed that for me. The language is institutionalized more now, but the same attitudes are there.

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