I am a woman working in a highly technical field and I deal with stuff like this almost daily. Granted, most of it is not that obvious, but the basic message is always the same: “This is a men’s world, and we want to keep it that way.” What never fails to amaze me is that the men around me apparently expect me to share their views. It is as if to be allowed in this world at all all, I had to become a not-woman, a neuter.
Granted, I’m not very girly to begin with – I prefer jeans, a T-shirt and trekking boots to skirts, shirts and pumps and thankfully I can get away with that in my line of work. But that does not mean that it doesn’t hurt to hear misogynist bullshit, that I don’t feel the sting. I’ve been mulling over how to react all evening, knowing only too well that emails of this kind put me in a no-win situation. If I grit my teeth and join the laughter I’m adding to my own oppression, which I’m not going to do. If I fail to respond I allow myself to be silenced once again. And if I reply I’m one of those humourless feminists that can never take a joke. Or perhaps my reply might garner me that all-time favourite: “But we didn’t mean you, you’re one of us.” - as if in addition to being one of them I’m not also a woman.
My career has actually profited from my neutral status, as it shuts down an approach to questioning my expertise. Up to now I have not suffered the indignity of having my input belittled or ignored because it came from a woman. But I buy being taken seriously in my chosen field by protecting the men around me. Not only do they get away with not giving a damn whether something they say or do hurts women, they also never have to challenge their basic assumptions about what women can or cannot do. I can either be an IT professional or a woman, but in this world I cannot be both.
And in addition to protecting the men around me, I also allow them to define what constitutes a woman. I’ve had men, usually men that were about to lose an argument, tell me to my face that I am not a woman. Not “I don’t consider you a woman.”, not “You’re not my idea of a woman.” but simply “You’re not a woman!” Apparently I’m only a woman if a man agrees, my word on the matter is not good enough.
But lets come back to the email that started all these musings. I know perfectly well that I can’t win, but still there is that burning wish inside to send a “reply to all” with the link to Melissa McEwan’s brilliant post “The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck”, because she says what I feel so much better than I can do myself. Who knows, I might get one of the recipients thinking, and at minimum it will get me off my former coworker’s distribution list, which alone makes it worthwhile. Unfortunately my disgust led me to delete the email as soon as I had seen the attachment. What the heck, I’ll just ask around, I’m pretty sure one of the men around me has saved a copy…