“It’s Because I’m a Woman” (Going *There*)

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with someone at work lately. I work in a small school, so I won’t go into the details…and they’re not that important, anyway. I was discussing it with another colleague, who, as it turns out, has had some similar interactions with this same person. Both of us had the same reaction – it’s because we’re women.

I cringe as I type this, and cringed when I admitted to my colleague that I thought that was the reason. I personally hate to go there, and am concerned when others do – automatically pointing the finger at gender (or age, race, sexual orientation, or other differentiating status that may be discriminated against) as the reason for someone’s behavior. What if it’s just a reaction to me – not *female* me, but manager, techie, smart-alecky me? Or what if it’s just his personality, and he would act the same way even if I were a white male?

I don’t believe that gender is an issue in most of my interactions with people, pleasant or otherwise. Occasionally, however, I can’t help but feel that it is. It’s not anything that I can point to specifically – it’s a subtle difference in how I’m treated versus a (male) colleague, or a patronizing attitude; it’s an undermining comment, or sometimes, an outright dismissal of my opinions and expertise. It’s all of these things, combined with that certain “je ne se quoi” that makes me *feel* like gender is a factor.

At the end of the day, I suppose gender discrimination, for me, is sort of like obscenity for Justice Stewart – “I know it when I see it,” or, well, experience it. So I’ve experienced it, and I’ve gone *there*. Now where do I go from here?

2 Responses to ““It’s Because I’m a Woman” (Going *There*)”

  1. 1 Meir January 28, 2010 at 2:33 am

    It makes me mentally tired at times when I try to use two conflicting concepts that I’ve picked up on throughout the years, both of which I find to be valid:

    1) Treat everyone as equals
    2) Value differences

    If we treat everyone as equals all the time, see past any differences and value their opinions, judgement, and overall worth in a completely agnostic fashion, then how do we avoid homogenizing our society?

    So then perhaps we need to value differences more, but we can’t truly focus on valuing differences without so much as acknowledging those differences exist, either verbally or otherwise. Perhaps it’s a line of questioning, perhaps it’s more subtle nonverbal communication, but it must be acknowledged in order to truly show value.

    Certainly what happened to you is real, so maybe it’s just one of those things…sometimes people are just d-bags. You certainly can’t change them, but you can change *your* world and choose to lessen the frequency of your interaction with them.

  2. 2 Katie February 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    This is an interesting phenomenon. I, too, have felt on occasion that I’m being treated differently because I’m female, or (more likely) because of my atypical gender presentation. But I find it hard to articulate what makes me think it’s one of *those* times, versus one of the (much more numerous) times when I feel like someone’s actions toward me–positive or negative–don’t relate to these factors. It really *is* the “know-it-when-I-see-it” thing, but how can I be sure my attribution is correct? Certainly there have been times that I’ve thought others were being hypersensitive to race/gender/sexual orientation. How do I know I’m not doing the same thing?

    It’s also very difficult to separate race/gender/sexual orientation-type characteristics from a person’s personality. Identical assertive behavior, for example, might be perceived differently depending on the person’s gender (like the classic assertive man/”bitchy” woman perception). Additionally, I’ve found that gender *presentation* affects how I’m perceived, too. I can get away with certain jocular comments to men that I couldn’t get away with when I looked more stereotypically feminine. Conversely, I get fewer everyday kindnesses treatment from men in general now, perhaps because I’m no longer an object of sexual desire, or perhaps just because they don’t feel compelled to be “chivalrous” to a woman who has short hair and wears guys’ clothing. This interplay of characteristics and behaviors is very interesting to me. Thoughts?

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