I think maybe you just weren’t paying good enough attention

Ms. Hannah Seligson recently wrote an article in the Times titled Girl Power at School, but Not at the Office where she notes that she grew up in “what many have called a post-feminist culture” and that she didn’t really experience institutional gender bias.

I’m sorry, but you must be fucking kidding me. Is she serious? Or does she just mean that she didn’t really pay enough attention? Or didn’t care? Or did she live on a “men and women and girls and boys are treated equally” Utopian city in the U.S. that we have not yet heard of where boys and girls are treated equally, women and girls are not raped and abused and there is no threat of such abuse, where girls don’t fret about their bodies and are not anorexic, where there are not sexist ads or commercials and people who treat women like objects instead of people, where women can be Catholic priests and are treated equally as ministers of all faiths, where the women are paid penny for penny the same as the men, where little girls are encouraged the same way in school as little boys (there must have been a pee-wee football league for girls as well as boys) and where there are not regular sexist jokes made? I would love to visit this town.

But OMG, once she graduated college (her college was apparently as equally as non-sexist as where she grew up) and got a job, this is what she found when she interviewed other “girls” like herself who had a hard time adjusting to work:

Every workplace is different, but certain patterns began to emerge. I experienced and heard of instances when some women, instead of helping a new female colleague, tried to undermine her. Rather than giving “the new girl” the tools to succeed, they might try to sabotage her advancement.

I saw some men, raised in a different era [my note: of course not men her age, right? Because they are, like, all into equality] , who refused to take young women seriously, focused on their appearance and gave them the least desirable assignments. Even in this day and age, I saw women becoming “assistant-ized”— saddled with all the coffee runs and photocopying. [Gasp!!!]

Can you believe it? She managed to grow up in a non-sexist town, and then go to a non-sexist school, and then found this where she worked?

Deep breath. I am sorry. Okay, clearly this was written by a well-meaning young woman, and I don’t mean to take this out on her. But this is one of the huge problems with so-called post-feminism (which I think is absolute BS) – apparently, in at least some forms, it blinds you to inequality and sexism when you see it and/or then hits you over the head with it when you think everything is just equal and just and fair and great and then – whoa! all of a sudden you aren’t being treated equally and then you go and write naive articles and books like this one.

Throughout the WHOLE article she refers to graduated-from-college working women, including herself, as girls. With apparently no sense of how that might shape perceptions of herself, other women her age, or, you know, the perceptions her collegues have of her.

How depressing. And how shady of the New York Times to publish such a fluffy, uninformed, naive article. I feel bad for Ms. Seligson and other young women like her who are so shocked by sexism. Yet, without some sort of analysis of the structures that produce sexism – and an acknowledgment that it has been there all along and it is not just men “from a different era” that are part of and produce the sexism edifice – I am afraid that all the books in the world about how to deal with workplace sexism are not going to solve the problem – for them, or for future generations of girls and women.

I hope I can be a small part of a feminist movement for the 21st century that doesn’t let girls and young women be duped into thinking that they live in a time of post-feminism and where there is no institutional gender bias. Because it is there (a great place to find heartbreaking example after example is www.feministing.com) and it is shaping lives – of men and women, girls and boys. We must name it. And work against it. I wish we would have done a better job of reaching young women like the author of this article. I hope we can do a better job of reaching others.

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2 Responses to I think maybe you just weren’t paying good enough attention

  1. I was going to write about this earlier today, but I’m still thinking of it (and perhaps jealous of her book deal!).

    I guess I can understand transitioning from college to the workforce involving a shock to the system in terms of finding sexism much more prevalent in the workforce (is there a woman who hasn’t been assistant-ized?). But assuming that because she hadn’t noticed sexism that it didn’t exist seems to be the scary part.

    I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with my own assistant a few summers ago when she told me that she didn’t think sexism existed either, and didn’t understand why we didn’t use “man” and “mankind” to refer to all….and she was a smart cookie.

  2. kylydia says:

    I definitely know that sexism exists, but I have yet to experience an “in-your-face” instance of it in the workplace. Maybe I’m lucky, or maybe I give off a “Don’t even think about it” kind of vibe, I don’t know.

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