Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why I Am A Feminist: Part 1



Flower obsession!
I was never really meant to be a feminist
in the way many people understand the word today. You see, I grew up in a traditional family with traditional values, and thus thought of feminism as a dirty word connoting disruptive women of old. I had pink sparkly walls and notebooks covered with Leonardo DiCaprio's face, I was captain of the cheerleading squad and hosted girly sleepovers. I was the typical Alpha Girl. And I was NOT a feminist. 


Then I went to college. I took a women's studies class for a general elective requirement, thinking it'd provide some fun anecdotes about the crazy professor for my family back home. That's when a pert little woman in her mid-thirties changed my life.
She both showed me through her actions and taught me through her words what feminism really means: men and women fighting for equality of the sexes. 

I became fascinated by the subject and took many more classes to broaden my understanding of women's struggles around the world. But even through all the research and all the classes, I had never really experienced a truly jarring sexist act myself, and therefore this all remained rather theoretical.  That changed at my first job out of college. 

Right after graduation, I started working in the editorial department of a small publishing company in Chicago. Immediately, a man in his mid-thirties who worked in the sales department (whom we shall call David) started making aggressive passes at me whenever I had to pass by his cubicle. I politely declined his invitations to grab lunch or get a cup of coffee after work, and not wanting to seem too aggressive, simply told him that "I'd just gotten out of a relationship and wasn't ready to date" or "I was too busy."

A naturally persistent salesman, David didn't accept my first rejections, so started to pursue me more attentively. Every time I passed his cubicle (which was necessary if I wanted to get to the kitchen, conference room or bathroom), he would stand up and follow me to my destination, striking up conversation when we were there. David would pass me notes while I was on the phone, talk about how I looked to coworkers, and continued to ask me to lunch or dinner Every. Single. Day. Eventually, when a co-worker approached me to let me know that David was spreading a rumor around the whole office that he and I were going on a romantic date that night (which I had never agreed to), I knew it was time to talk to management.

As a small company, there was no formal HR department, so I brought the conversation to my immediate manager. She acted quite professional, assuring me over and over again that they "take this kind of thing very seriously," yet all the while emphasizing that she didn't think we needed to do anything yet. Nevertheless, she was "very glad I felt comfortable bringing this to her attention."

Come on, I was anything but comfortable.

A few weeks went by and the passes of course continued. I started having nightmares about David following me down the long corridor to the bathroom when no one else was around, and shied away from the people in my office who thought I must be leading him on. After having lunch with my mother one day, in tears from frustration and sleep-deprivation, I decided I had to talk to the CEO of the company and let him know that his best salesman was harassing me, the new girl, and that it must stop. I was afraid of this. I was afraid of my boss thinking that I was exaggerating or causing trouble. I was after all, the most recent hire. He couldn't know for sure that the last thing I wanted to do was "cause drama" or create tension in the office. Nevertheless, I scheduled an appointment one afternoon and let him know what was going on.

Once again I got the whole spiel about how "they take this thing really seriously" and that he was "glad I brought this to his attention." But when I asked to be taken off of David's accounts (he secured the advertising, and therefore controlled my profits from my editorial stories), I was told there was no need of that. When I insisted that I was uncomfortable, my boss just laughed admonishing and said, "Oh, that's just David."

I was at the tipping point. The next day, there was a cartoon pasted to our office refrigerator alluding to a man's penis making a sandwich, posted by the very same CEO who essentially told me not to worry about the guy who was giving me nightmares. So I quit.

This was my first real foray into the working world, and quite an eye-opener. No longer in the cozy, protected world of my parent's home or an elite university, I was as open to sexism as anyone. I was as vulnerable to harassment as many women are from a much younger age. I want people to know that sexual harassment still occurs in the workplace, and that it is unacceptable. I want women to know that they should never feel they are being "troublemakers" or creating a scene if they report someone to their boss. No one should be made to feel stupid because they are scared of a fellow employee.

I realize that this experience pales in comparison to the experience of so many women, yet it is my own, it effected me, and I wanted to share it. Of course, there are probably a hundred other reasons why I am a feminist, which I'm sure I'll get to in different posts along the way, but this is a start.

Do you have any stories to share? Any incredible women in your life who have faced trying situations only to overcome? Let me know in the comments.

7 comments :

  1. I am so sorry to hear about what you have been through! After hearing a lot of snide remarks and jokes about feminists, I decided to do my own research and realised it's not about women wanting to become better than men, but to become equal and there's also many men involved in this cause! I think it's very unfortunate that women are still going through this issue in the 21st century, but one day I hope it changes and we can be considered equal.

    Pop over to my blog :)

    Sarah
    sarahinks.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post! Love to read the remaining parts!
    Xoxo,
    Love from www.trangscorner.com {a lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and food blog}

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's such a powerful post.. Thanks for sharing
    Can't wait for part 2

    Happy Friday! Kisses,
    BLOG | Taislany

    ReplyDelete
  4. I always hate hearing stories about this but I'm glad that you took control of the situation! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    http://thecourtneydiaries.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow, I'm so sorry that you had to experience all of that harassment and shame on your manager, a woman herself, who didn't see this as an actual problem to advocate for you. It's sad that our culture continues to tolerate these kind of behaviors from men. A friend of mine posted on Instagram, "Don't tell your daughter that when a boy is mean or rude to her it's because he has a crush on her. Don't teach her that abuse is a sign of love." These words couldn't be any more true. How many of us have been told this growing up by adults, who I'm sure meant no harm. Society has gotten better in some regards over the years, but we certainly have a ways to go. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I hope you have a wonderful weekend, beauty!

    XO,

    Jalisa
    www.thestylecontour.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree with Taislany: this is a powerful post. It may not be as traumatizing, scary, etc. of an experience that others have had but I think that's a reason your story is so powerful. It is something many people can relate to and picture happening to themselves. Thanks for sharing such a intimate story about your life! I can't wait for part 2 :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much for sharing your post. I'm always so surprised that stuff like this, stuff that seems so obvious, still happens in the workforce. It's just more proof that we as a society are far from the post-feminist ideal that so many people try to convince you we have reached. I've been lucky enough to have never dealt with persistent unwanted attention, but I've had a fair number of small encounters that make glaringly clear the continuing need for feminist efforts.

    The most memorable one was at a physics conference when I was a senior. I had presented posters at conferences before and was used to other scientists chatting away with men on either side of me and staring silently at my poster before passing on. The only people I ever remember striking up a conversation with me were other women or other people with LGBTQ signifiers on their name badges. But one time I was standing in front of my poster wearing nice slacks and a blouse and when elderly Eastern European man approached me and told me I would attract more people to my poster if I had worn heels "and probably even more if you wore a skirt!" I commented that I would hope that my poster would attract interest and after glancing at the title and mumbling some of the words he said "No, no they will not care about that only you," and he shuffled off. I was dumb-founded. It was so obviously anti-feminist I didn't know what to do. It was just one more reminder that it's not enough to just work as hard as men and be as successful, but once we get there we have to constantly defend our right to take up space and be taken seriously.

    I can't wait to hear more about your journey to becoming a feminist! I'm sorry that it started off so rocky but I'm so glad we're now in a program so dominated by empowered women!

    ReplyDelete