Occupational sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women. Among many reasons for dropping out of their jobs, sexism at the workplace is an intimidating factor. Sexist expectations and practices are observed to negatively affect the employees’ performance, mental health, sense of belongingness, and occupational well-being. Women are rejected for higher positions or detracted to roles requiring “feminine skills” and similarly, men tend to drop out of jobs predominated by women due to social stigma.
Different from sexual abuse and overt sexism, subtle sexism at the workplace is harder to preconize. It is slow, toxic, and sweeps in the most unnoticed ways.
According to Jessica Bennett, a journalist, and author of Feminist Fight Club, “While overt sexism is inarguably bad and inexcusable, that doesn’t mean that covert sexism isn’t damaging- often it is more dangerous because it is harder to document and even harder to call out. It’s like being interrupted when you speak- something that happens twice as frequently to women as men- or being mistaken for the office secretary when you’re the one in charge.”
Here are the forms of how subtle sexism is taking over the workplace and how one can deal with it subtly.
One of the major forms of this prejudice is cracking sexist jokes. Sexist humour includes insulting, victimizing, stereotyping, and objectifying someone on basis of their gender and sexuality. These touches of humour often seep into workplace conversations in the form of jokes, puns, comments, and gags from episodes of “Bhabhiji Ghar par hai (Sister-in-law is at home)”. An office where such behaviours are unchecked becomes a difficult place to work and survive in.
The best way to stop and intercept such practices is to confront them. Stop laughing over these unsavoury statements and ask them to explain why they think so. There are chances that others around you might stop validating these comments. Take the lead.
This is something very common, faced by women. Mansplaining is a common sexist behaviour where a man (usually) oversimplifies the explanation of something in a condescending and overconfident manner to a woman (usually) who is either at the same level or holds expertise. Unsolicited opinions, at times, implies that the woman is incapable of having authoritative knowledge and is ignorant.
The best way to encounter this is to clarify the misunderstanding. An assertive yet polite statement like “I suppose you assumed that I am unaware about this subject. I would certainly ask your help if needed.” will keep mansplainers away.
Have you ever been denounced for some of your actions whereas your opposite-sex colleague is praised for it? It is often seen that decisive and confident women are often labelled as “bossy” and are less approved than a man of similar demeanour. Women are told to look feminine and behave feminine. Men are told to be aggressive and display anger and sternness.
Similarly, men taking care of their children along with career are praised whereas it is considered a “duty” for women. Unequal pays and promotions and differences in career-building opportunities are also quite overt.
Dealing with double standards single handily is difficult. The organization has a great role in eradicating these discriminating standards. Changes in policies and building a positive environment can help. They can narrow the pay gap and provide equal growth opportunities.
All the individuals who identify as a woman would have heard this at some point in their work lives. Preassumptions of capabilities due to biological differences are infuriating. Role stereotyping shows up when they believe that certain tasks could only be performed by certain genders. For example, men are preferred for technical and mechanical tasks whereas women are told to deal with the desk jobs like receptionist or secretary. Very often, the opinions of women are not given due attention and are not heard.
To wave off these presumptions and stereotypes, you can question their premises and assert your capabilities. Adopt the “panel pledge” to ensure high-profile discussions include an equal share of all genders.
Standing up against all these will certainly bring some unwelcomed backlash and you can get into grave trouble. The best way to handle this is to have a supporting hand. Find people who will help you fight these odds. They can be those who are the victims and those who are ready to stand up against sexism.
There is no arguing that all people should be treated equally. Sexism anywhere has adverse effects such as detrimental mental health issues, harassment, and wider gender gaps. Benevolent sexism has been ignored for too long. Every sexist remark against a gender, irrespective of where they stand in the hierarchy, disables thousands of those who are willing to work independently. This is the reason why why we must have a conversation about these taunts and go beyond whataboutery.