One of the more important aspects of being a grown up is trusting that things a person has not directly seen or experienced might exist, based on empirical evidence. For example, I've never been to South Africa, but I trust that it exists because other people whom I trust have told me that it does. There are pictures and videos and instagrams and the enduring din of vuvuzelas still ringing in my ears since the 2010 World Cup. It's been fairly extensively documented, this South Africa.
Sexism and workplace discrimination is another thing that unequivocally exists. Women earn less than men for the same work, even before they start up with the babies and the choices conservatives claim are to blame for pay disparity. One-third of women who participated in Elle and the Center for American Progress's 2013 Power Survey reported that they'd personally been on the receiving end of sexism at work. And the higher up women are at work, the more likely they are to reported to have experienced sex discrimination; 45% of women in top level fancypants Sheryl Sandberg-type positions acknowledge that sexism is A Thing they've experienced. The population is 51% female, yet only 21 of Fortune 500 CEO's are women. Women who participated in the Elle survey claim they're speaking up in meetings, they're asking for raises — they're leaning way the fuck in, yet aren't seeing professional results. Something is clearly rotten in Denmark.
Despite these claims from women that sexism is real, as a group, men aren't as likely to see it that way; only half of men say women are more intensely scrutinized than men in the workplace, where 2/3 of women say they've noticed that ladies are held to a higher standard. The majority of men said that "country has made most of the changes needed to give women equal rights as men," where only 29% of women agreed.
You know that thing you say you're experiencing? I don't see your experiences that way.
Maybe the problem here isn't that men think that sexism is dead forever; maybe it's that some men don't know what sexism looks like. It's not boob honking and Mad Men-style shenanigans; the flavor of sexism experienced by women in the modern workplace is much more subtle.
Most women I know who have worked in a "traditional" Nylons N' Ann Taylor corporate environment have similar stories to mine. Anecdote: despite the fact that I'm tall-ish, I wear heels almost constantly out of habit I honed during the 5 years I worked in the financial services industry. As my patience with being literally spoken down to wore thinner, my shoes got higher so I could look my colleagues in the eye, and to this day, I feel strange in flats. Modern workplace sexism is death by 1,000 similarly sliced paper cuts — an underminey "sweetheart" comment here, a "behave yourself this weekend, young lady!" there, absent invitations to golf games and Wednesday night drunk dials from a River North strip club called VIP's and soon you learn to just view yourself as less, as undeserving. You don't even get upset when some dude who has been there 1/4 as long as you and is 3 years younger gets a job that you had been told was yours. You've assimilated yourself into others' sexism-laced expectations for you. And the fact that it's masked in paternal concern makes it all the more insidious. We're not going to get anywhere if we can't agree on where we are, on what direction we're headed.
But maybe the Elle survey respondents were just confused in general. Even though more than half of men say that America is just hunky-dory with its anti-workplace sexism laws, a whopping 80% of them say they support mandatory paid maternity leave (87% of women agreed). So the laws as they exist are okay, but another law should be passed? Survey says... these two stances are mutually exclusive.
The big takeaway here? Both men and women acknowledge there's room for improvement in American workplace culture, but before anything can get done, we have to at least reach some form of consensus on what sexism is. Otherwise, we'll have to continue to rely on he-said-she-said testimony, and when the HE in the equation is the boss, what SHE says won't matter.
Image by Jim Cooke, sources via Shutterstock.