Connie Basnett gives us a personal and saddening account of how sexism affects women from a young age.
Many of you will have seen recent articles and news reports on student rape culture, catcalling on the streets and the lack of female representatives in politics. These are just the latest topics in an on-going problem that discusses the current issue of modern sexism. If you are a woman I’m sure you will have experienced these problems yourself.
What is less commented on is the embedded sexist nature in people’s minds that results in language that is inappropriate and patronising, which many people just pass off. Having experienced these problems myself I considered them to be minor and simply forgot about them, but as I got older and read up more on different types of sexism I started to realise the problems I had were all related to one thing – I was a young woman.
I started working during college when I had just turned sixteen; of course I had been to high school where I had been at the mercy of teenage boys and their catcalling and ‘banter’. But I was not prepared to receive this from grown men or men older than me who should know better. I was subjected to colleagues continuously asking if I was a virgin, how many people I had been with and even more horrifying, being told that I would be ripped in two. There were many instances where I was shouted at and sworn at by other male members of staff and when I told a manager, I was suggested to simply stay away from them.
Unfortunately, these kinds of sexual remarks towards young women are the norm in the workplace. What was worse for me was the patronising manner in which I was spoken to by colleagues, apparently ‘I didn’t look like the type to do politics’ having informed them that I do a history and politics degree. I was only further mocked and laughed at after expressing that I wanted a career in the civil service. This was due to their perception of me on my general appearance as being ‘dizzy’ and I later found that this was a perception of many other younger female colleagues.
I frequently asked myself, “if I was an older male colleague would I be subject to such inappropriate questioning and patronising language?” Of course supervisors and managers either join in with the jokes or more commonly they think you are overreacting and cannot take a joke. This type of ridicule can stem from sexual jokes or comments on women’s clothing, which left me feeling embarrassed and humiliated.
This behaviour towards women and young girls doesn’t just start in the workplace. It can be traced back to school at a much younger age with young girls being intimidated by large groups of boys and constantly made fun of because of their general appearance. I dated a boy in college and it ended badly, I was then subjected to being called a ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ every time I walked past him on campus for the next year. I requested that the tutor did not put me in the same class with him again, two weeks later we were in the same class and my tutor took no notice.
This negative, hostile behaviour towards girls at work and in school is an everyday occurrence for many which is rarely acknowledged or publicised, but this is a much larger problem which we drastically need to address. These comments are often passed off as normal, acceptable and merely presented as humour, but we should all be aware of the true derogative meaning behind this behaviour and language.
By Connie Basnett
[Image Credit: Earls37a]