I work in the heart of Clifton so I have a diverse group of people who come into my place of employment (which will remain nameless) on a day to day basis. The customers may be diverse, but the employees on the night shift are not so much; most of the employees are lower working class males and they rarely have higher than a high school education. Therefore, whenever I work I am the only female, and it is rare that this is not the case, from a middle class family, and receiving a college education. I guess I am something of an anomaly at my workplace. Being the only female it is difficult to fit in at times and I have seen that with a lack of gender diversity, sexist thinking and actions tend to emerge. For example, when women walk into the building they are usually rated on a scale of one to ten and sometime blatantly hit on even though they are just trying to enjoy their dinner. I have been there for a while now so my coworkers and managers often times disregard the fact that I may and often do take offense to these actions and treat the objectification of women as a water-cooler conversation.
Being in WILL there have been a few times that I have had to request off work and now my involvement with the organization has become a joke among my coworkers. The times that I have spoken out on a matter or made comments that what they were saying is inappropriate I got called a “bra-burner” and a “man hater”. If I make a mistake then I get told that what I did was a perfect example of why women cannot be equal to men; just because I failed at something, all women would not be able to do it. However, if one of my male coworkers makes the same mistake that I did, then that individual and only that individual fails.
Not all of the men at this company act or speak like this, but it does tend to be the ones in power who do so. Like many workplaces, it is political and the enmeshed family relationships and friendships make reporting issues difficult, if not impossible. When I work I tend to find myself conflicted: I want to stand up for what I believe in and not appear weak, but I also do not want to give these individuals “new material” or another opening by which they can attempt to get under my skin and mock me. How am I supposed to walk the walk and practice feminist leadership values in a place that makes it difficult to even talk the talk? This is not a healthy work environment and I know that I am not the only woman having these struggles.
Being a sociology major I like to look at the different dynamics that cause conflict. Obviously there is a gender gap here, but does this also have to do with education? Could social class play a part in the views held at my workplace? These are definitely questions to take into account when I fight my battles and test the dynamics at work. Being a leader means knowing when to step up and step back and this can be especially tricky when addressing one’s superiors. It is definitely difficult to apply feminist leadership in a very patriarchal work environment but I refuse to work in such a demeaning environment. It is time to start talking the talk and walking the walk and we will see what road I take.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Abby Daffner is a third year Sociology major and Religious Studies certificate. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.