August 6th, 2006

ozarque figure

Sexism in and out of the workplace; part one...

I've been reading your comments on "Young Women Face Culture Shock in First Jobs" [http://womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2696/context/archive] with great interest -- especially your personal accounts of workplace experiences. And especially the somewhat heated discussion of the statement (made initially by indefatigable42, and echoed in other comments) that women can proceed in "the right way" in the workplace if they want to, and whether that's offensive or not. A number of you readers have told me that sexism is rare today in the younger generations, and I hope you're right; if you are, it's not surprising that things get difficult when members of those generations suddenly find themselves in workplaces dominated by earlier generations for which sexism was the norm rather than the exception. I'd like to say a few things on this subject, and I want to begin by providing a bit of background.

In the rural Ozarks where I live, sexism -- in two equally unpleasant varieties -- is as common as ticks, and I can't tell if it's absent in the younger generations, because the youngsters are rural Ozarkers who go out of their way to humor their elders, and I am most definitely an elder. [This is why I am sometimes "taken aback" by the young people I encounter outside the Ozarks; I'm spoiled by the Ozark "Even if you don't respect your elders, pretend to when you're interacting with them" ethic that so many of you LJers have not hesitated to tell me you find totally outrageous.] It may be that when young rural Ozarkers are alone with their peers there's no sexism at all, but they wouldn't consider it mannerly not to pretend to go along with it in a mixed-generation environment. They may all go out together somewhere after work and sit around and laugh at the antiquated attitudes of the older people in their workplaces, but while they're at work they'll play the game -- not as a way of "getting ahead" but as a matter of courtesy to their elders. It will of course turn out that this behavior is crucial to getting ahead, but that's not their primary motivation. They would do the same if their elders in the workplace were devoted to the concept that the earth is flat.

On the checks we use, both my husband's name and my name are printed; mine has a Ph.D. after it, his doesn't. But when George hands someone a check in a store or restaurant or other place of business, that someone glances at the check and says to him, "Thank you, Dr. Elgin," or "I'll need to see your driver's license, Dr. Elgin," or "Come back again, Dr. Elgin," or whatever other ritual utterance is appropriate. Always. In Fayetteville, my dentist's staffpeople address me as Dr. Elgin, but that's in Fayetteville; on my own turf, I'm Miz Elgin, and that's most definitely not just a badly-spelled version of "Ms." If I want to arrange to have anything done locally, I don't bother making the phone call; it will be done much faster, and much more cheaply, and with a far better result, if George makes the call, since it will be taken for granted that he actually knows what it is he wants done, and why, and has the right to specify that. If I do the calling myself, there'll be a lot of genteel backing and filling of the following kind: "Miz Elgin, are you sure that's how you want that done?" And "I wonder, Miz Elgin, if you've considered doing that another way. If we could just visit about it for a minute here, I think maybe I could tell you some other ways of going at it that you might be more pleased with in the long run." And "Miz Elgin, I wonder if I could speak to George for a minute before we go ahead with this?" That's one of the two unpleasant varieties of sexism I referred to.

And then there's the other one. The one in which Ozark women teach their daughters and granddaughters that almost all males are going to constantly make messes, that the aforesaid males can't help that and are doing the best they can, that the aforesaid males are unaware of this situation, and that it's the responsibility of females to see to it that they stay unaware of it, as well as to clean up the messes. When a man can't cope, the party line goes, that's to be expected, like ticks and tornados; when a woman can't cope, that's unacceptable, and unless she has an extraordinarily good excuse the consequences will be harsh. This is rampant sexism, and every bit as bad as the other kind, if not worse. The reason an Ozark woman would vote against another woman for president of the U.S. isn't that she doesn't think women are capable of filling the role; the reason is that she disapproves of a woman embarassing her husband -- or her father, or brother, or whatever males she's linked to -- by outranking them in that ostentatious fashion in public.

I'll stand back now....
ozarque figure

Recommended link; another gender-and-workplace article....

As long as we're on this subject, I'd like to throw one more link on the pile. It's a New York Times story by Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt, and -- if I'm lucky -- it's at http://tinyurl.com/nx87n . [If that turns out not to work, I'll come back and fix it with the idiotic endless URL it started out with.] The title of the story is "Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job."