Say My Name: When Sexism Inspires Change For Women In The Workplace

Fox Boradcasting's Megyn Kelly most famously endured sexist comments from GOP presidential candidate hopeful Donald Trump. It may not be as blatant as a co-worker calling you a hot babe in the annual meeting, but it could be as horrific as your boss commenting on your necklace or your blouse as he stares at your chest. And yes, this happened to me and every one of my female colleagues for many years.According to a Cosmopolitan survey last year, 1 in 3 women report being sexually harassed at work. Still, sexism can lead to teachable moments and perhaps some culture change.Or maybe not so much. Consider author Susan Antilla’s recent update on sexism on Wall Street in the New York Times, 20 years after the “boom boom room” scandal. Or Buzzfeed’s investigation by Katie J.M. Baker into sexual assault and misconduct allegations by students against a Yale University ethics professor.Also consider GOP likely presidential nominee Donald Trump’s apologetic-ish broadcast interview on “Megyn Kelly Presents” on Fox Broadcasting last week. According to USA Today’s Eliza Collins, Trump stopped short of saying he was sorry for multiple times calling Kelly a bimbo on Twitter.“Oh, okay excuse me,” Trump said. “Not the most horrible thing … Over your life Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse. Isn’t that right? Wouldn’t you say?”Ivanka Trump defended her father as a promoter of women in the workplace in a CBS interview, saying  he is not a “groper,” according to Business Insider.Apparently politicians calling women reporters names in person and on social media is a global phenomenon[bctt tweet=“Politicians calling women reporters names in person and on social media is a global phenomenon #25not95”]. Journalist Isabel Hardman started a conversation rolling in the U.K. when she disclosed that a member of parliament called her a “totty.” While not an American phrase, suffice to say, it does not mean “the smartest woman in the room.”Gaby Hinsliff writes in the Guardian: “Without publicly naming him, she reported him privately to his whips for behavior unbecoming to the workplace, and then tweeted briefly to the effect that’s not how you treat a woman at work in 2016.”For her philosophy dissertation at Virginia Commonwealth University published last week, author Katherine Hall outlines her study on sexist remarks about women in social media, specifically for women in the male-dominated STEM fields.Hall writes, “Findings from this study support the literature suggesting that sexism remains an issue that needs to be addressed; the analysis begins to build a theory about how such sexism is portrayed through social media commentary as an important arena of social and cultural debate.”Outside of journalism and STEM, everyday sexism exists, so how do women leaders combat sexism in the workplace?“There’s an argument that says these are throw-away comments, intended to flatter or compliment,” Antonia Taylor writes in The Guardian. “Can I truly extricate that from the other side of the piece, which says it utterly objectifies women and discounts everything else that you hope to stand for through your work?”She adds: “Equally, what are my options in terms of responding to these? Do I challenge comments based on my appearance and run the risk of losing the client? The balance of power as a freelancer can be very fragile. Or do I tolerate it, shrug it off and try to ignore it.”Taylor offers a few tips that include getting a second opinion on the comment, knowing when to walk away from the conversation and know how to use your own strength.My coworkers and I decided to tackle the boss’ blouse and necklace comments with immediate remarks about our work and accomplishments, such as, “Yes, and my last presentation was so well-received.” A few of us would return the unwelcomed fashion critique with a comment on his tie, a practice that caught him off-guard turning the exchange into an absurd style-off. Eventually the comments faded away, and oh, yes, he retired. That helped.In another Guardian piece on the topic of sexism, Rose Hackman writes: “Ashlie Butler, a 30-year-old doula and executive assistant in the academic field, says she is subjected to sexist comments at work, but feels that for her own professional survival she cannot say anything – certainly not while she hopes to continue being employed. ‘In my current position, I am the administrator, so people – men – are commenting on my looks in a way that is inappropriate and makes me feel uncomfortable.’Hackman continues: “Minimizing the situation and ignoring comments are part of her economic survival. ‘I struggle a lot. I have seen how when other people do speak up, things don’t change – they get bullied or penalized.’”Sexism in academia has long been an issue, with lower tenure rates for female professors than male professors, and significant wage gaps at many universities. But Benjamin M. Schmidt, assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, took on a different challenge and created a visualization of gendered comments on professors. The charts are a stunning reminder of how students critique male and female faculty differently.With a database of 14 million reviews on ratemyprofessor.com, he separated the comments according to words such as “tough” and “smart” and saw the vast differences on assignment of adjectives to men and women.In a new study from psychologists at Loyola University Chicago, Western Carolina and Washington and Lee universities, the finding is that framing sexism as humor makes the comments more dangerous. Writes Robyn Mallett of Loyola,”Sexist humor may be more difficult to confront than serious expressions of sexism because humor disguises the biased nature of the remark.”So when someone at work couches the sexism with a “JK, or just kidding,” the result is to silence the woman receiving the comment and make her less likely to confront the person.[bctt tweet=“When someone at work couches sexism with a “JK, or just kidding,” the result is to silence the woman receiving the comment and make her less likely to confront the person #25not95”] If this is happening to you at work, tell someone, but don’t just laugh it off.“Contrary to popular belief, humor can actually make sexist messages more dangerous and difficult to confront than serious remarks,” the report states.At Cannes last week, Chloe Sevigny talked about what many would call sexual harassment of women in Hollywood, and what she called weirdness, according to Variety.Speaking at the Variety panel at the Cannes Film Festival, she said: “I’ve had the ‘what are you doing after this?’ conversation,” Sevigny said. “I’ve also had the ‘do you want to go shopping and try on some clothes and, like, I can buy you something in the dressing room’ [conversation],” she added. “Just like crossing the line weirdness.”According to Variety, “Sevigny was joined at the talk by Amy Emmerich, chief content officer at digital media company Refinery 29. She argued that women need to be taught at an early age to stand up for themselves, instead of telling them that it’s more important to be liked.”And to remind working women everywhere that none of this is new,  a story on hate mail in New Republic  quotes some of the mean letters D.H. Lawrence sent to other authors. He wrote to Katherine Mansfield in 1920: “’I loathe you. You revolt me stewing in your consumption,’ to which he amends this barb: ‘The Italians were quite right to have nothing to do with you.’”