Governor Romney’s clumsy and incomplete answer to the debate question about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act made me reflect on sexism in the workplace. Is discrimination a result of institutions, jerks, or clueless people? Romney just seemed clueless. To be fair to him, I actually appreciated his flexible work schedule acknowledgement, even if the generalization was false and insulting to career women who are not in charge of housework. I know, shocker. A feminist who appreciates a man acknowledging I need a flexible work schedule so I can cook and clean the house. Except, I actually do need that. So does my husband, since we share in these tasks.
I reflected back on my career as an interior designer. (The image in the right is not mine. It made the Facebook rounds.) This is an interesting world because it’s a female dominated career within a male dominated industry. At my office, my boss gave us flextime, was supportive and collaborative, and we kibitzed often with our latest pregnant coworker. (Pregnancy recently went through the office like a highly contagious virus.) I imagine this would be an uncomfortable situation for a man, with all the talks about epidurals and the messier side of birth. Reverse sexism?
If you think I never experienced sexism, you would be wrong. This is a female dominated career within a very male dominated industry. The vast majority of the architects I worked with were wonderful, collaborative, respectful men (and a handful of women.) However, when I began working to establish licensing for interior designers in Oregon, the sexist pigs came out the woodwork. See, interior designers don’t need to be licensed because we just decorate. “Interior defecators” was a term I heard. Never mind our training in building construction, fire and building codes, infectious disease control in healthcare, or special needs for the disabled and elderly. Best leave the complicated architecture stuff to the men. These small-minded men could not fathom that I might be more intelligent than them. I have a high IQ, so statistically, it is likely I am smarter than most of the jerks I encountered.
To compensate, I changed my demeanor and appearance. I wore business suits, eschewed colorful decorative pieces, put my hair up, and acted very serious. As a result, aside from the licensing lobbying, I commanded respect. Take a look at any business office and you will see women following this strategy. However, after a while, I felt like I was losing my soul. My aggression seeped into my marriage and my husband started to feel like I didn’t appreciate him. I was not nice to him. My creativity suffered, my health declined, and I started seeing people as objects for my advancement. I tried so hard to be accepted by the patriarchy that I began to be sexist myself. Like if I dared to be a woman, I’d miss out on life. I think this is why I developed endometriosis. I hated my womanhood so much, that my body literally started attacking it.
Of course, not all women react this way. Plenty are comfortable in the business world. I just overcompensated for my insecurities. I am still trying to figure out where I fit into the world, and how to balance the feminine and masculine sides of myself. Women have a lot of work to do in achieving true equality. But this one has decided not to accept the rules. I will forge my own way, do things my way, and ignore anyone who tells me I should act otherwise. Now if I could just figure out what my way is.