People who think sexism is all but eradicated should work in a customer service job for a week. And those who think sexism is relegated to the older generations should see the amount of boys my age who called me “sweetheart” or “hun” during my time as a hostess at a burger joint.
When you have your first job, or you’re working a job where you’re lower on the totem pole, facing this sexism can be hard and feel damn near impossible to deal with, but there are ways for you to handle it with grace and dignity, and make your local sexist look like an absolute tool. Here are 5 ways for you to handle sexism in your entry level job.
1. Find Allies
The first and most important step you can take needs to happen before anyone even gets the chance to be discriminatory and/or demeaning. You need to surround yourself with allies. Even if you don’t hang out outside of work, or even get along, you need to be supportive of other women and recognize that us women are in this together and establish that relationship. If the only other girl working has to close and you get off half an hour before her, wait the extra half hour to make sure she gets to her car safe. Don’t let other co-workers talk about them behind their back, or make derogatory statements about them. If the local douchebag comments on a coworker’s “nice butt”, let them know that that isn’t cool and won’t be tolerated.
However, not everyone is ready to harness their boss babe potential in the workforce. Some women are drinking the sexism Kool-Aid and don’t see why things like pet names in the workplace are harmful. It is crucial that you treat them the same as you would your allies. Women have to stick together. Educate them where you can, but at the end of the day, choose to love them despite their differing opinions.
2. Remain Cool and Collected – OR Don’t
Don’t let people decide for you how offensive or inoffensive something is. A constant staple of the patriarchy is men (or authority figures) telling women to “calm down”. I would encourage you to take a step back and decide for yourself how to react. If it’s been an ongoing problem and you can’t take it anymore, yell, make a scene, do whatever you need to do to feel like your voice is heard. A crucial element of the patriarchy is to make women feel as though they are crazy or overreact too much, rendering their arguments invalid in the eyes of others. Provide rational and well thought out reasons why an act is sexist or discriminatory. Don’t hold back. If someone is ignorant enough to be sexist or subvert your opinion on the basis of your gender, then you already have the upper hand.
While formulating your reaction and how you handle a given situation with sexist undertones (or overtones), take into account who the offender is. The beauty of entry level jobs is that you can have people from all walks of life working with you. If some jerk who brags about cheating on his girlfriend on a regular basis says you can’t wait on a table because it’s a bunch of bros and you’re a woman, choose to be outraged. However, if the offender is an older man who maybe isn’t with the times and calls you “doll” or “sweetheart”, just tell him that it’s demeaning and why. Most of the time, reasonable people will listen. Take a moment to evaluate your reaction and what the consequences of it will be, but don’t feel you need to have a cool, calm, and collected response if the situation doesn’t warrant it.
3. Seek to Educate, Not Just be Outraged
By all means, be angry and be offended at someone’s sexist actions but at the end of the day, the purpose of being a feminist is to make the world a better place for women now and especially those who will come after you. Educate people on why certain dialogues can be harmful. Explain to people exactly what part of their actions is bad and how it is so. Without learning, people are bound to repeat their actions to other women, perpetuating the cycle of inequality. You may say, “Isn’t that what all those meetings about sexual harassment are for?” And yes, it should be expected for someone to learn proper behavior during those meetings, but some people just need an extra helping hand or kick in the pants to get their act together. Choose to be that for someone who desperately needs it. It will inevitably make the world a better place, slowly but surely.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Speak to Management
If this is your first job, this can be a scary prospect. You may worry about being fired or other repercussions but this is what management is here for. It is part of the job description of manager to create a safe workspace for everybody. If you feel disrespected, feel free to speak to management in addition to using the tactics stated above. Going to someone higher up should not be a last resort. And if the problem you’re having is with your manager, then go over their heads to their manager, and go up the chain until the problem is resolved. If it does not get resolved after exhausting all of your resources, then it is best to leave the company. I know that for people who depend on that paycheck, this is very daunting. But, at the end of the day, no paycheck is worth your dignity. There will be other jobs for women who don’t take BS lying down. This decision is entirely yours and you decide what circumstances are intolerable.
5. Put It In Perspective
The fact of the matter is that entry level jobs are an absolute pain. They are everybody’s least favorite part of the workforce. Anyone who remembers their time spent as a hostess, waitress, cashier, etc., looks back with an uncomfortable grimace. This is more of a “character building” job than it is a step in your overall career (most of the time). More likely than not, this job will fade from your memory very quickly. You’re meant to have coworkers that you hate and a boss that’s a bit of a hard ass. Make sure that when you are dealing with confrontation that there is a genuinely sexist agenda behind someone’s actions before you scream “discrimination”. One of the worst mistakes a feminist can make is cry wolf. It discredits not only yourself but the movement as a whole. Anyone who managed to make it through 2018 remembers December, when everyone was flipping their lid about people complaining that Santa is a man. The fact of the matter is that this was probably one or two people and the media ran with it to distract from the actual, horrible atrocities being committed against women. What I want you to get from this tangent is that it’s important to determine if something is actually problematic before raising hell. Entry level jobs are meant to be garbage, just a little bit, but if you take this advice with you (and more so the other 4 points), I genuinely believe that it can suck a little less.
Have you experienced sexism in the workplace? We’d love to hear your story!