Gender Shrapnel: A New Book on Gender-Based Discrimination

gender-shrapnelGender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, a new book by Washington and Lee University professor Ellen Mayock, is focused on academia but offers understanding of and solutions to gender-based discrimination in all types of organizations. Mayock’s core concept of “shrapnel” is especially intriguing. She explains that “shrapnel” describes the regular insults and slights that build up over time and inflict real damage. While the meaning of the term “shrapnel” is similar in this context to the term “microaggressions,” frequently used in dialogues about the impact of racism, I find shrapnel to be more accurate in describing the potential seriousness of the injuries inflicted by subtle discrimination. Whether it refers to gender or race or is used to describe other group-level discrimination, it is an equally useful concept. In the context of gender, Mayock explains that discrimination occurs when gender-based norms in society that “follow a patriarchal flow are replicated in the workplace.” According to Mayock, this can take the form of men feeling marginalized for showing emotion at work or taking family leave, of women struggling to be heard and get credit for their good ideas, and of trans women and men being ostracized and insulted. Mayock offers strategies like training sessions aimed at understanding gender and intersectional dynamics and the importance of sending consistent institutional messages about rectifying gender-based discrimination. It is not enough to write into an organizational value statement that discrimination is not tolerated. One example of an organization sending a strong institutional message about gender-based discrimination occurred recently when the first female president of Harvard University, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, canceled the entire season of the winning men’s soccer team. Foust acted in response to the male team’s longstanding practice of keeping numbered ratings of the body parts of members of the female soccer team on a spreadsheet. The president sent a strong message that sexual objectification of women, which conditions and reinforces “rape culture” in our society, will not be tolerated at Harvard. It seems to have taken a female university president to send this strong message at a major university. I highly recommend Mayock’s book to anyone who wants to understand and stop gender shrapnel in his or her organization. What instances of gender shrapnel have you witnessed or experienced at your workplace? How was it addressed?   Photo: “Shrapnel” by Todd Huffman License:]]>

Sexual Harassment and Assault: A Costly Tax for Women

I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects.  I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.”  Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country.  Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following:

  • One in four women in the United States have been sexually assaulted.
  • One in five women in the United States are victims of rape or attempted rape.
The cost to women who experience sexual assault and harassment in its many forms—many of which were clearly described in the Access Hollywood tape that recorded Donald J. Trump boasting of grabbing, groping, kissing, leering, and committing other violations of the personal boundaries of women without their consent—occurs on many levels.  The cost can be emotional trauma that can be permanently damaging to one’s confidence and self-image, not to mention the pain and humiliation of rape.  I particularly resonate with Taub’s description of the impact of sexual assault on women as an “opportunity tax.” Women are taught early in life that they are responsible for avoiding sexual assault and that it is their fault if it happens to them. Taub cites social scientist Professor Leong, who explains the opportunity tax: “Whereas men can freely seize opportunities, women must pause and weigh the costs of” meeting alone with a professor, going out to dinner with a male client, networking after hours with colleagues at a conference, meeting alone with a potential investor, or going on a business trip with a male boss. Because of sexual harassment and assault, many women quit jobs, leave professions, or step back to avoid risk, thereby damaging their careers and limiting their life choices. A lot of women have come forward to tell their stories since Trump’s words and tone in the Access Hollywood recording struck a chord with many of us. We are outraged by the dismissal of his remarks as “locker room talk.”  Jonathan Miller sums up Trump’s statements well, writing that they reflect a “rape culture” in our larger society.  He explains that talking about objectification of women’s bodies results in the cultural conditioning of men and boys to feel entitled to treat women as sex objects. This is also described by Sam Polk as “bro talk.” Yes, Trump’s comments struck a nerve.  Kelly Oxford posted a tweet sharing her experience of sexual assault on Friday night when the Access Hollywood tape was released, and by Monday morning twenty-seven million people around the world shared first-person accounts or visited her Twitter page.  Shortly before the Access Hollywood tape came to light, I published an article on why sexual harassment happens, and received more than two hundred stories and comments and over 10,000 viewings from readers all over the world on LinkedIn.  The following are a few of those comments from my readers:
  • I work in silence. It’s not nice bosses that have the upper hand over employees. Female Housekeeper
  • I was in a position in which a high ranking male would look at various parts of my body in a very lewd manner. When I filed a complaint, it became his word against mine and nothing was done.  I was asked to transfer to another location. Female Technician
  • I think a lot of sexual harassment begins at home. Dad belittles Mom, Mom tries to keep a straight face because the kids are watching.  Daughter grows up and gets married to a man much like Dad.  This carries over into the daughter’s work life—trapped, not knowing which way to turn, ignoring degrading remarks in order to put food on the table. Female Author and Business Owner
  • One college professor grabbed my backside while at a business club event. Another offered to give me a better grade if I “went out” with him. I took the lower grade.  Things like this happen more frequently than reported. Female Technical Professional
  • This is still a huge problem. I recently wrote about my own experiences with sexual harassment by an executive and admitted my own fear of speaking out because I worried it might damage my reputation. Female Entrepreneur
  • In India, a deeply rooted culture of patriarchy plus inherent misogyny form a dangerous basis of judging the seriousness of any sexual harassment complaint made at the workplace. Female Financial Advisor in India
It is not easy to speak out when demeaning and traumatizing things happen to you.  It helps when we can share our stories and know we are not alone.  We must come out of the shadows with our stories and support each other.  Together we can pressure our society to stop perpetuating a rape culture and to end this opportunity tax for women. Please share your story here, if you have one to tell.   Photo: Daniel Kruczynski License:  ]]>

The “Woman Card”: What Is It?

According to Donald Trump and others on the right like Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton is playing the “woman card.” What does that really mean? Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times explains that the implications are that women, and in particular Hillary Clinton, have some kind of unearned advantage because they are women. Kristof challenges this assumption with the following facts:

  • There has never been a woman president of the United States.
  • Only one-fifth of senators, 20 out of 100, are women.
  • Women earn 92 cents to a male worker’s dollar.
  • A bare 19 percent of corporate board seats are held by women.
  • An assault on a woman happens every nine seconds.
  • Men and women judge women more harshly for the same job application, résumé, or essay when, in several research studies cited by Kristof, the names on the documents are switched from John to Jennifer.
  • In the same studies, salary recommendations for the job applicant with the masculine name were 14 percent higher than for the same applicant with a feminine name.
Kristof notes that these disadvantages for women reflect unconscious bias, which he defines as “a patriarchal attitude that is absorbed and transmitted by men and women alike—which is one reason women often aren’t much help to other women.” I talk about this same dynamic in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, as an example of internalized negative stereotypes that result in women not supporting other women and being harder on each other in the workplace.

Why Do We Need More Women in Politics?

Jill Filipovic of the New York Times suggests that we need more women in elected office. Because of our life experiences as white women and women of color, many elected women:
  • Get more cosponsorship for legislation.
  • Bring more money home to their districts.
  • Focus on priorities such as the need for access to affordable health care, contraception, quality education and low-cost college tuition, living-wage reforms, and criminal justice reforms.
Kristof concludes that if the polls show Clinton leading Trump, it is not because she has a “woman card,” which is less than worthless. He notes that a “woman card” is “like a credit card that isn’t accepted anywhere but carries a $3,000 annual fee.” If Clinton wins the election, it will because of her “experience, policies, temperament and judgment.”   Image credit: Freeman-Woolpert]]>