It’s popular these days to boast of a family-like atmosphere in a workplace. I admit that this appealed to me at first. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t actually want a job with a ‘family’ focus. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But families always have that pervy relative who looks at your boobs too long, and a few misogynists and racists thrown in for good measure. And don’t forget the obligatory family holiday discord over political parties, abortion, religion, and more. Merry Christmas!
We can’t and shouldn’t bring all that to work. At work, there is a huge power differential. Unless you are at the top of the pyramid or self-employed, somebody is in charge of how much money you make. Someone signs those paychecks you get. There is a pecking order. When there is a pecking order, and there is misogyny, we have a problem.
Years ago, I worked for a large man named Truman, who told a fellow waitress that her ass looked like two pigs fighting under a blanket, in front of her co-workers. The next boss I had brushed my cheek once while we were having a conversation. These days, sexual harassment is more subtle. It’s little comments about who’s sexy or not at the office. A co-worker remarked to me that he had once met Einstein’s niece. I asked if she was interesting and wicked smart. He replied, “As my uncle used to say, I don’t know if her brain was smart, but her body was.” This person has a leadership position at my office.
The ‘family’ atmosphere we have translates to not having verbal boundaries. It is not serving me, nor it is serving any of the women at my office. It’s serving the men. Just like old-fashioned ‘family values’ serve men. At work, we need to watch what we say, and what we wear, so that we are not offensive or too sexy, but still pleasing to the eye. We have to tolerate being subtly devalued as tits and ass by the men around us. And then we have to do our jobs.
The energy behind this subtlety affects us. I used to like coming to work. I bought into the whole “family team” thing for a while. Then I realized that there really isn’t an “I” in team. Because as a woman, “I” don’t matter. I now prefer to keep to myself when I am at work, and often do not want to go anymore, despite the fact that I actually love the work that I do.
Of course, I can speak up. But will it change anything? Likely not. Subtle harassment isn’t taken seriously. I have brought up the need for sexual harassment training at our office with the person who would authorize such training. It was not taken seriously. If I keep making a stink over “little” things, then I will be seen as the problem. I need my job. I need it so much, in fact, that I am writing this piece under a pseudonym because I fear that my employers will exact retribution if I use my real name.
And I feel shame about being upset about it. This is where the insidiousness comes in. As women, we are so conditioned not to speak up – lest we be labeled as hysterical, bitchy, or troublemakers – that we feel ashamed when we do. We are asked to hold our powerful selves, the individual-mother-earner-partner, in one hand, while also continually abiding the assaults that tell us that we only have value because of our appearance. Is something wrong with me that I feel I have to leave my self-esteem in the car and keep my mouth shut when I go to work? No. Something is wrong with the “family atmosphere” at my office.