Twenty some years ago I was fired for not sleeping with my boss. He never said as much but as I was propositioned and fired within 24 hours, I’m pretty sure there’s a connection. Needless to say I found another job to get me through college. Eventually I graduated, headed east and forgot all about the incident.
Over the past twenty years, only three incidents involving discrimination stand out: While working as a congressional aide, I was ogled by the ancient and ever lascivious Senator Strom Thurmond, the memory of which still makes me shutter. Another congressman, during a job interview no less, asked me if I came to Washington to meet a husband. The question caught me off guard and I couldn’t come up with a clever retort. Some years later, when Congressman Not-To-Be-Named lost a high profile race because of a far worse gaffe, I’ll admit I felt a tiny bit of satisfaction. The schadenfreude didn’t last long; he managed to take down good conservatives with him.
More recently, a well-known (and married) pundit from out of town hit on me. What disappointed me most was his feigned interest in my writing. I saw him as a potential mentor, he saw me as nothing but a skirt.
These incidents came to mind when I read the results of the newest poll by the Wall Street Journal/NBC that found 35% of female respondents have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. I’m not the only one. Being treated as a sex object or as a silly little woman who just needs to find a man are just two ways women can be treated as inferior. One woman, quoted in the WSJ article about the poll, said that when she would offer an idea in a meeting “it was like I didn’t even say a word. A guy can offer the same opinion and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s brilliant.” Discrimination can be subtle and destructive.
It’s important, however, to view encounters with sexist idiots and louts in light of one’s entire work experience. I’ve been in the workforce since I was 15 and have worked with hundreds of decent men who have treated me with respect. The male pigs are the exception. And, I’ve had to deal with difficult bosses and colleagues of my own gender on occasion as well. I know men out of there have had to deal with their own bad bosses and discriminatory attitudes.
Fortunately none of the bad actors in my past made any permanent impact on the trajectory of my career. As I contend in my recent Daily Caller editorial, women in the US have unprecedented opportunities in terms of careers, priorities, and work-life choices. These choices are what largely explain differences in salary trends between men and women. We are not victims. I am grateful to live a time and in a place where the majority of people with whom I interact, male or female, meet me eye to eye. The same cannot be said in parts of the world where women must hide behind a veil and where tales of sexism are not laughable exceptions but the tragic rule.