A few years ago, I was in a meeting at work seated at the end of a long conference table when a guy at the other end of the table made a crude joke to the room. I had recently joined the team from another department, and I was also the only female in the room, so when another co-worker called out 'hey watch out, there's a lady in the room!', I immediately felt super awkward. The joke alone didn't offend me, and it took some time for me to even figure out that the actual issue was the instant isolation from everyone else in the room that I felt afterward. I can't even remember what the joke was now, but it had something to do with male genitalia, something that they could all laugh about and I couldn't truly join in on the joke.
There's not much you can do in situations like that other than give a fake nervous giggle, because everyone knows that you're not really in on the joke, and if you don't react, you'll come across as a stick in the mud. This might come across as a trivial incident and that maybe I'm overreacting to it, but those small moments of male bonding are the invisible components that later result in promotions and advancements at work, and later we're left scratching our heads wondering why it seems so much easier for guys.
Another time at work, I was in the middle of negotiating with a vendor on how much to pay him when my manager stepped in to suggest that I 'soften my tone.' I felt that knot in the pit of my stomach again, knowing that the same words wouldn't have been used with a male employee. The craziest thing about both of these stories is that all of the guys involved are really good guys who I respect a lot. They treat their wives well and I'm 100% positive that they had no idea of the ripple effect that these seemingly insignificant words had caused. The problem is that they're unknowingly and unintentionally a part of a boys' club where locker room banter is shrugged off as just what guys do and double standards are a passing thought.
I don't know when I started to realize that men and women aren't on even playing ground in the workplace, because the exclusions are so slight that they almost sneak past you altogether. I grew up with a twin brother, and it always felt like we were given the same opportunities in school and sports. As a kid, I would have said that women had as much opportunity to be president as men do because of those opportunities, and that it must just be a funny coincidence that all 43 presidents, soon to be 44, have been male.
This election has been the perfect representation of that dynamic, magnified by a million, and I don't know if people still aren't seeing it or if they're just tired of everything so they gave up. Like a lot of people, I'm stunned by the fact that a blatantly sexist and racist man with no previous experience in government beat out a woman with 30 years of experience who can speak intelligently on world issues. Throughout the election, people kept saying that they couldn't quite put their finger on what their issue was with Hillary but something seemed fishy about her. Every misstep she took was blown out of proportion, the biggest being the email scandal, even though nothing criminal was actually found in any of the emails. What's fishy about her is that she's a woman in a man's world. She's like an artificial man, saying the things she should be saying, networking with the right influencers, mapping out her career to get her where she wants to go, but no matter how much of a bulldog she is, everyone knows she's not really a part of the club, and it just doesn't work for her. Meanwhile, Trump can be unapologetically sexist and racist, with too many scandals to even begin on, and people will nod their heads to the fact that he's upfront about who he is [a man, in case I haven't driven my point home already]. I heard some guys acknowledge that the words he said could have been spoken by themselves, in the context of locker room chatter.
I'm sad and frustrated to see this scene play out on a larger and much more visible scale than the average corporate office, but one of the best things that's come out of this election is the fact that it's gotten people talking about these small, nearly insignificant happenings and we're beginning to connect the dots that they actually do have a larger effect on fairness and equality. We feel the little things a lot more now, because we're starting to become aware that there's a reason those things bother us. Life isn't fair and we know that, but this just feels like one of those things that we actually do have the power to control. Maybe it takes something as extreme as electing Donald Trump to the presidency to see it.