So sexism…

Not currently being in Australia, I missed most of the furore that a Gen-Y woman caused when she dared accuse an upstanding institution such as the Herald Sun of being sexist and condescending after finishing her internship there.  I mean really, who would have thought that the Herald Sun would have been sexist?  Oh you mean there are actually people out there who think that “modern business etiquette” actually applies and that “chivalry” is not at all an outdated concept?  Please kill me now.

I caught up (a tiny amount) on the story when I read an article published in a Fairfax newspaper, by Natasha Hughes, suggesting that the sexism experienced by Sasha Burden was all in her imagination and really, the men of the Herald Sun were just being polite, as their mothers (because it’s always the mothers) taught them.

Interestingly, this article also quotes Leslie Cannold, but completely fails to understand Cannold’s point.

Basically Burden should not have complained about the way she was treated while interning at the Herald Sun because:

  • Good old-fashioned chivalry should make us very happy
  • chivalry is about consideration for others
  • courtesies are learned behaviours
  • it’s lovely that there are gentlemen out there

The comments at the end of the article (and really, just don’t read them) are full of “but manners!” and “I love being treated this way”/”I love to treat women this way”, and generally really failing to understand the issue at hand.

Sadly, my comment on the article was not published, but it effectively stated that treating someone differently due to their perceived gender is sexism, and one of the definitions of sexism is:

behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Now I’m all for people holding the door open for other people, provided that consideration is regardless of the gender of the people passing through the door.  I’ll happily hold the door for anyone following behind me, I don’t care about their gender, and I wish the same courtesy was afforded to me, but far too often, if I attempt to hold the door open for one of my male colleagues they insist that I walk through the door first, because you know, my poor weakling lady arms might snap off with the effort of holding the door or something.

As a Federal Public Servant, doors were held open for others based on who got their first, and gender was not a consideration, it has been a big shock to my system to move to the private sector and experience this sexism.  If this were the only sexism I experienced, I might not care, but it’s not.  The private sector is still quite sexist, and although some organisations are doing what they can to move from that, others seem not to care.

The advice given to Burden in this article, which effectively boils down to “you’re young and don’t really understand how the world works, but it was cute of you to try” is entirely incorrect.  Burden is right to point out the sexism she experienced at the Herald Sun, and right to be upset about it.  Cannold’s statements from the article above hold true:

They’ve been told ‘you can be anything you want to be’ but the reality is that women are truly struggling to achieve this.”

While young women are largely sheltered from sexism at school and university, Dr Cannold says the business world is still primarily a man’s world. Female graduates complain of not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts, says Cannold, and the persistence of sexist jokes can be an unwelcome eye-opener: “They think they’ve grown up in a world where all that’s past. That’s the theory and the reality can be shocking.

”Young women say they don’t want to be treated like ladies and put their energies into the struggle against the upside of being a lady. Other women are worrying about the remnants of the downside, and they think ‘well, if we can’t have it all, at least they can bloody well open the door for us’.”

Until we’re treated the same regardless of the perception of our gender, we’re not equal. Burden was brave to stand up and point this out, and the condemnation she’s facing from some quarters from pointing out the status quo shows that women still have a long way to go.

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