Am I a Feminist?

by Sandy L on October 12, 2011

 How I dealt with Sexual Harassment at Work

Back when I was 19, I did a co-op assignment in the UK for a year.  I worked at a small specialty chemicals company that dealt with a lot of cyanide chemistry.  I worked in the lab doing various experiments and it wasn’t long before I got the nickname “Sandra the Destroyer.”  I’m a bull in a china shop in labs and I can’t tell you how much glassware I’ve broken over the years.  One time I was working with an iron fertilizer that was very close to the chemistry of hemoglobin. The nickname was sealed forever when I  smashed 2.5  gallon container of it all over the lab.  It was maroon and smeared just like blood. I swear it looked like I murdered somebody and was cleaning up the aftermath. Anyway, I digress.

Blood Image via Wiki Commons

In this lab, there were 4 other chemists that shared the space with each other.  There was one other female and 3 men.   You know how there’s always one person at work or in a group that people can’t stand?  Well in our case, this was one of the male chemists. He was short and always had his arms and shoulders puffed out like he was carrying invisible briefcases.  He was not respected by his peers and thought the job he was doing was beneath him.  One day, he even left his resume on the printer by accident and much to the delight of the rest of his peers. We had the joy of reading the tales of fiction that he managed to fabricate for it…one of which was that he had his PhD (and he didn’t).

Anyway, people tolerated him and he was particularly touchy feely with the other female chemist.  She didn’t like it, but was such a shy lady, that she never said anything.  She confided in one of the other chemists, so he knew she was annoyed by this guy too. I think in the UK, they call them Pratts.   One day, I was standing at my lab bench mixing up some chemicals when the #1 pratt came over behind me, put his hands around my waist and moved me aside so that he could get at something in a drawer I was blocking.  I looked at him and said “You know, in America, we say excuse me”.   I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass but that’s just the first thing that popped into my head.

Well, wouldn’t you know, my other chemist friend had witnessed this whole thing. He knew what was about to happen and was observing so that he could bitch about his insolent behavior later during our tea break.  To his glee, I actually stood up for myself.  You know it’s almost 20 years later and he still loves telling that story every time I see him.

Guys Like Real Feminists

Back when I was renting, I had an introverted neighbor who grilled his dinner outside just about every night in the summer. He was a strange looking guy who kind of reminded me of a curly haired version of Fredo from the godfather. My driveway and back door abutted his grilling area. I would see him outside often and would always say hi.  He would just nod his head but never ever said a word to me.    One day after work, I decided to change the oil in my car.  Back then, I had a Toyota Corolla and it was the world’s easiest car to change the oil in. I didn’t even need lifts or anything I could just slide under the car and reach the oil bolt without too much trouble and it was the same deal with the oil filter. I could get at it from the hood without doing too much contortions to reach it.  I could have the whole thing done in like 20 minutes.

As I slide from under my car with the hood open and wiping my hands of oil, I look next door and my neighbor is looking at me with his mouth agape.  This was the last thing he expected to see me doing.  I’m not butch. Back then, I was 25, very thin, with long hair and blond highlights. I’m sure the most complicated thing he thought I was capable of doing was painting my toenails.

Suddenly he starts talking to me, for the first time ever.  You change the oil in your car yourself? “Yup, this car is very easy.” He then asked how long I was doing it and why.  I told him it was a lot cheaper than taking it to Jiffy Lube.  Then, he was like “Wow..I wish my wife would do stuff like that. Do you want a burger?”   I happily accepted his burger and after that day, he actually talked to me.

What Feminism Means to Me

I’ve never been what I’d call a vocal feminist.  In fact, some of the most vocal feminists I know are often posers who would rather have their spouses do things for them but then yell to the world that “I could do it too if I were so inclined, so don’t you dare try to stop me.”  It annoys the hell out of me when people don’t practice what they preach.

Feminists don’t need to talk about what they’re capable of, they need to do it.   The women I have the most respect for are leaders  in business and their community and can take on any challenge with confidence.  You don’t have to be in a male dominated field to be a feminist. You don’t have to dress a certain way or be vocal about it.  You just have to have the confidence that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it and there are no barriers to entry.   Maybe I was just naive, but I never ever thought of gender as being the reason why I was having an issue with someone at work.   Even if that is the case, the only way to have someone get over their prejudices is to have them respect you, regardless of your gender or race or sexual orientation.   The way to get respect is to be good at what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a SAHM or an Executive.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Feminism is about being great at everything you put your mind and heart into.  It’s also seeing that there are no boundaries that keep you from trying new things.

Feminism is not:

  • Trying to act, dress or be like a man.
  • A way to compete with other women and put them down so that you can look better.
  • A way to get ahead with mediocre performance.
  • An excuse for anything bad that’s every happened to you.

So if I sum it all up in one sentence it would be this:

Feminism should never be about why you can’t achieve a goal but instead be the reason behind why you can.

Can you tell me examples of your ideal of feminist role models?  What’s your definition of feminism?  If you’re part of the sisterhood, are you mad that I’m not fighting the good fight more vocally?

 

 

 

 

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos October 12, 2011 at 7:27 AM

Leading by example works on males and females, young and old. Don’t whine and just get to it. Good story, Sandy.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 5:51 AM

Thanks 101 – yes, good tips for all of us.

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Acorn October 12, 2011 at 8:54 AM
Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 5:52 AM

Acorn – Thank you. She seems brilliant. Unfortunately, her popularity hasn’t made it’s way over to the states yet. I’ll have to do a little research and find more on utube or something.

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txusyfxrg March 27, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Jacq October 12, 2011 at 9:54 AM

Although I don’t think the feminist debates should die, most aren’t relevant to me anymore (thanks to everyone that came before). However, it does pain me to see many wonderful women that I’ve known recently get passed over for promotions in favor of a less qualified and capable man.

Here’s a discussion you might find interesting:
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 5:57 AM

Jacq – thank you for the link..quite a bit of content. I’ll have to save it for some weekend reading. Just out of curiosity, do the women have children? I haven’t noticed any change in opportunities until I had children. People assume you deal with the kids and assume you’re less available to work around the clock. It is true on some level, but it should also be true for men with children. However many men I work with have SAH spouses, so I guess there is some truth that working females would generally be more burdened than working men because it’s less common for men to stay at home.

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Jacq October 24, 2011 at 11:35 AM

No, oddly enough, most of the ones I’m thinking of don’t have kids. They just aren’t self-promoters. They’re people who work around the clock and are super hard workers (one of them regularly puts in 90 hour weeks), but not playing the political game. They want to be valued on the basis of their work – but they end up reporting to guys who are brown nosers who aren’t half as competent. It’s a conundrum since they should probably delegate a lot more.

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Niki October 12, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Sometimes I think I don’t have a clear idea of what a feminist is. It’s kind of the ‘I know it when I see it’ variety or ‘I know it’s not that’. Being vocal, to me, seems to take away from it somehow. I do think people notice when you lead by example.

Not being in the workforce was hard for me but I do believe feminism has it’s place with stay at home moms too. I think showing our children there really is no such thing as a man or a woman’s job. I very often am fixing things in our home changing out faucets, repairing broken appliances. While my husband has no problem washing clothes or doing dishes, he even irons his own uniforms. Our childrens’ chores are divided up equally so that everyone takes turns doing a little bit of everything.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 5:58 AM

Niki – one of the SAH role models I’m thinking of is super active at my son’s school and really is a great leader. I like that my boys don’t think there are girl chores and boy chores too. I think it will help them be a better spouse too.

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Molly October 12, 2011 at 11:10 AM

I love this story. It is about standing up and being heard. We are a lucky generation and I feel I forget how lucky we really are at times. My father has been the biggest feminist who influenced me. I took tons of Women Study courses in college and although there are great women that were a big part of forming my ideals he stands out. He’s a gentle giant and doesn’t think of himself as a feminist but he feels everybody should have the same options in life that he does as a white male. Growing up he would lead by example on the big things and small (like making sure his daughters knew how to change their own oil, spark plugs and tires on our cars). When my daughter was born he gave me a book on parenting on how to grow girls self-esteem.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Molly – I think of you as an example, also being in the male dominated field of general contracting. Your dad sounds wonderful. The men in my family were much more chauvinistic, so my mom was the role model.

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Molly October 13, 2011 at 10:04 AM

You are very kind. I believe women like your mom who had to endure prejudice based solely on their gender are ones to look too. I have a friend who was in banking in the late 60’s and 70’s. I love hearing tales of how she dealt with the chauvinism that was tossed at her. Her grace is something I admire.

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retirebyforty October 12, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Great stories. It’s good to see things from different perspective sometime. Being a man, I never have to think about these things. I just try to be respectful to everybody in general.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 6:18 AM

RB40 – I guess it’s good that you don’t see a difference.

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growingmygirls October 12, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Excellent post, Sandy! Having grown up while feminism was being hashed out so forcefully, I took a lot of it in. The good thing is that it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do things, or that I didn’t have options. The bad is that I didn’t fully see clearly how the world can work, and how after all these years, there are still entrenched, infurating differences between the sexes that are painful and hard for women.
Still, as I explain bits of history to the girls as things come up (why Laura and Mary always had to wear dresses, my mom always in high heels, Chinese women in their bound feet) it’s feels good to live in the times we live in.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 6:23 AM

Growing my Girls – I see it too, but I try to do my part in another way. I’m part of the women’s network at work (being the token female engineer there) and help organize helpful and inspiring events. Our last one had a bunch of speaker role models. It was terrific. I sure am glad I live in this time. I really haven’t felt I couldn’t achieve something because of my gender and I’ve not always been middle class.

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Jacq October 12, 2011 at 5:45 PM

BTW, the “meet single girls online” ad that goes with this post is kind of ironic. :-)

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 6:19 AM

bummer, I missed it. It’s now on a nissan leaf.

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shanendoah@Baking the Budget October 12, 2011 at 8:48 PM

I’ve written about this pretty often over at my daily blog (100wordson.wordpress.com). In college, I was one of the girls who would have told you I wasn’t a feminist (because I was lucky enough to be born at a time when I didn’t see a need to be). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually become a bit of a flaming feminist. And it’s not because I have been personally discriminated against- I haven’t. But I’m also white, middle-class, and educated. Makes a world of difference.
Still, I can see the glass ceiling, even in my company that is very female friendly in what is considered a female dominated industry (health care).
I do my best to speak up when I see discrimination of any kind. Because if we stop fighting for the foot we still need, it will start being taken away, inch by inch.

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Sandy L October 13, 2011 at 6:27 AM

Baking the budget – I definitely hear of more discrimination against moms vs women. Is that your observation as well? It’s also considered career suicide in my field to exit it for any length of time (I think for men and women), so it’s really difficult to take breaks for family without wrecking your chances of getting back to the same level or higher further down the road. I always thought healthcare had less of that.

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shanendoah@Baking the Budget October 13, 2011 at 1:43 PM

I don’t tend to make a distinction between discrimination against “moms” and against “women”. Given that we don’t discriminate against dads, I see discrimination against moms as gender discrimination.

Health care is one of the fields that has a lot of women, and my company is pretty good. Our previous CEO was female, and we’ve had some women leave us to run other companies. At the same time, this is what I see when I look at our org charts:
Executive Leadership Team- 7 men, 3 women so 30% of our ELT is women
Direct Reports to ELT: 16 men, 24 women, or 60% women

The women who are only one step down from the ELT are obviously not women who have put their careers on hold for family. They are highly educated, hard working, company first type people. So why does the percentage of women halve when we go up just one level? Why is it that at the ELT level, we have almost half the number of men one step down but only 1/8th the number of women?
Even if I look at the number of people with the VP title in the one step down (Exec VPs are on ELT), we’re still tilted in the favor of women, 4 men and 5 women. Why aren’t these percentages holding at the highest levels?
That’s the glass ceiling. It’s not as obvious as it used to be, but it’s still there, even in supposedly female friendly industries

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Sandy L October 14, 2011 at 5:07 PM

I think those stats are pretty common or even worse across most industries, but if I look at myself, the limitations I’ve had in my career have been self imposed since I had children. I will no longer do a crazy global travel job anymore and that’s what the next level above me is. I have had opportunities to take those jobs again due to the amount of experience I have in global roles but chose not to. I really don’t think it can ever be 50/50 when so many women take time off, or downshift for a while. It’s definitely progress though.

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Kellen October 14, 2011 at 2:36 PM

My basic definition of being a feminist is “believing in equal rights and opportunities for men and women.” And I feel like (as a white, priviledged female) I can have access to anything I want, except the chumminess of the older men here (with their drinking and their golf playing.) I don’t see the young men my age being accepted into that chumminess either though, and I’m not sure if it’s because they’re not old enough yet, or if it’s because they’re part of a generation that doesn’t automatically exclude women in a professional setting, so they don’t quite fit in with the older men either.

I definitely think that once you have kids, things might be different. People might assume you won’t have as much time to work, etc. But I work for a company where it is typical to work long hours. During our busy season, having kids doesn’t excuse you from that. During our off-season, there are still times where we will have long hours, and I see the moms with young kids leaving at 5:30 on the dot anyway.

HOWEVER – I also am starting to see dad’s with young kids leaving at 5:30 on the dot too.

In times where staying late is NEEDED, then maybe mom’s (and dad’s) need to show that they won’t let their kids “distract” them from work. But mostly, I don’t think that the solution is for mom’s to “prove” that they won’t change their work style now that they have kids, but rather for everyone to accept that it’s good for employees to get home before their babies go to sleep. (Esp sometimes we get busy, but you don’t NEED to stay ’til 10pm tonight when you could work on it tomorrow.)

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Sandy L October 14, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Kellen, we have a division in the Netherlands and it’s quite common for both spouses to downshift to 4 days a week while their children are little. I think if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be so strange. Finance is a crazy field with unrealistic expectations about how many hours people should work. The finance people here are the same way. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect anyone (parent or not) to work 15 hour days on a regular basis. Yeah, okay if it’s the end of the quarter or year, that’s one thing, but it’s such a badge of honor to work around the clock in that field. I wonder if it’s really as productive as it would be if people worked more normal hours most of the time.

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Jackie October 14, 2011 at 3:33 PM

I like your definition of feminism. I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my head around just exactly what does make someone a feminist, but I like how you put it :)

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Kris @ Everyday Tips October 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM

I don’t even like the word ‘feminist’. It makes me think about women who get all grumpy when a man holds the door open for them.

As a female, I don’t want any special treatment one way or the other. People are people and everyone should hold the door open for other people. Courtesy should happen regardless of gender.

I think gender roles will exist as long as women have babies to a degree.

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Kellen October 14, 2011 at 4:13 PM

Maybe you would like the word more if you defined it in a more positive way? I’m not anyone calls themself a feminist based solely on the door-being-held-for-them preference.

On a side note, for the door opening thing – I work in a place where no man will get off the elevator until every woman gets off. I agree, everyone should hold doors open for everyone else, and everyone should be polite about getting on and off elevators, but it’s just annoying when I’ve ALREADY opened the door, and the man next to me REFUSES to go through, and insists on taking the door with their own hand and MAKING me go first. But again, I don’t consider myself a feminist just because I know I can open doors myself. And in fact, I don’t say much about it because there are much bigger things to be concerned about.

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Kris @ Everyday Tips October 15, 2011 at 9:50 PM

I don’t think the word ‘feminist’ has ever had a positive connotation, at least not the way I have heard it. On the other hand, I don’t know how to define it myself.

The door holding things was just an example. I have seen women take ‘equal rights’ so far that they seemed to lose site of just plain ‘human rights’. They wanted so much to be ‘equal’ that they didnt’ want anyone doing anything for them, because if they were, it was only because they were a weak woman and not a human being.

I can honestly say that as a woman, I really don’t feel like I am treated unequally to a man. I will say that in the workplace, I see just as many women as men in management so we have obviously come a long way, although I know things are far from perfect. (I am speaking solely about the US by the way, I know women are oppressed in many other nations.)

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Kellen October 14, 2011 at 4:19 PM

Wait, I have a better response :)

So, back when the suffragettes were making a fuss about getting the vote, plenty of other women thought that they were making a big stink about nothing, etc. Also, women who fought for the right to vote were most likely more confrontational and outspoken than I would be. Being around them possibly would have even made me uncomfortable, because they were making so many other people upset. I don’t like to upset others. And I’m sure many women activists who fought for the right to vote also took it “took far” on more insignificant issues (the equivalent of the door opening.)

But we need women who are interested in making a fuss about everything in order to get things moving forward. We need women who are so committed to furthering equal rights that they will also give someone a lecture about something small like holding open a door.

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Suba October 14, 2011 at 6:57 PM

I don’t really understand what feminism means. Most of the time I just see that being associated with an arrogant woman. I have never expected any special treatment, but I don’t like it when someone not treat me well “only” because I am a women. I guess that is sort of feminist?

PS : Not related to the post, but you are selling me single girls. It is funny for this post :)

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Donna Freedman October 16, 2011 at 8:29 AM

As Kellen notes, feminism is the wild notion that women and men should have the same rights and opportunities.
If it has negative connotations to a younger generation — women being upset when men held the door, or “arrogant” women — that might be because you were not alive when women had to do things such as fight for the right to vote, the right to work, the right to get an education, the right not to be sexually harassed at work or on the street (there wasn’t even a name for this when I was a kid). The men in charge of the world at that time were very, very nervous about such demands because they didn’t want to cede any power.
We’re still a patriarchy. If you believe that we’re not, it’s because you’re operating from a position of privilege (which does NOT necessarily mean that you are rich). An interesting example of how the world operates can be found in John Scalzi’s recent blog post, “Crap I don’t get.” In it he gives an example of how men and women are treated differently in the blogosphere, which after all is just another place in the world.
Give it a read when you have time, because the comments are extensive and fascinating — and incredibly disturbing.
I am not attacking you personally by saying this, Sandy, but rather making an observation from where I stand at almost 54 years of age: Posts like this one remind me of idealistic young men and women who sigh and groan when their elders talk about the days when they weren’t allowed to ride in the front of the bus. “Oh, Grandpa, that was years ago. The world has changed!” And then they get picked up for a DWB, or overhear a racially charged comment at work, and realize that only *some* of the world has changed.
Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Just FYI, polemicist Ann Coulter has said that one way to get the Republicans back in power is to take away women’s right to vote. Yes, I know she’s stirring the pot. But she sure sells a lot of books.
Incidentally: My now-ex-husband never did a bit of repair work. Anything that got done got done by me and, later, by me and my daughter.

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Sandy L October 17, 2011 at 7:20 AM

Donna – this is a very thoughtful comment. It deserves a whole post in reply which I will draft this week. I agree that racism, sexism, everything-ism still exists. In my part of the world, I think it’s more effective to combat those things with action and not accusatory -ist words. However, I live in a very liberal part of the country, so people think that if you accuse them of an -ism or being an -ist then you’re a paranoid freak because they are so liberal and enlightened, how dare you surmise such that they are living in the stone ages. For example, it’s much more effective to tell a superior not to make work life balances decisions on my behalf and tell them my preferences directly vs accusing them of sexism.

I think people’s approaches to -isms have to differ depending on their geography and industry they are in.

Good thought provoking comment. More to follow. My post will be on the different kinds of actions you can take to fight the good fight. You can still make an impact without being vocal. (if that’s not your style). That’s my opinion. There is more than one way to skin a cat (sorry pet lovers).

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Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot October 18, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Personally I dont know how to define a feminist anymore, in fact, I wasnt aware the term was being actively used anymore. This was an interesting read, great article!

I was watching the news the other day, and they said that female executives in metro Detroit were on the rise. I believe they used a comparison between 2003 and 2011, and the fortune 500 companies that are located in the area. They included female board members as well. I forget what the percentage increase was, but it was pretty significant.

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Nicoleandmaggie October 18, 2011 at 1:26 PM

Here’s some different definitions of feminism: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/on-definitions/

Also agree with Donna that that Scalzi post is excellent: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/08/31/the-sort-of-crap-i-dont-get/

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Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer October 20, 2011 at 8:44 AM

I think younger women don’t understand that the ones that came before you had to be vocal or we might not be where we are today.

Women still are stymied by the glass ceiling, but we’re figuring out how to get around it versus through it!

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corpus christi ac repair October 21, 2011 at 12:19 AM

Nice Story , Sandy! a very good insight.. I do think people notice when you lead by example. I. Because if we stop fighting for the foot we still need, it will start being taken away, inch by inch.

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