What it’s like to be a woman

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a woman in a sexist culture? Or maybe you think sexism is all over now and why don’t we women stop our whining already? Check this out. A reader at Feministe wrote in, asking for advice because a co-worker sexually “harassed” (actually this qualifies as assault) her after she informed him (in the context of a Prop 8 gay marriage debate) that she is bi-sexual:

A few minutes later, he got up from his desk, walked over to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed me on the cheek. I was so startled, I froze. Then he tried to kiss me on the lips. I shoved my hand in between our faces and prevented him from doing so. He then tried to kiss me on the neck. I shoved him away. My only exit from the room was to run past him. He easily outweighs me by about 80 lbs. I was scared shitless of what would happen if I fled. I sat at my desk and shook, while he told me repeatedly that I “made” him do it. I “made” him kiss me. It nauseated me. He then told me that we’d keep it between ourselves, and said that the “other guys” won’t take kindly to me being bisexual and that he “has your back, sweetie”. That it would be “our little secret”.

But that’s not the worst part. No, if that was the worst part, it wouldn’t give you the slightest clue what it’s like to be a woman. The worst part is the company’s response:

Finally, today, I called and asked what the hell was going on. He said that they have “substantiated your report”. When I asked what was going to be done, they said that he will remain an employee (zero tolerance policy MY ASS) in my department, but that I will have zero contact with my assailant and any “contact would be accidental”.

There are three of them working in a satellite office. She and this man are two of them. They are to avoid so much as looking at each other, but he will still be allowed to attend meetings and other functions she can’t afford to miss. And – get this – the company says if they have to interact at meetings, to remember “we’re all adults here.”

This is what it’s like to be a woman. To know that if a man chooses to intimidate you, your company won’t understand why that bothers you. Boys will be boys, right? If you don’t like boys being boys, which is often used as a euphemism for straight-up rape and sexual assault, then you should stay home, quash your humanity, and learn to enjoy nothingness. We have drugs to numb you to it – open up and swallow like a good girl, and soon you’ll forget you ever had any feelings about anything.

Meanwhile, men like that keep right on using sex to hurt people. This is not the action of a typical man who’s made a mistake. This is a deliberate, calculated, carefully scripted technique for intimidation. I suspect he’s practiced it a number of times because he seems to have thought of such things as putting himself between her and the exit. He’s someone who makes a habit of using the implied threat of physical/sexual abuse as a form of emotional abuse.

But the company doesn’t see that as a real problem. Just a little misunderstanding.

I encourage you to read the comments at Feministe, because it gets pretty glum. Basically, she has a few options: call the police and have him charged with assault, sue him and/or the company, go to the EEOC, etc. But a number of commenters stress that there’s a fair chance she’ll lose her job if she takes any action. Having rights isn’t much help when your living is held over your head in an economy where jobs are hard to come by.

At no point was this man’s job in jeopardy. The company wants him. They’re probably hoping this woman leaves, since that would make it easier for them.

And that’s one snapshot of what it’s like to be a woman. It’s not just the individual psychos you have to deal with; it’s all the enablers who back him up because it suits their plans and they don’t really see you as a person they way they see men as people.


  1. Brandon says

    I didn’t catch how the company was more worried about losing him than her until you pointed it out. Shows how dense am.

    I know it’s possibly not the best response ’cause it would escalate the situation, but if a much bigger man did that to me I’d scream and/or look for a pen to stab him with (I’ve gouged a man with a screwdriver for far less). I don’t think I’d have the presence of mind to worry about my job.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Shows how dense am.

      Well, that’s how privilege works. I’ve seen similar examples from people less privileged than I am, and I was equally dense. Hence the tone of the article, which was intended to educate, not shame, anyone who didn’t immediately grasp the problem. I mean, I get why men don’t get this stuff until they think about it. Some women who’ve been lucky enough to escape ever having experiences like this don’t get it at first, either.

      I would have the presence of mind to worry about my job, sadly. I grew up in a poor family in which I was taught to feel very lucky The Man had even given me a job.

      • Brandon says

        I went back and read the original article, and I can see it’s more obvious there that they don’t care if she quits.

        Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I’d think in this day and age the threat of exposing someone as a bisexual wouldn’t hold much weight especially at a med school. Even in Texas.

        I don’t know why I find it surprising this is coming from a middle-aged married man. Completely disgusting behavior.

        • Jennifer Kesler says

          I think he was probably mistaken to think anyone gave a shit that she’s bisexual. It obviously didn’t give her the slightest pause about rushing to HR, like he thought it would – where, I assumed, she shared that part of the conversation since if she didn’t, he would have.

  2. Richie P says

    What the guy did is absolutely wrong, but from what I read in this blog and the blog it refers to, there is no indication that the company’s wrongful handling of the situation is sexism rather than just plain favoritism.
    I get it that this scenario would never realistically happen with the genders reversed, but if it did, I see no reason to believe the company would not be unjustly lenient on the female perpetrator if those in charge particularly like her.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      It was favoritism of a man who sexually assaulted a woman. Gee, nothing sexist about that.

      I think you are on the wrong blog for your personal worldview.

  3. Rebecca says

    This is a very old post that I’m replying to, and I don’t know if anyone will see this, but I just found this post and thought I’d reply anyhow…

    I am the woman who asked Feministe that question.

    I went to the EEOC, which made my options even more glum.

    Because the company did something (even if it amounted to nothing), the EEOC could not step in. They can only step in if I was assaulted a second time. Until I was assaulted again, in the eyes of the law, my employer’s actiosn were sufficient. It put the ball in the hands of my assailant.

    I contacted the police, who said that getting kissed was not enough to file a report.

    I consulted with a lawyer about suing him. Because there were no witnesses or security cameras in the room at the time of my assault, it would be a He Said/She Said trial. She warned me that I would be slut shamed. That my personal life and my husband’s personal life would be put on trial. That the fact I’m not a straight or Christian woman versus a straight Christian man would be damning. That the fact that I was raped as a teenager would probably be dragged out.

    I consulted another lawyer and got the same advice- that I was more than likely going to lose.

    So I quit my job. I did not press charges. I did not sue.

    I have not been able to find full time employment ever since. I now work as a contractor, make a fraction of what I used to make, and have no benefits. When my contract expires, I do not know what I will do.

    How’s that for privilege?

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      How’s that for privilege?

      Really, really sickening. So a forced “kiss” doesn’t qualify as a sexual assault in Texas? And if your employer burps in response to a harassment allegation, that blocks the EEOC from stepping in. Rubbish. I’m actually a little surprised, and as you know from the article, I was already aware your “options” weren’t as good as they should be. But this is abysmal.

      You certainly have my sympathy, which is mostly in the form of rage on your behalf. And sexual predators do not reform, so it’s not just you, but all the future women who will have to deal with this man. Your former employers – the individuals involved in deciding to let him slide – disgust me no end. I say this knowing they might read it: if anyone must be homeless, ever, certainly people like them deserve it the most. Asshole enablers.

    • Red says

      I’m so, SO sorry about this. It royally sucks that happened to you and NO ONE should ever have to go through that.

      Still, I have every reason to believe that, at some point in the future, he’ll pull something similar with the ONE GIRL who will scream “PERVERT!” (or just scream)/ slap him/ shove him away with force and go running right to the head honcho’s and telling them exactly what happened. The fact that he’d done it before would come into play at some point. A threat of a massive lawsuit if he isn’t properly dealt with… and you have karma.

  4. The Other Anne says

    I experienced what I thought was a privilege. I posted two articles on Facebook, one about the recent case that led to the reimbursement of a woman fined 500$ for a false rape report (that was far from false) and another about a woman who is one of the very very few false rape allegations I ever hear about that actually led to a trial and conviction. And that woman recanted and is now in prison. A man a know was accused of raping a woman. The thing is, it is utterly believable for him to have raped. I know at least one underage girl (I was also young at the time) who he tried to take advantage of. Men all love him. They think he is the greatest guy. But he is such a sleaze. So now since nothing came of that I know my brother uses it as evidence that women are totally bitches out to get men.

    So he went all MRA on me in the comments on Facebook, saying all the typical things, but adding that “false rape claims should get waterboarding AND the chair. Actual rapists, just the chair.” I love my brother. But he is incredibly stupid sometimes. He is a typical fauxgressive. And I live with him, so I am constantly bombarded with the realization that I cannot trust him to be my ally.

    He makes the claim that false rape allegations ruin lives and reputations. It is a privilege to be able to say that with a straight face. WTF does he think rape does to people?Because apparently it isn’t as bad.

    I didn’t know where else to share this and I was frustrated. But this is also what it’s like to be a woman: to feel that I cannot even trust my brother to have my back.

  5. Casey says

    Here’s another “What It’s Like” anecdote.

    I had the extreme misfortune to eavesdrop on my mom’s cell-phone conversation with a friend (our bedrooms are three feet apart and the walls are very thin), she was talking to her about an episode of Dr. Phil where a woman (she noted it was “some fat ugly chick”) talked about how five years ago, her husband raped her when she was couch-ridden from an ankle injury. First my mother scoffed at how long the woman waited (“FIVE YEARS? WHY DID SHE WAIT SO LONG TO TELL YOU KNOW SHE’S JUST MAKING IT UP”) and how laughable of a claim it was, not only because it was a matter of unenthusiastic consent (ie, her husband badgered her into having sex and she went along with it to make him leave her alone) but at the fact that “ZOMG DR. PHIL TREATED IT LIKE REAL RAPE! HE JUST DOESN’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A CHICK, YANNO? IF WE HAD A DOLLAR FOR EVERY TIME WE HAD TO DO THAT, WE’D BE MILLIONAIRES!”

    So now I know not only that my own mother’s a repeat victim of rape via coercion/unenthusiastic consent but also that if I were ever raped and either sat on reporting it for “too long”, was raped in a manner that she deems as “just something women have to deal with” or BOTH, then I’ll get no sympathy.

    I wish I could move out, but I’m broke and unemployed. I’ve never “really” been abused, but the sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/classist/every other -ist stuff under the sun my parents spew out of their mouths every day makes me feel, I dunno…intellectually unsafe?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>