Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Myths of Men and Women. Or: Myths of Men, because what they say about ladies is true.

Yesterday the Metro News published an article written by Julia West entitled "Myths of Men and Women: He said/She Said, How to overcome gender stereotypes in the office."

"Gender stereotypes can be a severe hindrance to your work", writes West. A stereotype is something commonly believed or accepted but that rarely reflects reality. Gender stereotyping can completely hinder your work and your career advancement because any decision based on a stereotype is defined as discrimination. In Canada, discrimination is illegal. It is illegal to discriminate against somebody based on something that should not factor into your decisions: race, religion, age, sex,gender, sexual orientation, ability. Discrimination violates the Ontario Human Rights Act, the right to be free of discrimination is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and most businesses have policies around discrimination at work.

When I read the first sentence of her article I was encouraged. I thought maybe it would outline processes around dealing with discrimination or solidarity building tools for workplaces.  I was wrong. I was very, very wrong.

What I thought I was about to read was something along these line: "gender discrimination still happens, it's a big problem, and it's bad. So, here's how to fight it."

What I actually read, was this: "[gender stereotypes] also distract from serious issues and affect a person's comfort level. "Women who unwittingly adhere to gender stereotypes are less likely to be taken seriously for their abilities and contributions."

The article is essentially a How To Guide on "Proving Stereotypes Wrong" and the first piece of advice to women is to from Brenda Fiala, a Strategy SVP at some company: "Be Excellent...Set for yourself an expectation of delivering excellent work, and strive to do it positively and consistently," she says. When you're a good employee it gets noticed, regardless of sex."

Oh really? How interesting! I guess that explains the pay equity gap : women just aren't as good as men at their jobs, which makes it an individual problem and not a systemic one. Problem Solved! Thanks lady!

 Another business lady/author adds to the advice:  "Your role...is to contribute to the success of the business.  If you are not doing that first, you will be hard-pressed to blame gender discrimination."

That is because we live in a Meritocracy, a society in which the only thing holding us back is ourselves. If you are a dedicated, talented, hard worker than you will be rewarded and be successful. Right? Pull yourself up by your boot straps, get yourself off the ground, get back on the horse. We are supposed to be able to get what we want by working for it but, in reality, there are invisible(and not so invisible barriers) to our success. Sure, if you're a shitty employee you probably can't blame gender discrimination, but by definition discrimination is actions that are baseless and not informed by facts which is why discrimination is illegal. People realized that no matter how hard they worked, or how much better they were at their job than their colleagues, they weren't advancing. They were given more of the crappier work to do, got less recognition, less pay, and less opportunities for raises and promotions. That's because "being excellent" can't stop discrimination. Being an excellent worker, doing your job, "contributing to the success of the business" doesn't mean anything because the people who are evaluating you and who are in control of your well-being are only looking at one part of you, in this case they're only looking at the "woman" factor.

When Julia West writes "it's time to stop stereotypes in their track and move forward" she doesn't mean stop stereotyping, she means women need to stop being so stereotypical. "If there's a stereotype that you find offensive or degrading, simply don't perpetuate it." Resist your natural urge to gossip, because women are stereotyped as gossipy. "Maybe you know someone who insists that female bosses are moody or rash?" Well, in this case you shouldn't report them to your superior,you should prove them wrong by being "a strong leader by laying out expectations clearly and giving direct feedback." This advice isn't problematic because it's stupid, it's problematic because it assumes that stereotypes about women being bitchy, moody, irrational, and catty are true and that it's a woman's responsibility to "unlearn" these things. This flies in the face of decades of evidence that shows that certain groups of people are less likely to make equal pay, advance through promotion or salary raises, or even be offered job positions.  Individualizing a systemic issue doesn't stop gender discrimination, it allows it to become more entrenched because we ignore the true causes and effects of it. Acknowledging discrimination IS moving forward, what West and these other businesswomen have done is take a huge step backwards.

West's final piece of advice is about the "important of an appropriate wardrobe." No, seriously. If you want to be taken seriously, or as she puts it "a vital contributor to the company" you have to "look the part." Don't dress like you're "going out" you should dress in attired that you are comfortable in but that build confidence. "This doesn't mean dress like a man--it means keep it clean." Ohhh, I'm not making as much as my male colleague because I dress like I'm going to a club instead of going to work? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that most professional women have to deal with sexism so much that they are hyper vigilant about their business attire.

Women aren't discriminated against because they're naturally dumb shits and have historically proven that they can't work like men can. Women are discriminated against because they have been systemically oppressed and shut out of the public work sphere for centuries by institutions like the Church and State who benefit from having a group of people to do unpaid domestic labour.

That this article ran so nonchalantly in a paper with huge circulation is a testament to how ingrained sexism and gender discrimination still are.  Metro News should be ashamed that they ran something so insipid and uninformed, and Julia West should be ashamed that her name is on an article that sounds so ignorant.

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