Women—Respected in the Workplace?
“Whether single or married, the majority of the men viewed the women as fair game.”—Jenny, formerly a legal secretary.
“Sexual harassment and abuse of females in the hospital setting is notorious.”—Sarah, a registered nurse.
“I was constantly propositioned at work, you know, immoral suggestions.”—Jean, a registered nurse.
DO THESE cases represent an exceptional situation, or are they widespread? Awake! interviewed a number of women with experience in the workplace. Were they respected and treated with dignity by their male counterparts? These were some of their comments:
Sarah, a nurse from New Jersey, U.S.A., with nine years’ experience in U.S. military hospitals: “I remember when I served in San Antonio, Texas, and a vacancy arose in the Kidney Dialysis Department. I asked a group of doctors what I would have to do to get the job. One answered with a smirk, ‘Go to bed with the head doctor.’ I just said, ‘On those terms I don’t want the job.’ But that is often how promotion and jobs are decided. The woman has to bend to the dominant lusting male.
“On another occasion, I was working in an intensive care unit fixing IVs [intravenous lines] to a patient when a doctor came by and pinched my rear. I was furious and stormed out to a nearby room. He followed me and said something crude. I just slugged him right into a garbage can! I went straight back to my patient. Needless to say he never harassed me again!”
Miriam, a married woman from Egypt who formerly did secretarial work in Cairo, explained the situation for women working in an Egyptian Muslim setting. “Women are more modestly dressed than in Western society. I didn’t observe any physical sexual harassment in my workplace. But there is sexual harassment on the Cairo subway to the degree that now the first car is reserved for women.”
Jean, a quiet but determined woman with 20 years’ experience as a nurse, said: “I followed a strict policy of never dating anyone at work. But the harassment came whether I was dealing with doctors or with male orderlies. They all thought they had the psychological advantage. If we nurses did not ‘cooperate’ with them in their sexual desires, then the orderlies would not be around when we needed help to lift a patient onto a bed and suchlike things.”
Jenny worked as a legal secretary for seven years. She explains what she saw while working with lawyers. “Whether single or married, the majority of the men viewed the women as fair game. Their attitude was, ‘As lawyers we have earned it, and women are one of our privileges.’” And the evidence seems to indicate that other professionals have the same opinion. But what can a woman do to reduce harassment?
Darlene, a black American who worked as a secretary and as a restaurant hostess, said: “Things can go wrong if you fail to establish your boundaries of conduct. If a man starts to tease you and you tease back, then things can easily get out of hand. I have had to state my position clearly on different occasions. I have used expressions such as, ‘I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak to me in those terms.’ On another occasion I said: ‘As a married woman, I find what you have said to be offensive, and I don’t think my husband would appreciate it.’
“The point is, if you want respect, you have to earn it. And I don’t see how a woman can earn respect if she tries to compete with men in what I call locker-room talk—off-color jokes and sexual insinuations. If you blur the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable speech and conduct, then some guy will try to cross it.”
The Bullying Male
Connie, a nurse with 14 years’ experience, explained another form of harassment that can crop up in many settings. “I was working with a doctor on a normal change-of-dressing routine. I followed all the standard procedures that I had learned. I know all about sterile technique, and so forth. But nothing was right for that doctor. He ranted and raved at me and criticized my every move. This kind of thing, putting women down, is pretty frequent. Some men have an ego problem, and it seems they have a need to impose their authority over the women working with them.”
Sarah, previously quoted, added her experience in this regard. “I was working in preparation for an operation when I checked out the vital signs of the patient. His EKG [electrocardiogram] record was so irregular that I knew he was in no condition to be operated on. I made the mistake of drawing this to the attention of the surgeon. He was furious, and his response was: ‘Nurses should pay attention to bed pans, not EKGs.’ So I just notified the head anesthesiologist, and he said that under these circumstances his team would not cooperate with the surgeon. Then the surgeon turned around and told the man’s wife that I was to blame for her husband’s not being operated on yet! In that setting a woman cannot win. Why? Because you have unwittingly threatened a male ego.”
Clearly, women are often subjected to harassment and demeaning conduct in the workplace. But what is their standing before the law?
Women and the Law
In some countries it has taken women many centuries to achieve even theoretical equality under the law. And where the law spells out that equality, a wide abyss often separates theory and practice.
The UN publication The World’s Women—1970-1990 states: “Much of this gap [governmental policy gap] is embodied in laws that deny women equality with men in their rights to own land, borrow money and enter contracts.” As one woman from Uganda said: “We continue to be second-rate citizens—no, third-rate, since our sons come before us. Even donkeys and tractors sometimes get better treatment.”
The Time-Life publication Men and Women states: “In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote—long after they had already won that right in many European countries. But the franchise was not granted in Britain until 1928 (and not until after World War II in Japan).” To protest the political injustice to women, a British suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, threw herself in front of the King’s horse in the 1913 Derby and was killed. She became a martyr in the cause of equal rights for women.
The very fact that as late as 1990, the U.S. Senate considered the “Violence Against Women Act” shows that male-dominated legislatures have been slow to respond to the needs of women.
This brief picture of the treatment of women earth wide leads us to the question, Will matters ever be different? What is necessary for the situation to change?
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