By Anu Akibu, V Form
Sexism in the Workplace Through a Critical Social Justice Lens
This was an essay I wrote for the class Social Justice. We were tasked to “write an analytical essay that evaluates [a] resource through a critical social justice lens, applying the terms, ideas, and concepts we studied in this module.” The article analyzed in this essay is Boston Has Eliminated Sexism in the Workplace. Right?, so the issues presented focus on American society. I am still learning about critical social justice and challenging the way I view the world around me.
The Boston Magazine article explores the gender-wage gap in prestigious jobs at presumably equitable areas of the United States such as Boston. Highlighted within the article are the narratives of various women’s experiences with discrimination and microaggressions in their workplace. Although the companies have taken action against sexism in the workplace, there are still numerous ways for society’s cultural and ideological nature to align with its progressive efforts.
To understand why these inequalities are occurring, one must first understand the historical background of gender roles in the United States. Sexism is not a recent phenomenon as some might believe. As stated in the textbook Is Everyone Really Equal, the exclusion of women from prominent institutions “did not end the day suffrage was granted” because “to reshape the insitution[s] and [their] norms and practices would take generations efforts” (Sensoy & DiAngelo 67). Yes, women’s rights were now backed by laws, but women were still a part of institutions that have operated years under sexist ideologies. Men dominated America’s frameworks and continued to hold dominance even after legal action was taken because the idea that women were inferior to men had become the culture throughout America. If men wanted to proceed with this view, they could. Not only did other men think this way, but there were still influential establishments that supported this mentality. For women, overcoming the traditional gender roles meant overcoming the androcentric, or male-centered, culture that was present in every aspect of their society. Centuries of oppression could not be abolished overnight.
With this foundation, one can now connect the trends from history to this article that illustrates the effects of these ideologies. From the 19th to the early 20th century, women gained more equality in the legal sphere, and now, they are fighting for equality in the work sphere with equal pay. According to the article, in Boston, a woman made “77 cents” for every dollar a man made, which was “(six cents worse than previous estimates)” (Carmichael 1). This was not a unique trend. The article states that out of “New York City; San Francisco; Washington, DC; and Durham, North Carolina…Boston has a wider wage gap…” (1). This is in effect because some men still maintain that “men are stronger leaders or more original thinkers [while] women are better organized or equipped with ‘soft skills’ is the norm of society” (1). In consequence, men in prestigious institutions who regard these stereotypes as true can use their power to stunt female applicants. This is demonstrated in Kathleen’s story where her boss suggests that “women with kids weren’t ambitious or hard-working,” which justified their “terrible maternity-leave policy” (2). Her boss has rationalized the idea that men were above women, and in doing so, acted upon his prejudice to discriminate against any possible female candidate. Unfortunately, he is not the only one maintaining an oppressive system.
It is only now difficult to find trends because today the structural inequalities are unveiled through implicit biases, or as the article states “unconscious biases” that are challenging to decode and identify as sexist. For instance, some of the women mentioned in the article would agree that their companies are making efforts to being more inclusive, but are being set back by people who “believe that [they are] simply slotting the best candidates into roles that most naturally suited their abilities” (Carmichael 1). However, several studies have shown women not being hired at all when compared to a male applicant: “A 2016 study found that when there was only one female candidate in a pool of four finalists, her odds of being hired were a staggering zero percent…” (3). Resultantly, women who constantly see themselves “dominat[ing] the customer support roles [and] men [dominating the] more technical roles” eventually develop internalized oppression. They end up believing that this phenomenon is the norm (1). In conjunction, men also notice these trends and manifest an internalized dominance. Together, they perpetuate the cycle of oppression: one group feels helpless and accepts their minority status, while the advantaged group gains power from the other’s helplessness.
The androcentric hegemony of American society continues to prosper because of the historical normalization of the socially constructed gender roles. From the article, it is apparent that certain jobs are still synonymous with masculinity preventing women from advancing in their field. Women are considered “soft,” but this only reinforces the structural inequalities that justify the discrimination against women in “harder” positions dominated by men. The article may have only provided the experiences of four individuals, but the studies presented correspond with their anecdotal evidence. Some might argue that women are complaining about something that does not exist and that men have done enough for equality. In response, I ask, “Why then ‘[i]n fields such as biology, women now make up the majority of college students, yet are still not getting into the highest-paying jobs’” (3)? Why is it that businesses must cover the genders of applicants for there to be an impartial hiring process? One must not assume we are a just society because people are not outwardly expressing their prejudices against each other. Oppression is like a panopticon: the intangible power of the oppressor does not need to be seen for it to exist.
Anu Akibu is a V Form boarding student from Worcester, Massachusetts. She likes reading, acting in the school plays, and hanging out with friends.