Stop Silencing Women in Professional Spaces

By: Ellie Blaser

 Kamala Harris,  photo via NYMag.com

Kamala Harris, photo via NYMag.com

This past Tuesday, while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Kamala Harris, California’s first black, female senator, was interrupted twice. The first time was by Sessions, who would not listen to Harris’ questions and instead spoke over her multiple times, pleading his case. Harris did not let this deter her, continuing to make her point. Unsurprisingly, it was not long until she was interrupted again, but this time it wasn’t by Sessions.

“The witness should be allowed to answer,” Senator John McCain told her loudly, prompting Harris to stop talking and Sessions to visibly, gleefully laugh.

A scene like this, where a qualified woman is treated poorly in a professional work environment, is not exactly new. It can be found in David Bonderman resigning from Uber after he made a sexist remark towards one of his colleagues, and in Senator McConnell’s now famous statement: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Recently, The New York Times put out a call on Facebook asking women to come forward with stories of sexism in the workplace. The comments section was, unsurprisingly, jam-packed.

“I can't even count the number of times I've witnessed a woman being interrupted and talked over by a man, only to hear him later repeat the same ideas she was trying to put forward,” said Grace Ellis, echoing the sentiments of several other commenters. “This really is incredibly common.”

The reality, of course, is that women not being treated with respect in the workplace is something that has been going on for decades, and most people likely don’t need a refresher. We’ve all heard the stories about secretaries from the 50s being treated like cattle, and there are multiple television programs (including Mad Men and Good Girls Revolt) that focus on this particular problem. It sometimes feels like old news.

And yet at times, we ignore that this is still a problem today, instead opting to pretend that women being treated unfairly at work is a thing of the past. “First of all, this is the 21st century. Women have never been more respected,” said blogger Gina Davis in a May 2016 post for The Odyssey Online. When we perpetuate the idea that sexism is apparently dead and that women are treated better than ever before in the political sphere, we allow ourselves to ignore the rampant discrimination that still persists throughout the workforce for all women.

But that’s not the only problem. We live in a time when new political blood is paramount, and often, we read pieces and hear stories about calls for women to start running for political office and getting their voices heard. “Women, we’re like, ‘Well, maybe after 10 years of working …’ No. Just run for the office you want to run for and run on the issue you want to fix,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to New York Magazine. The sentiment is that we need women in office, or else nothing will change.

This is a concept that I highly agree with, but I also think it must be acknowledged a deterrent for many women is likely episodes similar to the one that happened on Tuesday. When little girls see things like what happened to Harris, some of them might view it as an opportunity to fight for what is right. But others might see a woman be bullied and condescended to. We cannot expect young women to be inspired to get involved in politics if treatment like that of Harris is what they have to look forward to.

The reality is, whether someone wants to admit it or not, most women have encountered some form of talking-down to and condescension by a man due to their sex. The feeling in your gut is something that I think a lot of us can relate to: a profound sense of anger and frustration, coupled with feeling a little as though you are being scolded like a little girl. In the documentary The Punk Singer, artist Kathleen Hanna put this feeling into words:

“When a man tells the truth, it’s the truth. And as a woman, when I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate how I’m perceived,” Hanna said. “I feel like there’s always suspicion around a woman’s truth. The idea that you’re exaggerating.”

As a young feminist, I want to see more female politicians more than I can put into words. I want an equal amount of women in politics. I want so badly to actually have a woman as the president, and not have to keep whispering “she won the popular vote” over and over to myself in order to not go crazy. These are the things that I personally want – and that I know that a lot of other women want as well – but I also know that it is not easy, and that being a woman in politics in often not the most appealing thing in the world.

We as a society cannot cheer women on and then ignore when they are treated poorly by their peers. We need to call these events out and listen when women tell us stories of disrespect. If we don’t listen to these tales and work to stop this sexism, we cannot expect to see more women entering into politics.

It is 2017, Donald Trump is the president of the United States, and several republican politicians like to claim that they do not agree with many of his policies. They showed disgust at his infamous “grab em’ by the pussy” recording and will come out saying that they disagree with his statements. And yet, they continue to treat women who are their equals as though they are lesser. They speak over these women because they do not care to hear what they have to say. They cause a man giving testimony during an intelligence hearing to gleefully laugh, because he knows that despite the setting, these men are on his side.

They treat these women as though they are little girls. But I am not a little girl, and neither is Kamala Harris. We’re grown women and we deserved to be treatment with respect.


Ellie BlaserComment