To be entirely transparent, I have never experienced physical violence in my workplace. The type of gendered violence I’m going be addressing is that which affects the atmosphere of the workplace, the mentality you have when you are there, and pay discrimination. Violence is a heavy word and I understand many may not agree with my use of it here, but I feel strongly that treatment that threatens ones livelihood is violent in it’s own way. This is not a call out, I will not be naming these organizations, I will not be addressing this to anyone in particular, but I feel it is necessary to talk about the kind of treatment women and feminine presenting people often experience in the workplace.
There are many ways that gendered violence can manifest in places of business, and many of them are disregarded regularly enough as “just the way it is.” This is not an intro to feminism lecture so I’m not going to try to explain the intricacies of the patriarchy here, just rely my specific experiences in a small business and a nonprofit environment.
I started working at a small business when I was 19 years old. I was hired on at $8 per hour plus tips to work 15-20 hours a week. Six months down the road, and I was working 30-35 hours a week while also going to school full time. Fast forward another six months and I have hit my year mark without a word from supervisors about a performance review or pay increase. I email one of the five owners, asking to speak about these matters and wait three weeks for a response in which I am offered a 50 cent raise.
I asked for a re-consideration and a full dollar raise, considering I’m working close to full-time hours, have been called upon to help train new hires, and had been at the job longer than two of the three current managers. An owner asked to meet with me, and I arrived early. The owner was half an hour late, did not acknowledge me, and sat down to another meeting (with the male managers) that was scheduled before mine. After said meeting, I was still not acknowledged and was left waiting for another half hour before I left.
I made my upset known to the other owners and was eventually given my full dollar raise, but with no apology for the disrespect shown to me. Another couple of months later, I learn that two men who had been hired a month prior to me, with less experience and less availability, had been hired on at the rate of $8.50 an hour, which is what was offered to me after a full year. Adding insult to injury, men around me that I had helped to train were being given raises and management positions. I left before the completion of my second year.
This was subtle violence and disrespect. Since leaving I have heard the same treatment has been continuing with non-male employees. The only woman in management out of the four managers has consistently been relied on more heavily and been saddled with most of the administrative work. Even with this disrespectful treatment, it was hard to leave this job. The owners were the main perpetrators and my co-workers were like a little family and I miss them all the time.
I experienced much more severe and plain discrimination at a non profit I worked at shortly after leaving the small business. There, it was more gradual and misleading. It was a venue space, and I worked almost every position available in my two years there. My direct superior was a man with an entirely feminine presenting staff.
This alone sets up a very precarious power dynamic, as people raises as women are pushed to be subdued, hard-working without bravado, less argumentative, and more accepting of situations that make them uncomfortable. My superior often took advantage of this, giving feedback in aggressive tones, invalidating and diminishing concerns, and giving no instruction or indication that there was anyone else that we cold bring our concerns to. He paired this with hugs, kisses on the cheek, insistence that he was here for us and would defend us before the customers, and calling us a team, emphasizing that he was not a manager, but just a part of the “family.” He made a big show of giving good recommendations to potential employers, but only if those employers wouldn’t take us away from his staff entirely.
As time went on, I was less and less friendly and accepting of this treatment, and therefore was often subject to “meetings” in which my performance was critiqued and my concerns were minimized or invalidated. Finally, enough was enough and I requested more senior staff attend a meeting. In this meeting I attempted to make it known the environment that I had been working in, but it became obvious that they weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say. After I was again belittled by my superiors, I gave them my notice. In this case, I knew I would not be able to work under my current supervisor anymore and I was not confident that the company was going to take action.
The lack of resources given to us upon being hired, the lack of oversight of our superior, and his efforts to get each of us to work harder but not to give any of us a title or performance based raise, all contributed to a hostile and unwelcoming work environment for the feminine people who worked there.
It was harder to see that this violence was gender based, because it was happening to all of us, and we were all feminine presenting, so there was little comparison to be made. However, the refusal to hire men, the inappropriate comments on appearance, and the use of the inherent power dynamic made for a convincing case. It of course didn’t help that he insisted that white men were the problem, were always a problem, and in doing so insinuated that his own minority status made him exempt from the oppression against women and feminine presenting people in this country.
I could have just left without saying anything, as I did with the small business, but this experience had been so detrimental to my mental health, my school performance, and my work place habits, that I felt the need to speak up for my coworkers. This is not something everyone has the ability to do, and much of the reason I stayed as long as I did was due to my financial reliance on the job. It took more mistreatment than I have the time or capacity to share to push me to leave regardless of my financial consequences. It took a lot of tears, shakes, anxiety attacks, and validation from friends to give me the confidence to bring my concerns forward.
Why it Matters
I’m writing these experiences out not because I want to shame these establishments, and if you know me personally then you know who they are, but the point is not to “cancel” anyone. Putting these experiences together in one place, listing the numerous times that I was mistreated along with the reasons I loved these jobs, is my effort to give an accurate representation of how gendered violence can function in the workplace. These spaces seemed innocuous at first, and the dynamic harmless, but upon closer inspection and analysis of separate experiences, the social structures make themselves known.
I hope in reading about my experiences, people can start to notice these things in their own lives, whether targeted towards themselves or others. Social structures like patriarchy don’t disappear over night, and they won’t change unless we make them. For more information on these issues, please refer to links here and here. For information on how to file a claim against a workplace for gender discrimination, go here.
Maybe you believe my analysis of events maybe you don’t, but the experiences depicted here are real and true. Either way, thank you for reading. I’ll update again soon.