Continuing our discussion from last week about covert vs. overt harassment, I want to bring up interactions with family members, coworkers, and friends. The examples provided last week were all about interactions with strangers, with overt harassment. That sort of harassment is the easiest to point out as wrong, offensive, and unacceptable. However, there are more serious and systemic forms of casual and covert harassment. While being threatened on the street is terrifying, being constantly demeaned and objectified is much more harmful overall because it normalizes viewing women as only bodies rather than a complete person.
One of my main issues is that casual or indirect harassment typically comes from a male gaze and is usually passively demeaning. For instance, at my current workplace, there is very little actual “work” that gets done. Additionally, my job primarily has male employees and mostly male customers. This unfortunately means I have to deal with customers who stare at my boobs behind sunglasses, constantly call me “sweetie” or “honey” (I am a person, not food), “compliment” my hair or attire, and a host of other minor, harmlessly demeaning comments and interactions. It isn’t bad enough for me to quit (I need money more than I need self-esteem apparently), but for every bad customer there are a few nice ones to make up for it. What is worse than the customers are my coworkers, who almost universally are sexist and bigoted.For instance, one day at work I wore a nice retro style dress and decided the store need to be vacuumed. Immediately, one of my coworkers made a comment about how I should be a housewife and then said I should get on my knees and dust something. However, because they aren’t always overt about their prejudices, it becomes difficult to resist their created environment. I tried to fight against their pervasive opinions but it’s tiring to the point where I don’t bother resisting them. I either shake my head or just say nothing. I cannot change these people, but it’s an oppressive environment. What’s worse is that they are not special and unique. Every other work environment I’ve been a part of has had it’s own culture of bigotry.
For instance, no one in retail likes Indians. No one. Every single job I have had is biased against them and while at first I resisted it, now I have joined them. Whenever I see an Indian in one of my stores, I assume they will smell, take forever, and be incredibly cheap. Obviously, this is a gross stereotype. But I have that now because of my environment. I’ve assimilated. As a minority opinion (Lesbians are not all man hating privilege seeking entitled bitches), no one listens to me and so I’ve just stopped bothering to disagree out loud, and my silence becomes acceptance, or at least compliance. Given the choice, I would work somewhere else, as it seems many other people with similar opinions have done. At my workplace, they had hired a gay man before me, but because of the bigoted environment, he did not feel comfortable and chose to leave. Bigotry has almost become normalized in my mind and that is wrong. We need to slowly change what is and is not acceptable in the workplace (and outside of it). And I definitely need to take more of a stance against it.
Recently, I chose to share with one of my coworkers that I am not straight. Despite his previous adamant denigration of lesbians previously, he accepted my statement by saying “That’s hot.” One form of bigotry met with another form of sexual objectification. Any woman who comes into my work has her body commented on after she leaves, each of my coworkers has his “girl” of the regular customers, and every male employee has made negative comments about women whose bodies do not meet their expectations. This is what I deal with on a regular basis. This is what many people deal with on a regular basis. Because this is “normal”.