In my personal life, I don’t hold back when it comes to my politics, which are nothing if not in-your-face feminist. Why should I? I pick the people with whom I choose to socialize, and though they say you can’t pick your family, I give that my best shot as well. As for the professional life, we aren’t so lucky. Sure, we could try to pick our work and/or academic environments based on the people within them, but unemployment isn’t exactly fun. And so we get stuck holding back, curbing our words, and internally giving the biggest eyerolls ever while coworkers, bosses, professors, and students go on their merry ways.
Yes, it’s professional courtesy. Up to a certain point, that is. I don’t want to be subjected to the dude down the hall’s neo-conservative ramblings about birth certificates or welfare queens or whatever the hell the latest teabagging trend is, and I’m not going to randomly rant about abortion rights between meetings. The thing is, feminism is taken as OMG SO OFFENSIVE by so many people, like it’s socially inappropriate for me to not want to bow at the feet of the husband I surely want. Unless you work with or take classes from a huge asshole, they probably aren’t going to start talking about blatantly offensive things (unless you appear white, male, middle- or upper-class or all three, but that’s another article). They’re going to be much more subtle, and probably using some sort of “humor.” Like someone talking about how their sister blew a tire hitting a curb, because hurhurhur wimmin drivers! Or someone talking about how the reason there are so many women in a particular psychology program is that they’re just so naturally caring! Yeah, that little bit of sexism happened in my presence just recently, and yeah, it was a woman who said it.
But perish the thought that you speak up about such everyday, commonplace sexism and misogyny! Nope, because then you might face retaliation. In our personal lives, it might cost us some heartache, some energy, and maybe the loss of a friend who probably wasn’t that great of a friend to begin with. Certainly that is a major price, but it’s one we pay to keep our own controllable spaces safe. In our professional lives, it can cost a promotion, a recommendation, a desired assignment, and even a job. It’s that fear of retaliation that silences us, and in the most subtle ways. All it takes is one story on the news or heard from a friend of a friend to keep us from speaking up about that sexist professor or coworker.
As I go into my first professional environment in nearly a year and a half (I start practicum for a psychology graduate degree this week), the fear that I will face something that I can’t speak out against without fearing retaliation is very, very real. I’m aware that there are laws designed to keep that from happening with regard to inappropriate behavior in the workplace, but I also know that those are easy to get around. While I don’t have a promotion or raise at stake, I do have grades and recommendations that balance on nothing more than the opinion of supervisors and professors. I know I’ve got a bit of a habit of rallying the troops at the end of my articles and trying to start the intersectional feminist revolution, but I don’t have a way to do that here. All I can do is raise the issue, bring attention to it, and hope that even small actions will bring about some change. So I ask you, wise commenters with more experience than I, how do you deal with this? What say you about the feminist silence in professional environments?