Sneaky Sexism Can Go Away

What? What’s that? Oh, what, you are sniffing sexism but you can’t prove it? You’re working in sneaky sexism land.

How do you know you’re working in sneaky sexism land:

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  • Your boss tells you to be less “aggressive”
  • You’re called out for not smiling enough
  • Maybe your sweater sets are too distracting
  • Happiness becomes a metric for job performance
  • Lipstick, you are told, can do wonders
  • Apparently you made someone cry. And that is a bad thing.
  • No one likes you (or so your performance review says)


Why is this a problem?

Well, because women are never allowed to be many of the things these critiques on your performance review may say. Men? Aggressive is awesome! Don’t feel like smiling? If you have a penis, that’s okay.

Sneaky sexism is one of those things you can’t prove and can’t sue for. It’s one of those things that leads you to lose a job, but doesn’t allow you recourse. You know it’s sexist because you know of the double standard that women face (be nice, but aggressive enough to get ahead, don’t forget to make friends!), but your unemployment check doesn’t care.

So, what sneaky sexism have you encountered?

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

12 replies on “Sneaky Sexism Can Go Away”

This makes me feel rage-y and very lucky at the same time. I hate that this exists for so many women in the workplace, but I am so thankful that mine is not one of them. I manage a law firm and work almost solely with male attorneys, but they appreciate and admire my “take no shit, don’t think you can fuck with me because I am a woman” attitude. My partners have completely had my back in situations where people complained about how I treated them when it was clear that they expected deference and submissiveness as opposed to what they got, which was a big pail full of “go fuck yourself” to the face. I have been here so long that I forget what it was like to work for sexist assholes, male or female.

The part that bums me out the most is that the most subtle sexism I see around here comes from the other women in the office. I can’t even count the times I have asked someone complaining about a female attorneys behavior how they would feel about the situation if one of the male attorneys had done the exact same thing. The answer is ALWAYS that they would have thought little to nothing of it. All I can hope is that slowly but surely that will start to sink in.

I think women do this a lot, agreed. The worst sneaky sexism I ever got was at a workplace that was mainly female. That said, I’ve gotten it from men and women. I think part of the problem is that women don’t really have another model to look to, so it’s easy to slip into old patterns.

I met a woman this week who works in healthcare and was talking about it in a very informed, factual and intelligent way. In between all the information and balanced opinion she managed to slip in a sentence about how “many middle-aged receptionists” are not up to standards and tend to “get all female” when criticised. That wasn’t even sneaky. It makes it so much worse when it’s women who talk that way.

“I hate that this exists for so many women in the workplace, but I am so thankful that mine is not one of them. ”

Me too, feeling very lucky right now. Honestly I can’t say I’ve ever seen or heard of anything like this in my current job, and my last boss (male) was just as feminist as me with 20 years more experience.

So help me God, but at my last job every time I wore a skirt, suddenly I would get asked if I had a date that night. “Oh hay, you dressing up for someone?” No, damn you, my pants were all dirty. Like, oh hello, you look more girly today, let’s assume that you are doing it for a man. Drove me nuts.

One that I see/have seen a lot is men in the workplace treating the women they are supposed to work and collaborate with like personal assistants. A lot of times the men in these situations are the ones accountable for the information needed by the women, yet they expect the women to know these things for them. The women in question have had to get nasty about not being treated like that, and to be honest, I can’t blame them for it.

Ahh, great topic. I’ve been pretty lucky myself because I’ve always worked in female-dominated departments. Of course, sometimes women can serve up sexism against women, too.

Sexism affects me more when I try to publish my work. Romances are fine, of course; virtually all of the writers are women. But with literary poetry and fiction, women are at a huge disadvantage, as exhibited by every VIDA count.

If I were trying to sell a mainstream or literary novel, I would absolutely use a male pseudonym. Just like George Eliot!

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