Workplace sexism has definitely come to the forefront in recent years with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. While large campaigns like these are useful, perhaps the best work that can be done to dismantle men's harmful attitudes toward women in and outside of the office is through men having conversations with other men.
Men certainly don't make up 100 percent of perpetrators of sexism and harassment, but they make up the overwhelming majority, and often people aren't even aware of the underlying biases driving their actions and behavior.
A work anecdote shared on Twitter by a user named @sswyrs beautifully illustrates a discriminatory attitude many women have experienced: that no matter what they wear or what expression they have on their face, certain men will see them as being sexually provocative simply because they, the men, find these women attractive.
When Sawyer's boss comments that women shouldn't complain about how they're treated "when they do [stuff] like this," Sawyer turned around to see his boss was viewing a woman's LinkedIn profile. Leaving aside the "she's asking for it" connotations in his boss's observation, the tweeter found himself confused about what exactly his boss took exception to in the photo. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Now, I have seen a couple LinkedIn profile pics I would deem unprofessional as a person looking to hire another person. However, it sounds like what Sawyer saw on his boss's screen was a standard professional headshot, an attractive, smiling woman wearing a neutral, plain top. What could he find objectionable about this picture?
At first Sawyer thought his boss didn't like that she'd ostensibly taken the photo herself, and when Sawyer asked for more information, his boss indicated he deemed the photo provocative with an adjective I thankfully haven't heard in the workplace in a good five years.
But, as you'll recall from the previous tweet, Sawyer saw a woman from the shoulders up, wearing a gray t-shirt. Without seeing the photo, which I'm guessing Sawyer didn't share out of respect for this poor bystander's privacy and dignity, it doesn't sound like anything one could describe as too sexy for business, leaving aside the boss's misogynist terminology.
Sawyer reiterates that the only skin this woman "reveals" in her photo is her face, neck and collarbone — the same amount of skin any person of any gender would reveal in a standard gray t-shirt. The two men have such wildly different reactions to this photo, it's almost like they're literally seeing two different pictures on the screen.
And here is where I immediately want to know about the HR situation at this company. If I were to wager a guess, I'd conclude this is a very small business without a formal HR department, and if I were to continue placing calculated bets, I'd also guess there aren't a lot of women working there. At least I hope for the sake of all women there aren't, since they would have a boss who thinks people who post a certain kind of photo "deserve what [they] get."
Bravo to Sawyer for not clamming up and disengaging from the conversation. I'm sure the majority of people in his position would, for reasons I don't entirely discount. These two aren't peers but a subordinate and his boss, and standing up to him or even questioning his judgment could put Sawyer's job in jeopardy. As much as I wish all men would speak up to other men who display open sexism, I would get it if Sawyer just kept his mouth shut.
But instead, he asks his boss to define the problematic word "slutty" and then communicate what about this woman's headshot conveys that word to him.
And, as literally every woman reading this already expected, it was simply that she had the audacity to be attractive. Because this boss finds her "insanely hot" and she had the unmitigated gall to put her attractive face on her profile, she must be asking for it. As just about any woman has experienced, it doesn't matter what you wear. Men who hate women will find a reason why they deserve "it" — whether "it" refers to lower pay, fewer opportunities, or worse: assault.
And as Sawyer points out, this is made all the more disturbing by the fact that his boss felt perfectly safe expressing this sentiment at work to someone who reports to him, because they are both presumably male. Honestly, if I were him, this would send a chill up my spine and make me extremely wary and suspicious of my boss.
What he observed is something a lot of women have suspected some men think and feel but few get to see in such plain view. It's very unlikely Sawyer's boss would have felt comfortable having this discussion with a female coworker or subordinate, though honestly nothing could surprise me anymore. But it's safe to say most people who feel this way wouldn't be quite so candid with a female colleague.
Sadly, Sawyer says his boss is the president and owner of his company, so it's unlikely their conversation will lead to any big changes in the workplace except, I hope, a better work environment and boss for Sawyer. Here's hoping he's brushing up his resume and looking for a new job with fewer red flags.
And since it clearly needs to be said still in 2019, let's set a couple things straight for the record: Women are never "asking" for harassment or discrimination, regardless of what they wear or what they look like. And while it's certainly unavoidable to find people of the gender you prefer attractive, the fact that you find them attractive has absolutely nothing to do with how professional they are, how skilled they are at what they do for a living, or what they are how they conduct themselves in their public or private lives.
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