You might remember the feminist phrase “The personal is political.” It emerged around 1970 to acknowledge that much of what went on in an individual woman’s life had its roots in the wider culture.
And you’ll still hear it today, highlighting societal issues that impact individual lives.
How ‘bout a corollary: The professional is personal. At least when it comes to women.
Silicon Valley sexism has been much in the news.
- Uber has a new chairman—the old one was ousted as the company became famous for sexual harassment and discrimination.
- Facebook and Tesla are fighting lawsuits over pervasive harassment, outrageous insults and lower pay for women.
- Dozens of smaller companies have signed settlements (and non-disclosure agreements) with women whose lawyers say, “It’s far worse than people know. People would be appalled at some of the behavior that goes on at the workplace.”
We probably would be. And, it turns out the high-tech bros are by no means the only men mistreating their female colleagues and competitors.
Vicious, vile, sexist rhetoric is rampant among (are you ready?) economists.
Yes, I know, there’s that nerdy stereotype: pocket protectors, mathematical models and deep analysis. Underneath all that, it seems economists are spewing sexism.
Researcher Alice Wu used an online forum for econ students and faculty members to study gender stereotyping. And she found plenty of it!
As Wu put it, “the discourse tends to become significantly less academic or professional oriented, and more about personal information and physical appearance when women are mentioned.”
And that isn’t the half of it.
The words most commonly associated with women on the message board are: hotter, lesbian, baby, sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, ugly, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
No, the budding economists have no similar lingo in their posts about men. When it comes to men, they’re using words like Wharton, mathematician and adviser. Although it is true that homosexual and homo also crop up mainly in posts relating to men.
Aside from making us look askance at the next economist we run into, what’s the point of all this?
I don’t have the equations that Amy Wu has to back it up, but I’m going to say these raunchy economists are not so different from people in all kinds of other professions. Particularly when they’re posting anonymous comments on a message board.
The rest of us must not dismiss porn-worthy posts and tasteless Tweets as harmless fun or boys being boys.
What my mother used to call “locker room talk” is liable to spread way past the locker room. The discourse becomes less professional and more personal when women are mentioned.
Think about those women in Silicon Valley and beyond who are being mistreated at work.
If men talk crudely among themselves about their female colleagues, how do we expect them to respond when a woman speaks up in a meeting, a conference call or even a casual conversation?
If the words they use when they talk about women are slut, feminazi and tits, how likely is it that they take a woman at work seriously when she states an opinion? Or asks a question? Or gives them direction?
Right. This kind of professional disrespect needs to stop. Now. Because the professional is personal.
What if we—all of us, male and female—just decided we’re done with that? What if we said we intend to work in atmospheres of mutual respect? What if people actually paid a professional price for being overtly sexist?
We might finally change the tone in a lot of professional settings for good. Open new relationships that benefit all of us. Create a much different atmosphere for the young men and women who will be joining us at our jobs.
So my question is: are you in? Post a comment about your experience…and your intention to create offices and board rooms and shops where women and men really can work as equals.