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(en) Ireland, Dublin, The anarcha-feminist magazine RAG #1 - just a laugh?

Date Wed, 07 Nov 2007 09:34:56 +0200

Prepare your daughter for working life, give her less pocket money then your son.5 ---- In your face sexism in the workplace may be less prevalent today but perhaps it has simply found a new medium. Working in a male-dominated office environment has shown me just this. ---- Women working in 1950's Ireland encountered obvious, unashamed sexism on a daily basis. They had to contend with lower pay, very limited access to professional careers, little chance for promotion, thwarted recognition and forced resignation from state jobs upon marriage. Sexism was blatant, inappropriate remarks and derogatory terms were commonplace and acceptable. Now, fifty years on, most of the same challenges face working women in offices, shops and industry. However, it is fair to say that men tend to watch their p's and q's a little and attempt to master more "politically correct" language.

Although it is less likely that your male colleagues will suggest that you run along and tidy the office kitchen, there is a very good chance that he will send you an email outlining the "Top Ten Reasons" why a woman's place is in the home. On the whole, when these types of jokes are emailed (or sometimes even texted) around, the senders may not be motivated by malice. In order to break the monotony and apparently just for a laugh, jokes, cartoons etc., are emailed around between friends and workmates - messages bringing a moment of amusement to a grey desk.

Similar to other forms of sexism that have been highlighted by feminists for decades, these jokes attack a woman's self-confidence and self-worth. They are often based around degrading stereotypes such as: women are bad drivers, blonde women are stupid, all women only want to bag a man and all girlfriends should expect to be graded by the size of their breasts. No doubt there have been volumes written about the impact that this variety of sexism has on women. If people hear something often enough they can start to believe it. It is irritating, offensive and knocks a woman's self esteem. Most annoyingly it seems that your colleagues will view you as a killjoy if you raise any objections.

The sexist "joke" emails I receive daily highlight a strange obsession with women drivers. Women are trusted to drop the country's darling children off to school every day. Yet, according to the number of jokes in circulation, if a woman was to get into a car she would barely be able to fasten her seatbelt without causing a five-car pile up. Why is it that women drivers are at the butt of these jokes, and not women gardeners, women teachers or women cyclists? Perhaps some people have a problem with women controlling big machines or maybe they're just sore because we get cheaper car insurance.

Exactly what aspects of sexism do people find funny? Recent reports in both the Irish and UK media have highlighted scary statistics with regards to women in the workplace. The next time a male colleague gives you that "Aw, will you ever lighten up a bit" look, why not point out that while you and other women work full time in an equivalent job you can expect to be paid on average 15% less than him2. When considering part-time and unskilled labour the gender pay gap soars to a sickening 38%3. Information from the Irish National Council of Women has shown that women are at a greater poverty risk than men, with 23% of women at risk of falling below the poverty line2. This figure increases for older women and lone parents2.

The only heartening statistic appears to be the large increase in women students in the last 30 years. However, when all these women fill the (lower, no doubt) ranks of various professions, have they been prepared for the discrimination they are likely to encounter? We are told that there is no longer a need to be so ultra-PC, the glass ceiling has been smashed. Women and men are graduating side-by-side. However, a 2005 ERSI report entitled "Gender Pay Differentials among Recent Graduates", shows that just three years after graduating women earn on average 11% per week less than men. The value of bonuses received is approximately 25% higher among men. Men are more likely to have received a promotion with their current employers and more likely to have received employer sponsored training4.

In many professions and workplaces, pregnancy remains informally frowned upon; it is seen as opting out of a career. With the scarcity and expense of childcare, the complete lack of paternity leave and pressure to return to work as soon as possible, for women this is no laughing matter. Considering that the future of the human race is reliant on women continuing to give birth it is bizarre that it is viewed as a women's issue.

This leads to the question of why so few people acknowledge the very real extent of gender discrimination in the workplace. Why do men (and women) feel it is both suitable and amusing to spam their colleagues with sexist "humorous" emails? Why do they appear both confused and surprised when faced with a counter argument? This recent and less visible form of sexism may not seem critical to many but it is a symptom of a larger problem. Despite those who believe otherwise, sexism still exists and is everywhere experienced. If equality is to be achieved, a blind eye can no longer be turned on sexist "humour". Attention should be drawn to this practise, women are not second-class, we do not exist to be objectified and we are definitely not here to be ridiculed. It may be just for a laugh but any form of sexism reinforces the already oppressive atmosphere many women must work in. Sexism does not need a new guise, it needs to disappear completely.

Did you hear the one about the blonde who kept being sent sexist emails? She was pissed off and decided to do something about it…

by clare
1 Attachment to email I received on 11.11.05
2 "Women and Men in Ireland", Central Statistics Office Ireland, 2005
3 UK Equal Opportunities Commission, December 2005, www.eoc.org.uk
4 "Degrees of Equality: Gender pay differentials among recent graduates" Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), Dublin, November 2005
5 Taken from a UK Equal Opportunities Commission poster
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