THE BLOG

Why Is Workplace Sexism So Prevalent?

31/03/2014 11:35 BST | Updated 28/05/2014 10:59 BST

The view that men and women are now equal - that sexism doesn't exist anymore - is a pretty common one to come across these days. I am constantly having heated exchanges with my critics on Twitter, many of whom claim that we don't need feminism because women aren't being discriminated against and all of these campaigns for equality are just a lot of fuss about nothing. One even asked me what feminism has ever done for white, heterosexual men, a question I could only respond to by staring blankly at my phone for ten minutes before switching it off.

As I've mentioned before, sexism is invisible to a lot of people. This is partly because it is instilled so deeply within our society, and partly because it doesn't affect everyone in the same way. Unsurprisingly, the people who can't see sexism are usually the ones that it doesn't directly affect (this doesn't have to be men, it can also be women who are functioning within patriarchal structures and using them to their advantage). There are certain circumstances, however, when it is more difficult to ignore blatant acts of sexism and misogyny. One of these circumstances is the workplace.

It is generally agreed that the workplace should be somewhere that people are valued for their abilities, talents and professional attitudes. Although nepotism still exists, discrimination on any grounds is a legal matter that the majority of employers would not take lightly. So why is it still common for women to be stared at, harassed, groped and propositioned whilst at work?

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This blatant discrepancy between how we think people should be treated at work and how many women are actually treated at work makes workplace sexism one of the easiest forms to spot. Despite this, it is one of the most difficult to address. Women who report sexism at work often face disbelief, mockery, hostility and aggression. They fear that they will be told they are 'overreacting' (a classic gender stereotyped insult), or that they need to get a sense of humour. They even fear that they will be sacked.

Throughout my work life, I have experienced colleagues staring at my breasts, baiting me with 'hilarious' sexist jokes, making sexual comments about me and ignoring me in meetings. I have worked in places where there are obvious groups of 'lads' who seem to think they are entitled to make sexually explicit jokes and misogynistic comments at work without consequence. When I have stood up for myself or pointed out that this behaviour is disrespectful and offensive, I have received streams of sexist backlash that has lasted for months. I think it's time we took a step back and asked ourselves why this is happening.

Historically, the workplace was a man's domain. Could it be that this outdated, territorial idea is still a key aspect of our society? Perhaps. After all, there are similarly sexist reactions to men who venture onto the traditionally female ground of raising children full-time. Or maybe the casual sexism that exists in everyday life is magnified in the workplace by the close proximity with near-strangers, the need to make your own fun, and the urge to compete to be the alpha male of the group.

Whatever the cause, we all need to take a stand against all forms of workplace sexism. This could be by rebuking colleagues who make sexist remarks, reporting instances of harassment, or even stopping yourself from staring at a colleague's body. Your colleagues are not there to be looked at, they are not there to be insulted, touched or asked out. They are there to work, and it's about time we all realised it.

This post was originally published at tokenfeminist.com.