The Working Woman's Dilemma
Until a few months ago sexual harassment on the job was a taboo topic. We all knew of its existence, but most of us simply accepted it as part of the work situation. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination we can no longer ignore.
Many women have said they've never been its victims. We need to understand that sexual harassment is more than repeatedly being touched, propositioned or leered at by a male employer. It is being judged as a sexual being rather than solely as a worker. Women workers are measured by their attractiveness, flirtatiousness and availability, not by their job performance and expertise.
Like rape, sexual harassment is an abuse of male power (in this case economic power -- the power to hire or fire). And, like rape, all women are its potential victims because it is exercised arbitrarily by our male employers.
"Men make up the rules of the game"
Men make up the rules of the game. And when the rules include a measure of "desirability," then we cannot be taken seriously as workers unless we also pass the Desirability Test.
A scale of employment qualifications which includes such tests affects all women workers. Its effects are particularly visible when we look at the situations of older women, not traditionally "attractive" women and pregnant women. They are the first to get edged out of the job market by the sexual harassment system.
Studies of the work patterns of women over 40 indicate that older women have a turnover rate one sixth that of women in their 20's, take less sick leave and are more competent. Nevertheless, these women have a higher rate of unemployment than younger women and than their male counterparts.
One obvious inference from these facts is that employers accept the stereotyped image of older women as unattractive and refuse to hire them for this reason. If employers were basing hiring decisions on objective criteria, then older women would be the most fully employed women in the labor market.
Women as a group are underemployed, underpaid, exploited workers. Temporarily, we may be fortunate enough to have a nice boss (there are some) and a secure job. However, we could be forced to compromise some day to keep our jobs, and surely we all face getting older and being replaced by a younger, more desirable woman.
As women, we are trained to compete with each other for men's favors. In the job market, where the stakes are high, we compete for jobs, promotions, raises -- for our livelihoods. We all know of situations where one woman was passed over for a job or promotions and a more "desirable" woman got the position. We know the anger and resentment we are made to feel toward the woman who won. We end up blaming ourselves or other women for this situation.
All of us need to examine more closely the power of the men who judge us by standards that are not jobrelated. When these sexual criteria are applied to us we have few choices about what to do. We have to assert that no woman should have to tolerate sex-based intimidation on her job. Only when we stand together and fight for what is rightfully ours -- the right to be judged on our ability alone -- will we finally end discrimination and make equal opportunity a reality for ourselves and our daughters.
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