“. . . most people affected don’t speak up . . .”

Early for lunch on a Monday, Mario and I are walking across campus to get a cheap burrito. Mario has to slow his stride so I can keep up, but he is used to it by now. Our conversation is focused on a paper he is writing about teaching statistical collaboration.

While we are waiting in line, he continues, “One of the cases that my students discuss is about sexual harassment. It challenges them to think about what they would do in different scenarios. You should read it.” This invitation is followed by the wide smile of a friend looking for another pair of hands on a project. 

“So, what do your students say? I understand that most people affected don’t speak up. They often just try to get another position, somewhere out of Dodge, and avoid further damage. You should read the recent study from the National Academies. Hostile work environments are pervasive for women trainees in medicine and sciences.”

“I guess my students are idealistic because they have limited experience in the workplace. They say that they wouldn’t work for a sexist.” 

“Well, I wouldn’t either,” I retort, as a matter of fact. 

“Oh, what will you do?” Mario replies. “Go to Human Resources? Quit your job?”

Mario added words of vinegar to my baking soda. Fzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. “Of course, I’m not going to work for a sexist! As long as I have any choices, I won’t. Why would I contribute my energy to someone with a worldview that devalues women? I am a woman.” 

“What would you like on your burrito, ma’am?” The shop employee redirects our attention to the matter at hand. 

Mario and I pick-up different types of salsa at the bar, and as we settle face-to-face in a booth, he refines the question, “What I’m getting at is how will you know if they are a sexist?”

“It is something you feel. You can tell if someone really sees you or not, and how they see you. Especially over time.” I’m feeling irritated, reactive, about to fizz over. 

I imagine we are both mentally scanning a list of people we’ve worked with over our careers, each reviewing different reel tapes of personal experiences and community wisdom.

“OK,” Mario concedes, sensing my struggle and graciously ending the volley. I briefly wonder about the parameters of my friend’s empathy around gender bias. I’m sure he has learned a good deal from his wife over their many years together. He also got a good start from his mother and sister. There is the big and obvious stuff, but also the slow drip of disrespect and invisibility. 

I’m pretty sure Mario can relate based on the bemused look on his face. He gets up to refill his drink and when he returns, I take serve again. With a bit calmer tone this round, I inquire, “So now you know what I think. Tell me, would you work for a racist?”

To this, Mario snickers, slowly shakes his head, sighs, and rolls his eyes. “What are they doing? I mean, are they calling me names?  Openly discriminating or sabotaging my work? If that’s the case, I’d report it, but it’s hard to determine in professional life who’s racist or not. Most are polite, but you just don’t know. In my opinion, if Blacks quit every time we worked around racism, we wouldn’t have any jobs.”

I grok the math and cede the point. As we finish the last of our dwindling salsas, I follow-up, “Hmm, does that mean you would work for a sexist then too?” We share a wry smile as he follows my logic to its solution.

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2 Comments
Jerry Lambert says:

A very interesting topic. A thought that I have regarding this topic. My first thought is how does this question align with the Bible. Secondly I thought about a Bible verse “Roman 7:19” to paraphase, That which I would do I do not and that I would not do I do. How do we really know what we will do until we are faced with the situation? Also will you do the same thing or act the same way under all circumstances?

Same Place Different Location says:

There lies the difficulty in the question.  It’s challenging to know how one should/would respond.

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