When I was in grad school, we had to jump through all sorts of asinine hoops. Whenever some brave grad student dared to ask The Powers That Be why, the answer was inevitably: “I had to put up with [X pointless thing], and so should you.”
That is not a reason.
This past week, my spouse got called for jury duty. It was a civil case, the first one at our local courts since the Before Times. Without going into an inappropriate amount of detail, a young woman was working for a small consulting firm. She was sexually harassed by a prospective client at an after-hours event for prospective clients at a restaurant. When she told her boss, the owner of the company, his response was, basically, “Suck it up – that’s the job.” She promptly quit.
The place was otherwise, by all reports (including hers), a great place to work. And they loved her – they’d hired her directly out of college and, over the course of three years, more than doubled her salary through a series of raises she hadn’t even had to lobby for.
It probably didn’t meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment, since the harassment wasn’t perpetrated by the boss or one of her co-workers, but Spouse felt strongly that she was owed compensation and was worried there wasn’t going to be a legal way to get it for her. Well, turns out, although I can’t really go into the details, there was, that had to do with her employment classification and the fact that the small firm she worked for was definitely not following good practices as far as HR processes and documentation.
The amount of money the jury awarded her was not life-changing, but it was enough to compensate her for the fact that it took her a year to find another comparable job.
So what’s my point?
In every generation, young women take a look at some sexist situation or behavior or norm that previous generations have just put up with and say, “Not today, patriarchy.”
And too many of those older sisters don’t back them. “Quit your whining. I had to put up with [X sexist thing], and so should you.”
That ain’t it, my sisters.
And I do get it. When I think of all the shit I’ve put up with in my career, I get it. I sucked it up because no one had my back. Or because I felt like no one would have my back. Or because I needed the paycheck. Or because I didn’t want the reputation of being difficult. Etc.
At one point, many years ago, something went down that was bad enough that I called an employment lawyer. She listened to my story, told me I probably had a case, but then pointed out that winning was far from assured, even if I won it wouldn’t be life changing money, and then I’d be “that bitch who sues people” in a smallish, highly-networked industry. She recommended I think about all that for 24 hours and then call her back if I wanted to move forward. I never called her back.
But see, if we can do better for ourselves and each other, it doesn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t for that young woman in court this week, and it doesn’t have to be that way for all the young women who will come after her.
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