Gossip within the male dominated workplace

Gossip is a powerful, devastating way to undermine someone. It leaves doubt within the minds of many concerning your credibility and character.

Malicious gossip is often used against women in male-dominated workplaces as a retaliation tactic that intimidates them into silence. By making it difficult to know who in the workplace to trust, gossip and rumours create a situation where it becomes next to impossible to speak out. Intentional isolation serves to ostracise the chosen victim, while at the same time spreading slanderous rumours to damage the victim’s reputation and emotional well-being.

When you are one of a few women within a male dominated workplace, using gossip as a tactic to undermine you is a very effective tactic that almost always works. When women are subjected to this kind of mistreatment, they become doubly vulnerable: first as a minority outnumbered by a team of male counterparts in the workplace, and secondly as a victim of workplace harassment with virtually no one and no resources to turn to for help.

Gossip is, in reality, workplace violence. As Jeff Hearn and Wendy Parkin write in Gender, Sexuality and Violence in Organizations, workplace violence includes “sexual, racial, and other harassments…. and bullying [which includes] isolation (people refusing to listen to you, people refusing to talk to you), slander (gossip behind your back, people spreading false and groundless information), negative glances, laughing, sneering.”

I know because I speak from experience. As a woman working within the fire service and on the waterfront as a stevedore, gossip in the workplace was devastating for me. Malicious and personally destructive gossip was used as a part of a campaign of bullying and harassment in a toxic, male-dominated workplace, and it wreaked havoc on both my personal and professional life.

Dealing with malicious gossip at the fire station

Years ago, I witnessed a vehicle accident a male co-worker was responsible for. Another person decided to make up a story about me having been “drinking and partying” with the person responsible, who was later suspected of driving under the influence, just before the accident happened. It was a complete lie, but no one bothered to ask me about its validity.  The rumour, unknown to me at the time, had been circulating throughout workplace for over a year. I only heard it when, unbelievably, a high ranking manager of the municipality—my employer—finally asked me directly about it. Not only had the rumour made it up the ranks of the management structure, not one other person bothered to check the story’s truthfulness before passing it on. It was embarrassing to me and damaging to my reputation with each repetition.

It is hard to fight back against gossip, especially after it’s been going on for a long time. Once it starts, especially in a workplace, very few people have the guts or basic common decency to ask you your side of the story.  Nasty rumours are therefore left to fester, circulating around as long as there are people interested in keeping it alive. The gossiper knows that keeping the lies and exaggerations alive helps to reinforce and uphold the negative image of you. And if others hear it enough, they’ll start to believe it.  I am continually shocked at the stupidity of people (ranging from co-workers to high ranking management personnel) who automatically believe others’ tall tales and lies without any question or consideration of context or validity.

Indeed, as a friend once said, “the gossip about you is spreading like wildfire”, travelling the airways like a wave of bad breath hitting you square in the face – and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to actually find out what’s being said about you, which is rarely the case.

From the very beginning, I complained of malicious gossip while in the fire service, but my attempts to air my frustrations to management and get resolution went nowhere. As a result of the psychological symptoms of stress I was under, and the gossip that I believed was rampant at the workplace, I attempted to deal with these symptoms by seeking help through the Employee Assistance Program provider (EAP).

However, this only served to worsen my symptoms when I found out that this EAP liaison automatically believed the malicious lies that some of my co-workers had told him about me, i.e. that I had an alcohol problem. To make matters worse, the EAP liaison then proceeded to relay this false information about me to the therapist I was seeing at the time. Not only was he completely overstepping his bounds, but the very person I was seeking help from had very quickly become part of the destructive campaign against me, believing the lies without question. This complicity undermined any sense of security or support I hoped to find in the workplace, and caused me incredible pain.

As a female firefighter, my complaints to management were to reveal the misogynistic attitudes and behaviours that had become workplace norms in the fire service. However, management only added to the problem by stating that my claims regarding the viciousness of the gossip campaigns against me were more perceived than real. Management minimized and discounted the havoc and devastation it caused me, and gave me no support or resources to try and help me.

Gossip as a way to affirm ruling male order and discredit those challenging it

When confronted, the perpetrators reacted with hostility and contempt, refusing to acknowledge and admit that they contributed to the negative environment, so they retaliated against me by making the workplace even more poisonous by fabricating more stories.

For the men against whom I complained, gossip was the perfect revenge because of its insidious nature. No one dares check the facts or reveal the perpetrator, and eventually the circle becomes so large that is starts to leach into other areas of one’s life.

Many of my co-workers were so angry at me for speaking out about the misogyny I’d witnessed in the workplace that most could not care less about knowing my side of the story. They preferred to stay angry, unwilling to question their own motives, or try to think about things in a new, different way. Instead, they use the ‘boys club’ tactic of working to keep a negative image of you alive, furthering their cause and keeping the status quo of the male dominance in the workplace. I am part of a less powerful gender, and when I am in a male-dominated workplace this comes to the fore; I have to pay the price for upsetting the order they work to maintain. By labelling me negatively and spreading defamatory things about me, they tried to teach me and anyone else who might be watching a lesson.

10 years later, I am hearing for the first time from co-workers who were afraid of what was really going on during those years at the fire department. They now tell me that they were told by upper management to make sure to “stay away from me” because I was “troubled” and “a trouble maker”. This pattern is symptomatic of a toxic workplace, in which management and workers are involved in power plays, failing to support all of their employees. Even female employees were scared into following along with the campaign against me.

The fact that I wasn’t able to simply do my job as a firefighter, without innuendo and malicious gossip about my alleged illicit involvement with other members of the fire service (such as partying, drinking and having sexual relationships with co-workers) was extremely upsetting to me as a female firefighter. I was just trying to do my job, as a captain, to the best of my ability and succeed within the fire service, but my outspokenness in the workplace threatened the ruling male order, and the participating men were very intent on punishing me for it.

Employers choose to ignore rather than deal with the problem

In my workplace as a stevedore, a firefighter and to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, I have submitted many examples of how gossip and rumours have devastated my work life over the years. Yet I continually faced the response that nothing can be done to address it; it was viewed as irrelevant or completely dismissed.

Avoidance does not address the root problem – which is the fact that malicious, denigrating gossip in the workplace happens and is ignored, and that those with less power suffer from it disproportionately.

My complaint to my employer concerning untrue statements made about me being an alcoholic was not taken seriously, and management refused to look into who made the comments. This slanderous accusation was left to fester for years, only becoming more and more damaging to me personally and professionally as time went on.

When filing the complaint, I expected my employer to take responsibility as a leader and manager by helping to try and stop malicious gossip from circulating in the workplace. I also expected that they would take the initiative to try and prevent it from wreaking havoc on my work life. Instead, when I told a senior human relations (HR) consultant about the alcohol accusation that I had been subjected, she said that gossip was a normal part of the workplace and there was nothing I could do about it.

I pointed out to this HR consultant that, despite being a female captain trying to do her job, I was being subjected to ongoing punishment at the station for raising my voice about two male co-workers who were clearly in the wrong. I mentioned how they were retaliating by spreading false and malicious statements meant to attack me personally, and that were destructive to me psychologically and emotionally.

The gist of the consultant’s response was that men simply can’t tolerate being spoken to in that way by a woman, and I just needed to accept that. Her entire approach to my concerns was based on her view that I should just accept the way I was treated because the fire department had always been this way, and men are naturally and unchangeably the way they are.

Clearly, the attitudinal changes needed to help combat and eradicate misogynistic behaviours in any workplace must come from both men and women. Women do not have the same unspoken, unquestioned solidarity among themselves as males do.

The perpetual consequences of being a victim of malicious gossip

Lies, storytelling, and name-calling are all part of the malicious gossip toolbox. Malicious gossip is a very effective, convincing way of distorting other people’s perceptions. As I have now learned, being the target of any gossip campaigns has devastating effects on overall mental health and it can have far-reaching, long-lasting consequences. I know this from experience; I still am dealing with mental health repercussions from rumours that were spread about me almost a decade ago.

The accumulation of the overt and subtle network of gossip undermined my role as a woman working within a male-dominated workplaces and eventually made me feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable. I became depressed and anxious, was constantly tired and unable to fully participate in training sessions or work.

My attendance level began to decline, as I tended to avoid social and professional activities at the fire station if at all possible. When I was able to attend, I felt completely cut off from the rest of the group and unable to relate to others in what felt to me like a poisoned environment. I felt shut out, avoided by others, and unable to share my story of how I felt abused by the station hierarchy. I felt outnumbered by these men who held positions of power, who could dictate and influence the behaviour of others and prevent me from having any support, let alone credibility at the station.

One male firefighter was particularly brilliant at changing his story depending on who he was talking to. He had told me personally a series of statements that appeared as though he was okay with a way a certain incident was handled, but behind my back he relayed a very different story to our superior and the station membership, making it look as though I was lying when in fact he was.

The structure of gossip is fascinating and the people who participate in the behaviour regularly seem to be masters of their ability to lie and uphold that lie, even when confronted. It is astonishing and frightening at the same time. They seem to be able to create a bog of misinformation around the entire issue, demanding secrecy of others, while not maintaining it themselves. They tell you it’s a private matter, meanwhile they continue to speak to everyone about it, so everyone knows something about you, except you. This not only causes you tremendous anxiety, but it works to undermine everyone’s trust and opinion of you.

Speaking out against gender-based discrimination has ongoing negative implications

Speaking out against harassment or any issues relating to my rights as a woman in a male-dominated environment has been a hellish experience. Over the years, I have personally heard many stories concerning others, especially females, being exaggerated, falsified or oversimplified. Because the workplace is so often dominated by (white) males, one version of the story is told and re-told among the men from their (incomplete) perspective, which in turn influences others and keeps the gossiper’s side of the story “real” and dominant. In workplaces such as the fire station where women are outnumbered, alienating me and knowingly mis-stating my experiences gave the males total talking power while stripping me of any.

It also is a very effective way of keeping misogyny alive.

When I started to speak out publicly regarding the realities and patterns of gender discrimination and harassment that I saw, the rumours from one workplace transferred along to the next. Another agency in which I work with closely got wind of co-workers telling certain drivers of that company to stay away from me and not talk to me because I was “trouble” and “made things up”. Inevitably, this branded me as a potential problem that should be avoided and again compounded the stress which I was already feeling by the continual ostracization.

At the waterfront over three years ago, I was the first female in many years to file a formal complaint against my male co-workers. I made formal complaints against several men who harassed me in a lunch room, which led to rumours being spread about me immediately. Men around me started to be rude towards me, and they alienated me by shutting me out. While all this was happening, only a few out of hundreds asked for my side of the story. Months later, one male co-worker told me that most men at the workplace had tried to convince him and other colleagues not to talk to me. He also went on to say that they would try and get me mad by antagonizing me in some way, so I would act out and fight back; they wanted to have something damaging to take to the employer. I was hurt by how petty and mean-spirited they were and I am still getting retaliated against to this day.

To give some perspective, these were men I had been friends with for the past 12 years — until I tried to stand up for myself or speak my mind, that is.

Gossip in the workplace: what to do about it and help the victim

Malicious gossip must be immediately addressed when identified, prohibited as between workers, and fiercely discouraged by management. Spreading damaging rumours about someone is a subtle form of violence that adversely affects the target individual. The target or victim, like in my case, is most often just trying to voice their concerns, trying to help create a better workplace for all. However, as females in a male-dominated workplace, our concerns are not given the same weight or importance as they would be if given by a male colleague, especially if we’ve already been victims of malicious gossip and have no credibility in their eyes.

There are countless online resources available to employers that are specifically tailored to addressing, identifying and defining the issues and challenges of workplace gossip. Various methods and policies, such as “No Gossip Zones”, can be created so that workers can start to understand the devastating effects and act accordingly.

Rooting out gossip is everyone’s business, but it is crucial to remember that it is individuals who perpetrate gossip. Equally as important to remember is that it is the same people who can stop it. If you notice that gossip is being spread at your workplace about somebody, let the victim know what is being said about them and offer a shoulder of support. Most importantly, do not participate in the spreading of the rumour and encourage others to abstain from doing so as well.

Next time you hear a negative rumour about someone, whether in your workplace, among your family, at school or wherever else, think twice about the effects that repeating it might have. Don’t take any story for granted, and let your own experience of the person it’s about guide your opinion of them. If it’s important, ask that person if it’s true. Chances are, it’s exaggerated, out-of-context or simply made up. In that case, that person really needs a friend right now, and maybe that friend is you.

Together, we can put a stop to workplace gossip: by shutting up, asking questions, and reaching out.

New blog post at GUTS Magazine

I wrote about my experiences with workplace gender discrimination and harassment at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. In the piece, entitled “Why Women Don’t Speak Out”, I explore the various forces that pressure women into staying silent about harassment, and why we need to break the silence:

The silence enables toxic work environments to continue unchallenged. For me, coming forward, speaking out, and identifying myself has been the sanest thing I have ever done in my life, no matter how many people try to shut me up. Remaining silent is guaranteed only to change nothing at all.

Read the whole article here, and let me know what you think!

Update – Supreme Court of Nova Scotia

Once again I am filled with gratitude, a sense of relief, and vindication. I have been talking and telling my story for years, and finally it is starting to be heard.

As I posted several months ago, I have had a major success in the judicial review of my case. In addition and in light of the success, my lawyer petitioned the court to request financial costs to cover some of the incurred fees that resulted from the long process.

In a rather unusual move, the decision of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia awarded an amount greater than we anticipated, and in so doing, made some incredible statements.

For example, in one part, the Decision reads:

“Those individuals who file a complaint with the Commission are entitled to expect that their matters will be conscientiously reviewed and investigated in accordance with the rules of procedural fairness and the Commission’s own policies. When the Commission fails to exercise due diligence in the investigation process the consequences for a complaint can be profound.” (pg 10)

“In Ms. Tessier’s case, the Commission’s conduct left her in a difficult position. She could abandon her complaint entirely, or assume the stress and expense associated with filing an application for judicial review. While the application was successful, her complaint against HRMFES is no closer to being resolved. Ms Tessier must now participate in a new investigation, seven years after her complaint was initially filed, and nine years after some of the events described in the complaint. It is reasonable to expect that the cogency of the evidence will be compromised by the passage of time. Memories fade and witnesses may now be unavailable.” (10)

The decision goes so far as to require a splitting of costs between the Commission and the HRMFES (fire department).  “I am satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional and bring it outside the general rule of immunity for cost on part of the administrative decision-makers.  In my view, it would be contrary to the public interest for the Commission to avoid liability for costs in situations where it has mishandled a complaint to the degree seen in this case.” (11)

This Decision acknowledges the claims that I made repeatedly: my case was complex and needed careful attention but was very poorly organized.,It also acknowledged the extensive efforts to have my case heard (page 15). Clearly, as this Decision officially reiterates, they did not take my case seriously and did not give it the degree of importance that it warranted.

Furthermore, this decision officially marks the major gaps in the process, the ones that I’ve been trying to point to for years! The first investigation report was made 4 years after I filed my complaint, but didn’t include any new details or information (page 15).  In other words, little or no investigation was even done.

Just to set the record straight, however, this Decision in no way comes anywhere close to reimbursing me or some of the lawyers I had working on the case throughout the years.   This is an award of 10,000, but in reality, I have invested thousands of more dollars, not to mention time, energy, and the extreme emotional stress this whole ordeal has caused. The initial mistreatment in my workplace was bad enough, but this process has multiplied that injustice exponentially. But what is significant is that the things I’ve been trying to say for so long are now being heard and addressed. Officially. My only hope is that the next person to come along with a case similar to mine will not need to go through as much.

Now, if we could only turn our attention to the culture in general, the one that blames the victims, rewards masculinity that dominates those around them, and repeats the tropes of how women and men really are and how they should behave and where they should or should not work….then we will really be getting somewhere. This decision is a good first step.

Currently, my lawyer and I are in communication with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and working on how to proceed with the new investigation.

The decision can be found here: http://decisions.courts.ns.ca/nsc/nssc/en/item/71707/index.do?r=AAAAAQAHVGVzc2llcgAAAAAB

 

Judicial Review Update

In 2007 I filed a complaint against my employer, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission because I believe that I was subjected to gender discrimination as an HRM firefighter.  I waited 5 years before the commission dismissed my case after, what seemed to me to be, a shoddy investigation. I subsequently filed for a judicial review of their decision in April of 2012.

On February 19, 2014, the court released its decision in regards to this review. The result of this review, which can be found here, was in my favor. The judge, Honourable Justice Arthur LeBlanc, ordered that the decision of the NSHRC to dismiss my case be quashed and a that new investigation is to be undertaken by those with no prior involvement in my case.

Here a couple highlights from the court’s decision:

[63] …A thorough investigation required more than merely accepting the contents of the HRM response at face value. A reasonable investigator would have recognized that additional crucial information could be gathered by conducting thorough and critically-minded interviews with CM and DCB. Given the central importance of their version of events to the outcome of the investigation, such interviews were required for a thorough investigation (Page 28).

[65] I find that D’s failure to interview either CM or DCB amounts to a breach of procedural fairness pursuant to the test set out in Slattery, supra. This breach alone is sufficient to invalidate the investigation and render the Commissioners unable to make a proper screening determination on this case based on the sufficiency of the record before them (Page 29).

I’ve been asked how I feel about this decision, and I have to say that in many ways I feel vindicated, at least in my complaints against the commission. I still have reservations about my case being again undertaken by an organization that has clearly had some major problems, according to recent news reports (Jan. 7/14 and Jan. 8/14). That being said, I remain optimistic that there are some that care and will make every effort to address my claims fairly.

I can confidentially say that my efforts to keep fighting against the segregation and discrimination of women in the male dominated workplace will continue, and I believe that companies, employers, and government agencies are going to have to acknowledge and address this issue more forcefully.

On International Women’s Day, the timing could not be better for women to speak up and tell their stories of harassment, and I encourage women here in Nova Scotia, other provinces, and abroad to find the courage to do so.  I have noticed an awakening happening – a momentum in thought and action within the minds of women around the world.

Government agencies and corporations tend to listen to the masses much more than a single voice.  They can dismiss and ignore me, a single voice, but they cannot ignore thousands of women standing up shoulder to shoulder.  For my next blog – why women don’t speak out and why we absolutely need to.

The Problem With Women’s Groups

One might think that given the prevalence of gender problems in male-dominated workplaces there would be a strong and growing network of women working to push back the barriers that keep us separated and marginalized. But such is not the case.

When I think back to almost a decade ago when I first started to fight for justice and reveal the harassment and gender discrimination that was happening to me within my very male dominated job at the time, I truly believed that women’s groups and other similar types of coalitions would surely answer to my call for assistance. Desperate for help, I prayed for some prominent female in either politics or academia (who was just as outraged as I) to speak out publically about the poor treatment and disrespect women like me were subject to while working within this type of environment. In the early years before I started vocalizing my political views publically, I fought for years in private, naively believing that my employers, the numerous agencies and government institutions I sought help from would also rise up to take on what I believed to be a huge societal problem for women everywhere.

Unfortunately gender discrimination/harassment within male dominated workplaces is all too familiar for many women across North America, who still face various forms of sexism and sexual harassment for no other reason than for being female. This continues to be an issue that many, including the general public, industry, employers and even the agencies that are supposed to prevent discrimination and advocate for women rights and freedoms like human rights tribunals and women’s groups, want to avoid and dismiss as irrelevant.

I am completely frustrated and overwhelmed with the lack of support and resources that are available for me as a women working within this type of workplace. My long and disillusioning fight for respect, a fight that I am still engaged in today, was just the beginning of the problems I was to face. The patterns and attitudes of the men within the boys’ club’s territory are merely the product of a much larger problem where sexist and juvenile behavior is time and time again condoned by the companies and organization that are supposedly here to protect and support our rights as women. Their proud claims of diversity and equality within the workplace has been a sham, and everything I started to uncover over time, while trying to fight back, supported the Boys’ Club and forced me to question my sanity and reasons for even trying to fight.

This long fight gets longer and never seems to end when factoring in the other contributors such as the lack of resources and support there is for women like me. Along with the institutional organizations, there is so much negativity and resistance from Human Resources Consultants, union representatives, the males in question, other males and female co-workers, which compounds the problem and adds layer upon layer to the original abuse.

Here in Canada, the majority of both individual women and women’s groups fall short or are absent when it comes to aiding women who are struggling with this type of discrimination. Even national support groups for women are reluctant to support women who experience workplace gender discrimination. Within the last year, as I began to speak out publically, on my own, I received significantly more support from American women’s groups than Canadian ones, which is an unfortunate reality that points to a need for reform of the structure of support groups in this country.

Women’s groups and organization in the US greatly outnumber the groups here in Canada. Documentaries like “The Invisible War” along with numerous law suits and aggressive campaigns for legislative changes are highlighting the atrocities of the “rape culture” that is being exposed within the US military, where a staggering number of women have been sexually assaulted while on active duty. The non-profit organization Gender Justice, of St Paul, Minnesota, is run by two attorneys who contacted me last year when I posted my videos online. Unlike the others, they actually took the time to help me with a legal matter before I was able to find a lawyer here in Canada. In my experience, even lawyers here are reluctant to take on gender related cases.

In my experience, women’s groups are limited and selective in what feminist causes to champion and who to support. This adds to the hopelessness of an already hopeless situation when one realizes that even advocacy groups will not support women who are suffering from gender discrimination in the workplace. This is an area of discussion that will get messy and provoke many—but it is necessary.

Women’s committees and coalitions have areas of priority that issues such as women’s poverty and housing or childcare get attention, and now more than ever, domestic violence and the concept of the “rape culture” is showing up in main stream media with analysis and statistical information helping to raise awareness. But violence against women such as what is happening to women within the male dominated workplace receives no mentioned in the mandates of many organizations that I have sought help from. Even the small numbers of groups that do support women in the trades seem to fall short in aiding women who are suffering from gender discrimination and they did not respond to me when I came knocking. This lack of support from individual women and women’s groups has been one of the most devastating discoveries throughout this arduous journey. Groups that speak of the importance of change and advancing justice for all women are absent and no one should know the struggle more – how could they not? You can’t be selective when touting yourself as a blanket of support – this male dominated culture that I and many other women are a part of is simply not on the list. Through the years I sought out the aid of many individual women who were associated with established organizations and got little or no response. At times, connections were established, but they were temporary commitments of support. None stayed the course and when times got urgent not one group even responded.

Within society today, I believe that there is a growing momentum within the women’s rights movement, and the movement is being galvanized but into separate and distinct agendas. Despite the frequency of campaigns and rallies helping to give credence to both the progress and the marginalization that still largely exists for us, I feel that I as a woman within the movement, fighting for my rights, I have been left out in the cold. There are still many areas in need of attention, but even women’s groups that seek the same justice as I do will not go near this topic. Perhaps in theory, but certainly not in practice. I have approached every group and organization of this sort that I can find, both in my region and beyond, and though there are sometimes words of support, they simply cannot or do not provide any assistance whatsoever. They have no support systems, no resources, and no hope for women like me. Gender inequality in male-dominated workplaces seems to be a topic of the past, the present state of affairs is not widely known, studied, or even taken seriously. Yet, in my experience, it has become a huge societal problem where women do not feel safe to voice their struggles because there is no one there to step up and offer support.

The fight for women’s rights outside the home by women’s groups and other countless individual women fighting tirelessly throughout history has been a long hard won battle – reproductive rights, safer work places, safe housing, child care and numerous other issues are a testament to the improvement of the status of women over the past several decades but many who do this work would say that we are still nowhere near where it should be and aggressive updating is needed to even begin to see equality.

Like many groups fighting or advocating for the same cause, subgroups form making it difficult to feel that your particular voice is being heard and taken seriously. In the sixties, coloured women and lesbians felt alienated and separated from what appeared to be a movement that was limited and catered to middleclass white women’s issues and ideals. I too as a woman fighting for my rights within the movement feel ignored. I am both fascinated and infuriated at the lack of support and now believe this to be a class issue at play here as well as an ego issue.

Historically, the role and original purpose of women’s groups was to help the underprivileged. Those that had the time and resources to help were often from the upper class offering help to those in a lower class. In many ways, this model has not changed. Many look at me they say, “wait a minute, you make way more than I do,” or “you make more than my husband makes”. Perhaps they are saying to themselves: “how dare you ask for help when there are women needing housing and food to feed their children”. But what they don’t understand is by me clearing the way for equality in the workplace – that means that for some of those women who are not working or are just scraping by, maybe their granddaughter or daughters will be able to get these types of jobs, that pay well, and be treated properly and not be afraid or reluctant to go work in this type of environment. So they are missing the point. I’m here to talk about our daughters and granddaughters who may believe the road is clear and the options are open when in reality the barriers are real and sometimes insurmountable. No one can work effectively when the situation is so volatile and the treatment so poor.

Women within any male dominated workplaces are at risk of discrimination and harassment. Whether it’s women in politics, law, medicine, the tech world or women like me in the very – male dominated occupations, like longshoring and firefighting, gender discrimination is real, harmful and widespread. Sexism in everyday life and the workplace is so common that it has become the norm for many women. But we casually just look the other way and minimize its effect on us because we have no other choice then to just shrug it off or pretend it does not exist – having time and time again to either just continue to put up with it, or worst yet, join the men that harass in disrespecting other women or continue to speak out and be the lone radical on the fringe ostracized by co-workers.

All that I know, given my experience, within the context of the male dominated workplace is that we are fearful. Afraid of ourselves, each other, the men we work with and our employers/unions, and as a result silence pervades and we lose ourselves and sense of solidary as women because of it. Even the women’s groups that are there for advocacy and aid, touting relief with impressive messages of hope and triumph are just as afraid.

Most of the women’s groups I have come across who tout that they are going to be helpful and end up not, are in my opinion just as guilty as the men that perpetrate the bad behaviour by helping to prolong the suffering of another women adding yet another layer of doubt and hopelessness to her situation. It’s not just the men and their secure membership (unions, employers, etc.) that are allowing this to happen; there are individual women and women’s groups that just won’t go “there” and in so doing tacitly convey the message that what is happening to women is okay.

I’m doing this for our future generations. I am helping myself so that others can move forward and not be subject to discrimination, make a decent wage, and not necessarily have to have a man in their lives to raise their children and have a good life. Not everyone will agree, but when we move toward these goals, there is a cultural moment of change where the patriarchal society fades a bit and the matriarchal energy comes forward. So there is the possibility of a woman heading a family successfully and not just taking in laundry and scrubbing floors to make ends meet.

Not every family has a man in it. There are women married to women and those women choosing to be by themselves who are simply worn out by a relationship and want to raise their children in peace on their own. So instead of working the local retail job for minimum wage, or seeking public assistance, they can become a firefighter or stevedore, or other well-paid positions, because they are capable and strong enough to do the same work and make the same money as their male counterparts.

I envision this work as offering the opportunity to step out of that patriarchal designed arena and say, “you know what? I can be the head of the household. I can do this, and raise my children comfortably, or even send them to college. I can cloth them and feed them and give them all the advantages that I want to give them because I have this job.”

It may be your daughter, sister, aunt, granddaughter or even great granddaughter who is seeking an equal opportunity and I want to be able to look back and feel that I have contributed to paving the way and they don’t have to go through all the BS that I am having to. And anyone (women’s groups) resistant and walking away from this issue may want to think twice.

Will there be thoughtful preparation, appropriate training, and adequate remedial structures for gender-related issues? Or will the same structures of abuse continue?

Please stay tuned for more posts on what changes can be made to improve and promote solidarity among women’s organizations so as to ensure workplace equality for all women.

Challenging The Boys’ Club of Today

Over the last few hundred years (maybe more but I’m not really a historian), the public sphere of politics and work were the domain of men. In these spaces, men set the rules and policed their domain in numerous ways–through laws, policies, and sheer force. For women, their world was in the private sphere, but even there, under the patriarchal systems of the Western world, women (and children) were the property of men: fathers, husbands, and brothers. As the women’s movement began to gain momentum in the 1800’s, these divisions of labor and space came under some serious scrutiny, and by the mid of the 20th century, these boundaries had become rather porous. Women were entering the workforce and seeking public office. But although women have made substantial strides towards equality and autonomy, the gendered work force remains largely intact–women become nurses and men become doctors.

This is by no means absolute, there are, for example, many more male nurses now than a decade ago and many more female doctors than a decade ago. As the world of work changes, however, one would expect that work environments would change as well, and indeed such may be the case, but there is still a long way to go because it seems that the division of labor that partitioned men and women into the public and private sphere has shifted to a partition in the workforce, and men patrol (not necessarily consciously or even intentionally) their domain in ways very similar to their forefathers.

Male-dominated workplaces are Boys’ Clubs by default.  Within such workplaces, there is a pre-set way of being where men’s rules, attitudes and ideas structure the environment in stringent ways. There is little room for the opinions of others, especially the voice of the minority—women. The first step to combating this discrimination is recognizing that it exists.

The Boys’s Club reflects a broader cultural issue: despite the advances of women, men still posses the balance of power. Pop culture continues to portray women as sexual objects–a man’s accessory. Rarely do we see an embrace of all the qualities of women that constitute one’s humanity and one’s citizenship. Women often internalize this cultural status and accept or even pursue the role of complimenting men, but when one resists this gender role, they disrupt and threaten the status quo and the balance of power that is maintained.

The Boys’ Club is alive and well. It marks and polices its domain via the tools of dominance, entitlement, marginalization, and exclusion. As a woman working in a variety of male-dominated workplaces, such as firefighting and longshoring, I have experienced all of these tactics firsthand.

In my experience, when male dominance is challenged by a woman in the workplace she is at risk for vilification. Speaking out by complaining, criticizing or even just advocating for her rights, leads to personal attack, intimidation, retaliation and labeling for the woman who dares to challenge the norm.

For example, when I was the first in many years to formally complain as woman against my fellow male co-workers – all hell broke loose. I was treated like a pariah-intentionally ostracized, by a large majority who either seemed afraid to come near me – or refused to talk to me. These were men I had been friends with for 12 years, who overnight suddenly treated me like I was a stranger. I was ignored and no one came to ask about the specifics of what happened and why, only exaggerated malicious gossip filled the airwaves. I found it very difficult and uncomfortable going to work for many months and still to this day, years later, the backlash has not abated. Many still seem angry and simply will not talk to me.

I and other women working in these professions face the Boys’ Club head on. We are up close and personal with members of the Boys’ Club, and we can see firsthand that the majority of men still have a negative attitude towards women. We are viewed as less capable beings, our abilities are undervalued, and all of this leads to a myriad of negative actions and feelings.

I have been bullied. I have been excluded. I have been the subject of malicious gossip more times than I can count. My views have been undermined and my credibility questioned, seemingly for no other reason than that, as a woman, I am perceived as an outsider to the Boys’ Club and any skills I bring to it are seen as a threat.

This is what the Boys’ Club means.

It’s time to recognize that the Boys’ Club exists, that it’s harmful, and that we can do something about it.

Stay tuned for more posts about recognizing a Boys’ Club when you see it (or when you’re in it), how the Boys’ Club perpetuates itself, how it’s harmful, what we can do about it—and what I’m doing about it.