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.