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If you can't see sex, you can't see sexism

(25 Posts)
CaraDune Tue 09-Jun-20 10:16:16

Thought I'd start a thread to discuss real life examples of where biology is the relevant factor in discrimination against women.

Here's mine.

A few years ago, I and a group of other women had to threaten to take our then employer to court to get equal pay. (Yup, nearly 50 years after the equal pay act this still happens). They settled after conciliation through ACAS.

Was our employer a sexist dinosaur? Picking on us for our fluffy lady brains?

No, it was actually a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy, but very illustrative of the way structural sexism works.

They had very long pay scales with very small increments, leading to typically seven to ten years before any employee reached "rate for the job". They also had a performance related pay system which meant you got a small increment if you got an average performance rating, and a very slightly larger increment if you got a better-than-average performance rating. They also had a system (meant to help not to discriminate against women) where women on maternity leave got awarded a default "average" performance rating for the year.

Don't get me wrong - it was a crap pay system for everyone - but particularly, and demonstrably crap for women.

Because the net result of this was that seven, ten years into a job role, you could (and often did) find yourself sitting next to a male colleague who was doing precisely the same job as you, no more nor less competently, who earned more than you.

This was a situation where a firm, with the best of intentions (they'd even thought about how to handle maternity leave) still managed to create a system which was institutionally sexist, because women get pregnant and men don't. (Not all women; but no men).

Sex, not gender expectations, was the driving factor behind this cock-up.

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Winesalot Tue 09-Jun-20 12:28:04

Good idea for a thread.

Apart from all the work ones. I encountered it when male doctors wrote off my severe PMT and pain as wanting a Valium prescription and it was apparently all in my head.

Then when I was pregnant I rang up to ask for help for significant and unrelenting morning sickness. I was told it was normal and millions of other women do it. I found out later after talking about it to mothers group that some of them had been signed off for just what I was asking about.

CaraDune Tue 09-Jun-20 18:28:31

I think there's a massive issue round women's healthcare - both when women aren't taken seriously because they're women, and over conditions specific to women - like PMT, endometriosis, pretty much anything to do with pregnancy.

One thing I found very weird when DS was a baby was that if I explained calmly and rationally what I thought might be a medical issue with DS I got largely ignored; if I got upset they sort of listened (if only in an "oh my god this mum is upset" sort of way). It really was in stark contrast to how I'd been treated by medics up till then. Almost like they had a template of "appropriate range of mummy behaviours" in their mind. I'd have thought it was my imagination, except that I could still remember how I'd been treated when I was "Ms Dune" rather than "Mum".

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RumbaswithPumbaas Tue 09-Jun-20 20:37:52

I have two friends who had problems with their babies (one severe milk protein allergy, the other an undiagnosed genetic condition) and a third who developed lymphoma herself while her baby was approx 6m old.

All 3 were disbelieved and passed off as PND by several (male I believe) doctors, before only being eventually taken seriously months later and only with the help of a switched on health visitor/cautious trainee GP in one case.

I had the same treatment with a (male) locum doctor with endocrine problems a few weeks post-partum. It was only because I pushed with a bit of medical knowledge that they grudgingly took bloods rather than blaming it on the breastfeeding and hot weather.

Oh and the pregnancy risk assessments which are treated like a tick box exercise and stuffed in a drawer before sending you back to heavy lifting and taking xrays, expecting you to do a 4 hour clinic on your feet without a toilet break at 8 months pregnant and covering a night on-call duty while miscarrying. Being told you can’t have any time off at Christmas (your colleague gets it all off) because you were on maternity leave the year before so it’s only fair. Just a few examples of things men will never have to worry about hmm

Oxyiz Tue 09-Jun-20 20:58:07

Everything in the Invisible Women book.

I'm only a third of the way into it and even though I've been on these boards for years, it's still a weird thought that there have been so many men who just didn't understand or think about women when they effectively designed, built, and wrote the history books about the world we live in.

That's wasn't them necessarily being antagonistic or anti-women - its just that women's lives were literally "invisible" and not considered.

Solihooley Tue 09-Jun-20 21:12:48

Good idea. I’ve just NC’d as outing but I was denied medical treatment for a ‘medical abortion gone wrong’ by 3 different Male doctors who were all conscientious objectors (I appreciate it was very unfortunate and probably unusual that that particular gyne department at that hospital was full of them). I had to wait 2 nights in hospital when I had a breastfed 5 month old baby at home for a doctor to come on shift who would treat me. Clue here is that they obviously didn’t feel totally secure in discharging me, probably because I’d suffered from sepsis already during the birth of my baby 5 months before. But neither was my life in immediate danger so they could get away with leaving me. No one told me that as a breastfeeding mother I had a right to request that my baby stay in with me either. In all honesty I’ve not really dealt with that experience at all. I feel complete rage when I think of what they put me and my baby through. Saying sex doesn’t exist would be like telling a black person that race doesn’t exist. I just don’t understand why one is considered acceptable.

CaraDune Tue 09-Jun-20 21:19:04

Solihooley flowers That is horrendous.

It also reminds me of something my mother used to say (I forget which of the 2nd wave feminists she was quoting - someone on here will know): "If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."

I mean, think about it. The acres of parchment and ink used up by the church defending the concept of a "just war" even though the Gospels are about as pacifist a book as you can imagine. But abortion is "murder"...

And yet, as soon as we say "abortion is a people issue, not a women's issue, because transmen", suddenly we can't articulate the inherent sexism any more. We can't see that the reason one and the same religious person may believe in the concept of a just war yet deny women abortions, is because wars are declared by men, and abortions are needed by women.

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FreiasBathtub Tue 09-Jun-20 21:31:30

So I've been doing this COVID 19 symptom reporting app and I got offered a test the other week because I reported stomach trouble and feeling giddy. Now, this happens to me roughly every 30 days and I could have easily told them that it meant I was 2 or 3 days off my period. But I was asked the question 'how do you feel', responded 'I don't feel quite right' - true - reported my symptoms and boom, test.

Obviously in this case it doesn't really matter - maybe one more suspected case in my local area on the data in the app - but it just rammed home to me, once again, how men's physiology is the default. I'm pretty sure I've been asked about underlying conditions like asthma that might affect symptom reporting...but no recognition that many, many women experience potentially confounding symptoms just as a result of being alive.

Solihooley Tue 09-Jun-20 21:33:56

CaraDune Thanks. I’ve heard that quote too. I think that was the turning point for me actually in realising that I did feel very strongly about how important acknowledgement of womens physical experience of living in a female body is. I suppose as a young women that’s the 1st time I’ve felt really discriminated against purely because of my body, I never felt so shamed, especially as I willing let one of the doctors do an internal scan thinking he was going to help me. I realise abortion is an emotive subject, and not everyone can agree with it but it’s a legal procedure here and I really feel gyne wards should make sure there is someone on hand to deal with problems relating to it. Safe to say, I’ve learnt a lot from the FWR board.

Blackdoggotmytonguestill Tue 09-Jun-20 21:36:39

I want to do this job.
Why not?
You’re a woman.
Why can’t a woman do it?
Because it will distract the men and besides, women are weaker. Oh and the men’s wives and girlfriends wouldn’t like it.
What if I’m not weaker?
Doesn’t matter. You’re a woman. Tough.
<magical gender fairy arrives>
First woman in this job!
Er thassa man. Got a penis and everything.
Isn’t she wonderful? So amaaaaazing!

Okay. Can I do THIS job?
Um. Yeahhhhhh. As long as you sign this bit of paper to say if you get pregnant or hmmm possibly married, we can ask you to leave. 6 or 16 years?
Uh. Um. Well. I guess I can do it for six years and then extend if I still don’t want a family?... okay...

Oh you’re a woman. Great. You can run the babysitting circle for when we have evening functions.

Oh that was a great dinner. Now how about all you women fuck off next door so the men can have a cigar and get shiters.

Yeah ok, you are quite good at this job thing. We were going to give you this award but we don’t know if we can because you’re quite dour. It’s not really... becoming.

Phwoarrrrr I love it when we have boozy work lunches and they get the belly dancers in. Are you going to join in? I’d love to see that - go oooooooon! Eurgh you’re so boring it’s only harmless fun.

Yeah yeah I know you only signed the 6 year contract and not the 16 year contract because you aren’t allowed to get up the duff, but we’ve only got one contract extension on offer and I’m going to give it to John because he’s got a wife and a baby to support and you don’t. Yeah I know you have more experience in the job. (But no cock, see?) have a nice life.

Well blackdog, you can only change an institution from inside you see. If you leave, nothing will change.

I’m 48. I’m not fucking 90.

Solihooley Tue 09-Jun-20 21:38:10

FreiasBathtub very true. We know very little about how the menstrual cycle affects drugs and certain conditions. I remember hearing a radio programme last year about research into how it affected epilepsy and thinking ‘how has it taken until 2019 to research this’

CaraDune Tue 09-Jun-20 21:48:52

Blackdog I may be able to guess what the job was. And if it's what I think it was I remember the first "woman" in the role being splashed over the news, about 2 days after they announced they were opening it up to women. Where the training took about a year. So none of the actual women would have had a chance to complete training in order to become the first woman to do x.

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Thelnebriati Tue 09-Jun-20 22:12:36

I lost my job when my employer found out I was pregnant, one day before I had worked there long enough to get protection. I also didn't get maternity pay, because although NI contributions had been docked from my wages, they hadn't been paid.

Melia100 Tue 09-Jun-20 22:48:56

Tiny example - my sister is a nurse. Masks are not made to fit her female face. There is no option for female mask. She's had to wear a mask at work all through the last months, and the masks don't fit properly, because adult masks are designed to fit the average man.

Yeah, basically everything in Invisible Women.

WeetabixBananaHipsterFFS Tue 09-Jun-20 22:54:41

if I explained calmly and rationally what I thought might be a medical issue with DS I got largely ignored; if I got upset they sort of listened (if only in an "oh my god this mum is upset" sort of way). It really was in stark contrast to how I'd been treated by medics up till then. Almost like they had a template of "appropriate range of mummy behaviours" in their mind.

I got a totally unsubtle mental health check from the midwives, a patronising phone call from my GP, and “There, there, all perfectly normal with baby”. It wasn’t; they were wrong and I was right. And there was a negative effect on my mental health from the very obvious thing they failed to deal with appropriately.

But, you know, silly mummy.

WeetabixBananaHipsterFFS Tue 09-Jun-20 22:55:46

Just to add, the midwives, GP and health visitors were all women.

Sciencemightsaveyoustoriescant Wed 10-Jun-20 00:05:12

Topical take on sexism

PurpleHoodie Wed 10-Jun-20 02:35:59

Uniform in the workplace. Everytime a new issue is produced, they always manage to feck up something about the female uniform.
(We are talking £ millions in waste)

differentnameforthis Wed 10-Jun-20 05:08:04

I had a horrible first pregnancy (PE, emerg section under GA, fetal distress, IUGR) and an OK second pregnancy, no trauma just worried about a repeat of the above. Elective section, went smoothly!

Knew I did not want to do it again, only ever wanted 2 children. But my (male) GP said he wouldn't refer me for sterilization as I was a "new mum reacting to a traumatic (second) pregnancy!" And "what if one got seriously hurt, you might want another" (because kids are interchangeable like that!)

He denied me a further 2 times over 6mths. No use asking another GP at the practice they would all say the same. The last time he said no to me, he said "send your husband in, I'll refer him instead" Dh wanted more kids, I didn't, he would never agree to a vasectomy.

I did get my referral from him, and had my tubes tied.

The kicker that made him refer me? An unwanted pregnancy when my baby was 5mths old (which resulted in antenatal/situational depression) ending in a termination.

Yep, had to "prove" I didn't want more kids. You bet your life I told him it was because of him that I fell pregnant while on a pill I told him I didn't want to be on.

Haven't seen him since.

PurpleHoodie Wed 10-Jun-20 15:10:54

So sorry you had to go through that different flowers

LouHotel Wed 10-Jun-20 15:22:55

The part in invisible women about air conditioning gave me such an absolute jolt of 'where have I been living all this time'

Had to explain that it wasnt acceptable to ask me to pump in a supply closet when I worked (at the time) in a hotel with nearly 300 bedrooms.

differentnameforthis Fri 12-Jun-20 09:13:19


So sorry you had to go through that different flowers

Thank you!

Cailleach1 Fri 12-Jun-20 13:46:55

First thing that popped into my mind when I saw "you can't see sexism if you can't see sex" was Sarah Cooper's skit when she impersonated Trump saying about CV-19, that if you don't test you don't have any cases.

PurpleHoodie Fri 12-Jun-20 17:23:56

Cailleach1 Spot on.

grin Sniffing the pen.

Cismyfatarse1 Fri 12-Jun-20 19:18:37

Son and daughter. Same school, similar exam resulrs Same parents / accent etc.

Both working in the same restaurant in a tourist area. Son is frequently (2-3 times a day) asked about his plans for university. Daughter is never asked - the assumption being she was a waitress as a career choice.

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