Do you feel the need to counter the bias against you?


It’s hard to talk about intersections and intersectionality without getting
too far into bias. Bias is my theme for next month so I’ve been shying away
from it a little, but I think that was a mistake. I’m pretty sure I’ve
emphasized speaking up enough for one month. All the same, this one is the
month with the theme where I speak from a place of relative privilege, as
I’ve previously eluded. I have been privileged enough to fool myself into
believing that no one was biased against me for years. I took teasing and
jokes as strictly playful, never meant to harm or discredit me. It wasn’t
until years later that I realized I was mistaken. I would come home from
this one job and talk to my husband about my day and he would often say “You
know that they’re doing that because you’re a girl.”
I hated it. I denied it. These weren’t bad men! They were certainly not
discriminatory against me, that was preposterous! They had respect for me.

Respect doesn’t translate into equal treatment, nor does it erase bias.
There are rules for being female at work. There are things that will not
work for me. There are things  I cannot be seen to do lest bias increase.
The same goes for my Hispanic intersection. When people spoke Spanish at
work, they were more likely to be shunned with an attitude that if they
wanted to talk to the rest of us, they’d use the same language. But this
attitude persisted even when they did speak English, it was just that much
more noticeable that they spoke Spanish in casual conversation, so English
was reserved for those who they were not going to be friendly with. I didn’t
speak Spanish, so I never had that attitude slung at me. I was teased for
being a horrible Hispanic with that little smile that said that I was really
one of them, one of the white people despite my heritage. I won’t lie, I
enjoyed this status. I enjoyed not being lumped in and biased against in
this way. That particular bias worked in my favor. It still didn’t transcend
being female though. It didn’t get rid of all the little things like being
called “girl”.

Girl is the worst. When they called me “girl” that was the surest cue that I
was not seen as equal and I was not respected on an equal level. Let’s not
pretend that there aren’t multiple levels of respect. Sometimes what we see
as respect is just that they realize I am a human being and not any one of
the derogatory ways they spoke of sluts (slut shaming is rampant, though not
condoned here). It does not mean that they think I am equally capable or
responsible. For us females, there is a period of “testing” that I’ve
noticed the males don’t go through. They may go through a period of
negotiation where the best fit for them is determined, but they are treated
as capable from the first day and so on until proven otherwise. We are
generally given little bits of responsibility at a time (sometimes it has
worked for me the same as men, but I’ve found this generality to be the case
when that wasn’t the case, just to be clear) and unofficially evaluated as
to whether or not we are trustworthy with real assignments. I’ve seen this
happen more often than not. Then there’s a revelation day when someone
realizes that I was capable the whole time and the full male workload is
finally given to me. That’s always a good day, and it comes sooner and
sooner as I reach a new job. Okay, I hope and assume it’s the full male
workload as that is what I’m always after and sometimes more.

Part of this is age. Ageism is a bad thing, but there’s a sweet spot that is
not so bad. There’s a place in the middle when you’re young enough to be
seen, but old enough to be taken truly seriously. I’m right in that window
right now at around 30 years old. It’s been a magnificent place and I lament
that I will have to leave it. I know that it has come sooner in this job
because I am working with older men who are used to working with women, who
have worked with competent women before, and I am old enough to not be
looked at as a child. When I was young and newly in my field, I was rarely
taken seriously in under six months. It took that long to have enough
opportunity to get out there and do the dirty work that people realized that
I didn’t shy away from it. I didn’t go into a technical field to get stuck
with the paperwork, though that was inevitable my first job there. Six
months was enough time to get proficient at that stuff and venture out
enough to the real work. I don’t know about your job, but mine always
treated the field work as more important than the paperwork, but women were
“so much better at it.” It was just an excuse for those men to not have to
have “that argument” about trying to get me to do my job. They wrote me off
at first. It took a while to realize it and even longer to link it with the
wider issues and feminism and intersectional feminism.

All these little biases has always been there. I had grown up watching them
work against my mother. It took far longer than it should have to realize
just how much it sets women back that we must go through this testing before
the negotiation period begins. Perhaps times are changing and these
experiences are dated for my time, just as I listen to older women talk
about being openly judged for a job based on how nice their legs were
(actual story related to me).  Do the millennial’s out there still go
through this testing period?

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