[Read part 1 here.]
I want to tell you about Cassandra.
I’ve known Cassandra almost half my life actually. She is intelligent, hardworking, athletic, and dedicated. She is also the reason I wanted to do this series in the first place because I have watched as she has dealt with so much awful stuff as a woman in a male-dominated field. In many ways, even though we have no blood relation, I feel an almost “big-sister” protectiveness, and a bubble of rage rises within me when I hear about what she’s experienced.
Cassandra works in the airline industry, specifically as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. Yeah, told you she’s smart. This job has taken her to many different places. Her first job after graduating was with a small family-owned airline in the Northwest Territories. She says that at this job, she never felt that her coworkers or management treated her any differently because she was a woman:
“They treated me equally, like another person on the hangar floor.”
However, toward the end of her time there, a new apprentice started and he was the first to make her feel a way she hadn’t yet at work. “He talked to me like my opinion wasn’t valid, and I could tell he wasn’t taking anything I said seriously.” Because he was the man, he would do the hard work. Cassandra, he said, had “little bitch hands.”
Cassandra was homesick, so she left that job and got what she thought was her dream job with a subsidiary of a major Canadian airline. It was with this airline that she noticed how different women are treated. There were a few men she worked with who disrespected her but one in particular took it to another level: he kicked her or punched her in the shoulder.
The first day Cassandra wore shorts during the summer, he placed his hand on her leg, rubbed it to see if she had shaved her legs, and said “Oooh, smooth.“
Let that sink in for a minute. Imagine being a young girl working what was supposed to be your dream job and having a grown man rub your leg like that. Maybe it’s only the women reading who can really empathize with how that can make a person’s skin crawl.
I witnessed at times how this affected Cassandra, as she’d talk to us about how terrible it was working in that environment. She often cried on her way to or from work. At times she’d go to the bathroom to cry out her anger, frustration, and sadness. Cassandra told me, “I could write pages and pages of examples for you of sexual harassment that I have dealt with over the last three years.”
Many people were witnesses to the treatment Cassandra received, but no one stood up for her. No one except a gay, Hispanic man. Perhaps he could relate to the kinds of discrimination she was experiencing because he experienced it himself.
Cassandra’s experience is not unique. It was not one bad guy. It’s a widespread thing that she has to deal with. Women in male-dominated industries often experience harassment. One theory is known as the power-threat model. Basically, this theory states that men harass women they see as a threat to their status*. This threat often leads to an overcompensation, exhibited as harassment and overly-macho behaviour.
Men can absolutely be the victims of harassment at work, but women are targeted most often and the effects are much more damaging. The guys that give Cassandra such a hard time have likely seen this kind of behaviour get brushed off, never addressed, and think they can get away with it. They’re never the only man on site, surrounded by women, while Cassandra is often the only woman or one of a few.
There’s safety for creeps in numbers.
In work environments like this, the options for someone being harassed are limited. People in these situations often feel like their complaint won’t be taken seriously or that they’ll face personal repercussions for coming forward. In Cassandra’s case, she did say something, but nothing really happened.
He just got moved to another shift.
Cassandra works in a male-dominated industry, and many women in her position experience the same thing. But even in typically female-dominated fields, men advance faster than women, even with all other factors being equal. This is called the glass escalator. Men are perceived to be the better leaders just by virtue of existing.
Why? Why have we built men up as the superior class while women are consistently left to bash their heads against the glass ceiling?
Cassandra left that company and is working with another that is, by comparison, better. But why should she have to deal with this in the first place?
For other women in similar situations, Cassandra had this to say:
It is okay to be upset. You do not have to be okay with something that makes you feel uncomfortable. You have the right to your feelings.
“Talk to people: to your friends, family, significant other, and even HR. I’ve had a hard time doing that, but I’m starting to realize that management won’t be able to help unless they know what is going on.”
So what do we do? If you see something, SAY something! Especially if you’re a man witnessing another man harassing someone. Demand that your workplace take situations seriously and give proper support where it is needed. Encourage your workplace to have diversity workshops. Work alongside the women in a male-dominated field and ensure that they do not face what Cassandra and so many others do.
*To learn more, read McLaughlin, H., Uggen, C., & Blackstone, A. (2012). Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power.