This is a man’s world. And even though the song does acknowledge that it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl, our society still seems to be pretty lacking in appreciation of that fact (or the fact that it’s not exclusively a man’s world anyway). Women have been treated as lesser for such a long time that it’s become subtly encoded in our everyday lives, sometimes to the point that it takes others to point it out to you even as it’s happening to you. Below, several women share their memories of the first time they were discriminated against based on their gender.
1. Extra Credit
Oh, I remember it well. My 9th-grade geometry teacher called a boy to the front of the class and praised him for being the only person to correctly answer the bonus question at the end of that week’s test. I raised my hand (very out of character for me, but that’s another story…) to remind him that I had also answered it correctly, but he responded by saying he hadn’t forgotten, he just hadn’t felt it was worth mentioning because GIRLS CAN’T DO MATH! I swear I’m not making that up, and I promise he wasn’t just kidding with me. He was an arrogant, misogynistic jerk. I’ve never been so happy to be done with a class! No, he did not laugh. No, he did not apologize. Yes, he did eventually give me the extra credit points I deserved.
2. Systemic Sexism
I remember a constant sense of rage about the fact that I had to be a girl from the age of four.
Experience (mostly with other kids in other families) told me that girls were less capable than boys and deserved less freedom.
There were many things that built up over time that convinced me being a girl was inferior to being a boy. For example:
- The fact that girls were always expected to be wimps in every situation where boys and girls were playing together
- Regularly getting excluded from fun because “you’re a girl” (which I assumed was an insult for some legitimate reason)
- The frilly dresses I was forced to wear, just “to look pretty” (which I couldn’t understand the point of)
- The awesome toys that friends wouldn’t let me play with because they weren’t for girls
- The stuff girls were constantly told they were bad at; not by my parents, but by other kids or other families (science, math, fighting, fishing, climbing—all stuff I loved)
I hated what being a girl seemed to represent, and felt forced into being perceived as somebody I would never want to be. Being a girl, I believed, was unfair. And in my little kid brain, anyone who was OK with being a girl was stupid.
This meant I believed anything girly was just idiotic. (Which was rough for me, because my parents still wanted to dress me up and didn’t want other families to think I was too boyish. So I spent a lot of time feeling forced to act like an idiot.)
I felt a great disdain for anything feminine. I even created a rule for the make-believe games I’d play with my sisters. The rule was that you could only play if you pretended to be a boy.
My disdain for girliness had nothing to do with what it actually means to be a girl and had everything to do with propaganda about what a girl is supposed to be. But a young kid isn’t going to understand that.
It took me a long time to learn that what I thought I hated about girls had everything to do with imposed social norms and stereotypes.
I genuinely thought that girls were inferior. If that’s not a result of systemic sexism, I’m not sure what is.
3. Potential Pro
When we were little, my older brother and I played baseball with other neighborhood kids. Neighborhood boys, that is, since I was the only girl. I hit the ball as well as most of the boys and had such a good arm that they let me pitch.
My brother joined the local tee ball league and progressed to the next level (small fry?). No league welcomed me, though, and the gender restriction made no sense to me. I switched my focus to tennis and became a serious competitor. Not much later, my brother switched to tennis, too.
The inability to join a team destroyed my love of baseball. We grew up an hour’s drive from Cincinnati during the “Big Red Machine” era of World Series domination, and we used to go to games with our father and track the box scores for each player. My love of the sport faded when the Reds’ winning phase did.
Decades later, my brother told his daughters (who both played in softball leagues) that I would have become a professional player if girls had been allowed to play baseball when we were kids. They believed him, bless their hearts.
Ironically, I co-produced an indie film that centered around Minor League professional baseball (HITTING THE CYCLE). I loved the experience, but it did not rekindle [my] love for a sport I was not allowed to play in the 1970s
4. Job Interview
Discrimination happens right from the start but it never hits you that you are being discriminated against because it is normalized.
So smoothly society makes you accept things that you would have never thought were discriminatory and you may even unconsciously begin to reference these prejudice ideals. For instance:
- When you are conditioned to wear pink dresses instead of blue
- When you want to dress casually to parties but are forced to wear something, whereas it’s OK for guys to dress however they please
- When you wonder why you never got a gift like a car on your birthdays. It was always a Barbie or kitchen set
- When you are encouraged to wear makeup as a girl, but when your buddy asks for it, people laughed and say “makeup is not for boys”
- Boys were asked to lift heavy things and if a girl tried and wasn’t able to all women worldwide are believed to be incapable or told “girls just can’t do it”
- As a little girl, late night outings are prohibited
Many sexist microaggressions occur in our everyday lives that we no longer notice because we are not aware if they discriminatory.
But eventually, as a woman, you question your surroundings and may even find yourself wondering if any of this would happen if you were a guy. And trust me every girl has at least one moment. Here’s mine…
After the interviewer had finished with the technical part of the interview,
the following dialogue took place:
Interviewer: Your resume impressed us, so did you.
And then suddenly, out of nowhere,
Interviewer: “How long have you been married?”
Me: “3 years”
Me: “Not yet.”
Interviewer: “Are you pregnant?”
Interviewer: How old is your husband?
Me(*wonders where this is going*): 32
At this point, I felt like I am answering a doctor.
Interviewer: Where is he working? Is his job permanent?
Interviewer: “So you would be planning to have kids soon?”
Me ( Not knowing what to say): “Depends. I have not thought about that.”
This was the moment I realized I was viewed differently as a woman in the workplace as opposed to a man.
5. Tea and Coffee
I was working for a shipbuilding company (probably less than 2% female employees). But I can honestly say I never had trouble with any of the lads in the factory or on the ship. We had good banter for the most part.
Then one day I had to visit the engineering offices with a production query. I brought along one of the senior consultants as he was interested in our processes. After we briefly presented the issue, the Chief Engineer said, “Fine. Go ahead and put a meeting in the diary to discuss it.” and then looking at me, “We will talk about it while you can organize the tea and coffee”.
I just smiled awkwardly as it didn’t immediately sink in. But the consultant, who cottoned on straight away, said without hesitation “Sir, this lady is higher qualified than me. She will definitely not be making tea and coffee for anybody.”
It was nice to have someone stick up for me, but this time I was fortunate. I’m not sure how I would or should deal with those kinds of situations, should I ever find myself in such a situation again.
6. The “Burden”
Although I am a male, after 20 years experience growing up in an Indian society, I can provide some anecdotal perspective I have witnessed.
[A girl] was born in my neighborhood, instead of being happy they were cursing her (internally). There was no party, little or no gifts were presented to her. I couldn’t understand why they were unhappy of a girl being born in the family.
Two years later, a boy was born in the same family. A grand party was organized and he has presented a hell of a lot of gifts, the family members were extremely happy and gave the neighbors small gifts as a mark of happiness.
I was dumbstruck. Same family but contrasting beliefs. Then I understood that boys are always given preference over girls because they believe that girls are a burden on the family and will eventually leave this family whereas boys will help the family to grow and support financially.
This kind of discrimination is rampant in rural India where the girl child is killed the moment they are born and this is the very reason why sex determination test is banned in India.
What is the fault of the baby, if she is a girl? Her only mistake is that she is born in Indian society.
Unless this perception is removed the society will never progress.
There are exceptions to this rule for they are very few.
Owing to the response. Here’s one more.
Last year, my elder sister was due for a baby in the month of March. My grandmother wanted it to be a boy. Period.
My elder sister wanted it to be a boy, her husband wanted it to be a girl. Like this everyone wanted it to be either boy or girl and it was more or less balanced.
What made my blood boil was when my grandmother wanted the baby to be a Boy. This old mentality has to be done away with. According to her, it is the boy who will take forward the family. This generation old mentality turns me red with anger. Once I was on the verge of losing my temper in front of the guests.
I don’t care what my future baby will be. I will be equally happy if it a boy or a girl, probably more if I get a girl…
7. Attractive Investment
Once, my Founder Institute classmates and I met some investors. The director introduced me as “She’s the founder of Antoree. Her startup got funded. She’s pretty right? That might be the reason why Antoree got investment”. I was the only female founder there, as I am many times. I definitely felt a little embarrassed. Then I smiled and replied, “I believe that’s not the reason. But thank you for the compliment”.
I didn’t care so much though. At end of the day, two of the investors messaged me, “I’m so sorry for today. We were shocked by the way they introduced you. We planned to tell Q [the director] later for feedback. But not sure if it’s just the cultural difference. Anyway, I think your response was graceful.”
One of them is from the U.S. Another is from Singapore. We are from Vietnam.
I tend to think positively and I believe the director had good intentions [and wanted] to praise my appearance at the time. Every coin has two sides. But I strongly want to be recognized as a competent leader for my brain and hard work.
It’s not the first time actually. However, I never mind going through those treatments because different viewpoints are a beautiful part of life.
PS: The photo was our Founder Institute team in one of those occasions. Tech is still a male-dominant field.
8. Your Loss, Buddy
I worked a summer job in a fireworks warehouse. I worked the floor, sales, explaining to people what different fireworks did and helped them find what they were looking for and bundles that would be the best value.
I was good at it, I didnt make commission and genuinely wanted to help people get the best display for the least amount of money (fireworks are extremely overpriced and expensive!).
All of the male employees worked in the back of the warehouse and did the stocking, and all of the females worked as cashiers and worked the floor, so while the men knew where the fireworks went on the shelves, most of them had no idea of the differences between two cakes. Meanwhile, I could show the customers videos, I knew which ones were colorful, which ones screeched, fizzed & willowed, which ones might be better for entertaining kids vs adults, etc.
On at least three different occasions, I had a customer straight-up tell me that they wanted a man to help them find their fireworks. They werent subtle. They wanted someone who actually knows what theyre talking about. Obviously, a particular set of genitalia is required for fireworks knowledge, why didnt I know this? I was even interrupted once while I was explaining what they could expect from a particular mortar rack and the customer blew past me like I hadnt even been talking and asked a stock boy for help.
The first time I was… annoyed, but it quickly became hilarious to me as the boys had no idea and made things up on the fly. They sold some of the worst fireworks that I deliberately steered customers away from, and I got a short break and a good laugh as the customers poured out hundreds to thousands (literally) of dollars on fireworks that I knew they would later be disappointed with.
9. Blaming the Victim
“No, we won’t set the pool up this year. The new neighbors’ boys would watch you.”
That’s what my mother said when I asked why we couldn’t use the pool anymore. I was something like thirteen, and it felt so unfair. We couldn’t enjoy our own pool (my sister and me) because there were poorly-behaved boys who stared at us. Their behavior, our punishment. About a year before, while she was on the phone with our freshly arrived beloved neighbor, my sister ran in and shouted: “Mom, they’re watching us in the pool!”. After an awkward silence, the neighbor said: “Well, I’ll buy curtains”. Great. Thank you. Instead of teaching her boys that it is by no mean decent to watch what happens in someone else’s garden, particularly in a POOL, she got curtains so that we couldn’t see them watching.
It is not the only thing that happened because of us being girls. I admire my mother, she is a strong woman who went through many problems, and she was assaulted twice and I hope that I could have such appropriate reactions. Problem is, because of that, and because we were girls, we could never go out alone even in the afternoon.
Another incident happened approximately the same year, not with my parents this time. I was out for dinner with two friends and the mother of one on them, and I said that I loved video games. Later, one of them asked, “What do you think about Assassin’s Creed III ?”. When I said that it wasn’t out yet, he answered that he had been testing me. To see if I wasn’t “faking it”. Because of course girls don’t like video games, and if they do it is only to seek attention from boys.
I guess that I’ve been in similar situations before that, but it probably just seemed normal to me back then. Which is kind of sad.
I was an Assistant Manager at the time at my first restaurant out of college. I was “touching tables” and working the floor. There was an issue at a table so I went over to speak with the guests and figure out a solution. The man looked right at me and before I could even say anything he said:
“No. I want the man manager.”
And I deal with that sort of sexism today, as General Manager of a restaurant. I get a little satisfaction when a guest is yelling at me thinking I’m a host (I became GM at 27) and they ask for “the boss” and I extend my hand to shake theirs and the look on their face is a look of shock and embarrassment.
You’re not in charge unless you’re wearing a tie. I have to work a little harder than my male peers while making a little less money than them, too.
11. Rude In-Laws
Being born as a girl in an Indian culture is an experience in itself. Ironic as it may sound, we as a society worship Goddess Durga/Shakti but refuse to acknowledge the divinity of the girl sitting next to you. Growing up there are so many instances where society makes you feel that as a girl you have boundaries and a role to play, but that never molded my thought process because my parents never made me feel this gender bias.
First time when I felt this gender gap was when I got married, yes it took 30 years for this society to break my heart on this sensitive issue. It was the day I was getting married and by the way it was a love marriage.
In Indian wedding bride’s side host the wedding and marriage feast. In my marriage food, we didn’t have a pan (beetle nut in leaf) and my husband’s father created such an uproar about it, he was shouting aloud ‘you showed disrespect to the groom’s family’ and my dad with his hands folded said sorry to him. I can never forget that sight. It is the sheer pride of being the father of the son and social taboo that bride’s family is supposed to please groom’s family (opposite is not required) that broke my heart. What followed was apologies from my husband to my father but no one ever cared about the bruise it caused on my soul(and mind it my husband’s dad never apologized). When I shared this hurt with my husband, he shared all the explanation (which I don’t even remember listening) but the crux of the message was ‘what’s the big deal, worst could [have] happened in a marriage ceremony, we being the groom’s side compromised a lot)’.
I don’t think I will ever be able to look into my daughter’s eyes and tell her that she will not be made to think low of herself just because she is a woman. If not me, the society might some day push this harsh notion right on to her face. But I will definitely make her fearless and teach her immense self-love.
Gender bias is not a myth, its real. It hurts the most when it comes from people you love, choose to love or are suppose to love.
Just want to add a disclaimer that I am not trying to say that anyone is good or bad, we are all humans and that is a subject in itself!
12. Not Cheering
I attended a Roman Catholic elementary school. You get boys and girls are different because girls wear one type of uniform and boys wear another. Men are priests and women are nuns. You learn gender roles kind of naturally, but it doesn’t necessarily sink in that these are bad things. This is even though people like parents explain some of the downsides. My mother had told me the advantages I had that she didn’t have, and how far things had come from even then. We could play full court basketball. My mother could not.
My father is awesome, and he always wanted kids who could become college athletes. We were into sports as a result. We were encouraged to run in races and played recreational soccer and basketball. These were both co-ed through government recreational sports. On the school level, we played sports single-sex. My school had girls basketball teams and boys basketball teams for third and fourth grades, fifth and sixth graders, and another for seventh and eighth graders. The soccer team in the late 1980s was co-ed. In any case, my Catholic primary school decided to create… an all-girls cheerleading team! First through fifth graders only! They would cheer exclusively at boys basketball games!
There were two girls who did not do cheerleading in all of first through fifth grade. Two. Only two. Myself and my sister. I didn’t want to do cheerleading. I did not want to cheer for boys. There was… discrimination and social pressure to join. All the rest of the girls are doing it! Who cares if you only cheer for boys? It’s a sport! It’s a girl’s activity!
As a fifth grader, I was not amused. My parents explained it was okay not to participate. I believe they explained the sexism related to the expectations that we participate. Still, when your classmates are making fun of you because you’re the only girl not doing cheerleading? It really is annoying. When they won’t play with you on the playground because you’re not doing the girl activity? It is lonely. When you’re the only girl on the playground other than your sister during recess because you refuse to do the gender expected behavior? It sucks.
It was a real lesson in what gender norms are and the consequences at times in not conforming to them. It was a huge pill to swallow as a ten-year-old, and my parents were very supportive given the environment in standing up for my desire not to conform.
13. Skimming On Milk
I grew up in a family of four girls and one boy. The girls drank powdered skim milk, while my brother got normal store-bought whole milk because he was “a growing boy”.
We didn’t know it was discrimination due to our gender, we just thought my parents were playing favorites.
To this day, I really do not enjoy milk.
14. The Pirate’s Wife
The year was 1990ish. I was about five years old, hanging out with my two best friends, and we were on the top bunk playing pirate ship. The boy whose house it was declared he was the captain and the other boy said he was the first mate.
“Ooh, what should I be?” Maybe the lookout, or the navigator, or whoever steered it—
“You’re the girl, so you can be the captain’s wife.”
Wife? Bleh. It sounded lame even before they told me that my first duty would be cooking food for them and keeping the decks clean. “I don’t want to be anyone’s wife.” (A position I have maintained to this day.)
“You have to if you want to play!” So I stomached my irritation in favor of pursuing an adventure. Because, you know, pirates. I think we only managed a few minutes of it.
Because then ‘the captain’ tried to kiss me.
I was so upset that I climbed out of the bed-ship, sprinted out of his room, past his confused mom, and ran all the way back to my house. (Okay, we were all neighbors, so it wasn’t very far.) I’m pretty sure I was crying; I felt betrayed and confused and indignant.
That memory is what immediately came to mind when I read this question, which on the surface sounds like an extremely silly story, and it has amused my older self a great deal (especially when I came to understand I am aromantic/asexual).
But as I’m thinking about it now, it’s not really feeling so funny: it was the first time I realized that there was another category I belonged to that separated me from simply being their ‘friend’ on the same level, that there were decisions and associations imposed upon me that had nothing to do with who I was or what I wanted, simply based on the genitalia I was born with.
I guess there’s no ‘good’ way to be introduced to that, but I don’t think it helps too much hearing it first from your friends.
15. The Old Switcheroo
I was discriminated against at the oil change place. The banner hanging on the front of the building was huge. You couldn’t miss it. It read,
“OIL CHANGE- 10 MINUTE SERVICE – DRIVE-IN- $29.95”
Right on. I had 10 minutes to spare and was due for an oil change. I drove in. The guy took my keys, started some paperwork and drove my car into the garage. He asked me to wait in the lobby.
About 15 minutes later he reappeared with the paperwork and went behind the counter to ring me up. I got out my money to pay. Two twenties. “Ma’am, the total price for the service is going to be SEVENTY DOLLARS.”
“It said on the banner $29.95, maintenance,” I said.
“We used premium synthetic oil, Ma’am.”
“I did not ask you to use premium oil.” I was beginning to get ticked off at this point.
“You needed it. Your car model required that brand. Also, we replaced a belt which was loose. That came to $12.00”
“There were no loose belts. I did maintenance 6 months ago and have driven it maybe 100 miles since then. I didn’t ask for these services and I refuse to pay them.” I tried to deepen my munchkin voice and stand taller, appear more authoritative than my 5’3″ frame allowed.
The conversation got heated at that point with the guy threatening to call the cops on me. I told him to go ahead and call them as I dialed my husband. Ten minutes later my irate husband walked in the door, asked to see the paperwork and told the guy it was nonsense, that he was ripping off women and he should be ashamed.
The guy sucked his teeth in disgust, threw open the cash register and took our money.
We walked out of there having paid the original $29.95 price as advertised (and with a synthetic premium oil and bonus replacement belt in the bargain.)
Not that I’m ungrateful, but that I had to call a man to rescue me really annoys me.
16. Success Is The Best Revenge
I can’t say this was the first time because truth is, I was probably oblivious to it the first time. I am an only child, and my only cousin is male. The first few times I felt that being a girl was different was because of him. My dad would take him to games, buy him dirty magazines, and jerseys, and musical instruments. I didn’t get any of those things. It didn’t really bother me because I didn’t want them.
But [I will always remember] the day I was told I couldn’t have something I actually wanted because of my gender for the first time. I was 15, and I really wanted to be an engineer. My parents were supportive, but at dinner with one of my dad’s friends (both engineers), my dad said I wanted to be one and his friend told me “No, sweetie. You’re too pretty to be an engineer.” I looked at my dad, fuming, the loud mouth teenager I was. Don’t call me sweetie. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t talk at all for the rest of dinner.
I like to think about that story sometimes, as I stroke my Chemical Engineering diploma.