By Alex Blahout
If you looked at the jobs I’ve had, you would probably assume I’m some kind of a sucker for punishment, because apparently I keep choosing jobs commonly thought to be a “man’s job”. You'd think that in 2014 there wouldn’t be jobs associated with only men, but it might surprise you to find out how much inadvertent sexism customers generate towards a female employee. While it’s maybe less surprising in industries like automotive repair and video-game sales, even in a place as neutral as a print shop there is an abundance. It is disheartening to be disrespected and trivialized simply because of my gender, but it’s worse when people don’t even realize that they’re being sexist. Consider that today, we tell boys and girls to pursue any career they choose, then turn around and subtly reinforce gender roles by believing that women are less knowledgeable in certain jobs. This needs to change.
When I worked at a car dealership, I was the appointment coordinator, but I had exactly the same technical training as the advisers, so I could do diagnostics over the phone. The information I provided customers was up-to-date and I was company certified, but many of the male customers, who had been “changing their own oil since they were sixteen,” didn’t like it. Even women didn’t trust me, raised to believe only a man could understand “car stuff.” I once had a woman call me a liar to my face while I was explaining what would be involved in her 20,000-kilometre servicing, and – among other insults – asked me, “Who allowed you to work here?” Equally hurtful were the men who consistently asked to speak to a male adviser, who in turn would repeat my diagnosis word for word, just because of social preconceptions about who belongs in which workplace.
At the video-game store, some male customers ignored me completely in favour of speaking to a male employee even if said employee was obviously busy. Many a customer would bother my male manager while he had his head buried in paperwork even though I had greeted them and waved them over to my side of the cash. Other male customers seemed to feel that a woman who enjoys these supposedly “masculine” hobbies is some kind of rare prize to be won via awkward flirting and inappropriate touching (I can’t imagine anyone caressing a male employee’s shoulder while expressing mutual enthusiasm for a video game). And let me tell you that I would prefer to deal with Call of Duty-playing, snapback-wearing dudebros any day of the week; even though they might ask me with wide eyes “So you actually play video games?” they never challenged me with obscure gaming trivia in an attempt to disprove my experience in the way some others would.
I honestly thought I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this while working at the print shop, but I could be giving a customer advice on their order or explaining the process, and if a male coworker came to the front of the store it was like the customer forgot I had been capably serving them just seconds earlier. Too often, customers averted their attention from me and started asking all their questions to the man in the room, and at the first sign of my being incapable of completing their impossible request (“Can you make this rectangular picture square without cropping it?”) would demand to speak to a man.
We need to stop reinforcing sexist behaviour; everyone is entitled to feel comfortable in the job they choose. It is no one’s place to tell a woman whether her career is gender appropriate, through words OR actions. Knowledge and experience should be enough for someone to be respected in their profession, and giving that respect to all employees is how we can change the idea of conventional gender roles.