By Sierra Voorhies
(Hackers, her name is not the answer to any security questions. Go away.)
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my Grandma Rios, but I would also like to share a little bit about my Grandma Carol. She’s amazing, she’s a Virgo, and she’s incredibly smart; she likes to clean, and red lipstick is a part of her signature look. Unfortunately, my grandma has directly faced many women’s issues in her life. One of her stories goes like this:
Carol worked at the Bell Telephone Company, and over her career she held a bunch of different job duties there. She worked switch boards, installed telephones, fixed telephone wires on high poles, put up satellite dishes, and more. One Friday night at 5 pm, when Carol was in her 30’s, she was installing a dish on an apartment building roof. Carol was three stories up on a huge ladder, when a man from a third-floor apartment opened his window underneath her and said, “Can I ask a question? Are you a boy or a girl?”
My grandma laughs at this today, but at the time this was incredibly irritating. She was wearing steel-toe boots, a button-up work shirt, and a hat—I don’t think she minded looking androgynous, but having her gender brought up and questioned was one of the things she had to deal with on the job, despite her gender being irrelevant and her being busy. In this case, her womanhood was being questioned because of her presentation and her profession in a field largely dominated by cis men.
Grandma Carol also took a lot of flak from cis men coworkers and customers. They would give her difficult assignments in rough neighborhoods, send her under houses (literally underneath them) without backup, and not tell her about safety guidelines—all to “test” her, to see what she would do, or to pass off assignments that others had declined to do. Carol says that they were wanting her to say no, hoping to prove that a woman couldn’t do the job. She did every single job they sent her way.
Today, my grandma tells these experiences like funny stories, but at the time they were offensive and often dangerous incidents of workplace discrimination. Equalrights.org has a comprehensive definition of gender discrimination and lists this as an example: “being held to different or higher standards, or being evaluated more harshly, because of your gender identity, or because you don’t act or present yourself in a way that conforms to traditional ideas of femininity or masculinity.” If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does. Even though this was 30–50 years ago, gender discrimination at work is still a problem. The Pew Research Center says roughly 4 out of 10 women have experienced gender discrimination, whether that be by earning less money, receiving little jabs, or being passed over for opportunities and promotions. My grandma doesn’t like to consider herself a victim of gender discrimination, probably because she’s a very fortunate and generous woman, but she should not have had to experience what she did, and I think it’s important to talk about the past and present, and contextualize issues women and gender minorities continue to experience.