There’s nothing like being a woman in Tech Support. As registers evolved from mechanical pushbutton machines to computers running Windows XP, loaded up with softwares, sales databases, and customer retention tools, they became unwieldy.
I’m not lying when I say that NSB register software requires 7 different button presses, including the input of an 8-digit associate number, twice, before they’re actively allowed to ring merchandise.
So, between the hours of 4pm-12am, Monday through Friday, I got a lot of calls. Worse, the company I did support for is a Big and Tall men’s retailer. As such, most of the male associates spent their day-to-day lives staring at fat men, and telling guys how to best hide their XXL belt-size does not make for a stimulating 8 hours of retail work.
Needless to say, when the associates call and heard a friendly woman…they flirted. And charmed. And pulled out all the pet names they know and love and rarely use in person.
Any lady who has answered a phone for a living has been here. Over 8 years, 56 thousand calls, and conversations with nearly 2000 employees, I’ve run the soft sexism lexicon twice over. I’ve been Hun. And Darlin’. And Sweetie. And Sugah. And Ma’am. And Lady. And Dear. And Babe. Boy oh boy was I ‘babe’.
Thanks babe. You’re a babe, darlin. Hey babe can you reset my internet? Be a babe, dear, and dial into this machine and fix it for me, thanks, Darlin’. Babe, don’t you worry your pretty little head about me, take your time, I know it’s tough going for ya, hun.
Women weren’t blameless, either:
Us gals gotta stick together. How do you survive with all those other rude men you work with? Are you like Dyke-y, dear? You don’t sound like most women I know in computers. Hun, I’m just an old woman and I don’t know *what* I’m doing with all these wires, you gotta get someone out here to fix this for me.
I did not have time to correct every instance of soft sexism I encountered – and I imagine neither do most women. It would turn a quick and positive call into a long, awkward, and ultimately negative one. Thus I took every instance of Southern Hospitality, Texas Charm, California ‘Tude, and New England saltiness with a grain of, well, salt.
Sexism is institutional after all, like coffee with breakfast, church on Sundays, rain in April, 4th of July fireworks, Super Bowl Sundays, summer blockbusters, philandering politicians, girls wearing dresses, boys wearing jeans, country music being ‘white’, hip-hop being ‘black’, southern drawls and gay lisps and Irish brogues. Women are to be courted, and men to provide.
For many Americans, the above ‘truths’ are self evident – omnipresent in our lives and in our media and our social interactions and human lineage. It is what you are raised with, told to believe, see for yourself, and sometimes cannot deny. Some are fine, others stereotypes, and many are overwhelmingly negative in their impact on our world and society and progress. They are abundant and countless.
Racism is an institution.
Like I said so is sexism. Women are delicate and have high voices. Men are strong and have deep ones. And on and on and on and on. But as we all know, or should know, institutions should be challenged. Not all women wear dresses. Not all black people like hip-hop. And not all men have deep voices.
I know I don’t.
I’m a straight, white, cis-male with a high voice and particular dialect. You knew me as Paula. Or Cathy. Or sometimes Jan. For some God given reason, if you hear me on the phone and I speak with the manners I was raised with, you’ll think I’m a woman.
Yes, I’ve tried saying my name was Frank, Bob, Joe, Chris, Eddie, Mark, and Edward. Yes, I’ve tried ‘lowering’ my voice and sounded like Dr. Frank-n-furter made out with a helium tank.
Did this gig give me the full female experience? Of course not. I couldn’t begin to fathom how it would be to live in this world as a woman full time, objectified from puberty on, judged on my beauty, constantly feeling the need to compare myself with my peers and the unrealistic beauty standards that make up most of our advertising and entertainment media.
To be viewed as ‘prey’ by the world at large is an unimaginable tragedy that’s a shocking reality for most all women.
I can absolutely begin to imagine where the men I talked to on the phone were coming from. I can offer insight and theories and thoughts on the subject of male and female interactions, perhaps a bit more than most men can.
Which is to say sexism is *real* and omnipresent. In my expierence, most people guilty of it are totally unaware – and worse think they’re being nice – and in a way, they are.
My theory regarding all of this comes from the very notion of what an institution is – it’s something we’re born into. No one makes a deliberate choice to be sexist or racist, a football fan or tech guy. They’re not power-ups you shoot for on the road to adulthood. They’re attribute points you involuntarily pick up along the way.
And I am of the mind it is *partly* the responsibility of the enlightened to extend an open hand, and not a closed and shaking fist.
The men on the phone I spoke with either didn’t know better, thought they were harmless, being nice, or were simply yearning for a connection with a human female. They were sexist, but it was sexist in the same way a dog pees on the carpet – non-malicious, but gross and annoying and stinky none-the-less.
If it sounds like I’m being an apologist for men, it’s only because I am. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If I had approached these men and attempted to explain to them what they were doing is wrong and demeaning, would they listen and try and change?
I think they would.
But you tell me, ladies. Have you confronted the sexist men in your lives and changed their mind?
How’d it go?
Sadly, women’s rights advocates are often regarded as ‘feminazis’ as a way to undermine their genuine feelings, and terms like ‘privilege’ and ‘mansplain’ are used to limit honest thoughts from men.
In both of these scenarios, I am of the mind that challenging this the institution of sexism with the vitriol, judgement, hubris, and close-mindedness that define so many institutions, is a bad way to be.
At the same time, and most importantly, I implore my fellow men; my fellow crotch scratching, porno loving, beer drinking, car fixing, Trump voting, prostate growing, men, to give the ‘me too’ movement some thought.
I’ve looked at how I’ve treated potential online dates; the nudes I’ve asked for, and abrasive questions I’ve asked, and wonder…was that harassment? I guess it depends on how they responded and felt.
Despite its negative reputation, I am of the mind that ‘social justice’ is a thing Libertarians and conservatives like me should be aware of, ambivalent to, and in favor of. If we believe in freedom and self regulation and keeping the government out of our wallets and bedrooms and head space, we need to self regulate.
It is of paramount importance we do everything in our power to engage with women on a social level about what they face and what we can do as individuals to help while avoiding icky ‘white knight’ virtue signaling – everyone hates the guy at the party using his feminism to get laid.
We should look at these protests and social media campaigns as an example of the very thing ‘conservatives’ believe in – an opportunity for a self regulating market.
Disagree with the platform, sure, but don’t disagree with the method. Don’t invalidate the feelings. Seek to understand. Seek to learn.
Also, watch some movies like Tootsie and Working Girl and Hidden Figures and Fried Green Tomatoes, these movies impeccably display the effect soft sexism and hard sexism can have on a woman’s mentality.
And you might just learn something, babe.