My Sexist Encounters as a Student Employee

Even at a supportive and progressive university such as UCSB, sexism exists. I was a student employee for two years. I never expected to be subjected to sexism, but I’ll share two blatantly sexist encounters, once by a man and once by a woman.

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction. —Audre Lorde

Image via human results

The Laundry Room

It was in my job description to wash rags occasionally despite the fact that the only way into the laundry room was through the Men’s Restroom. It was my first month on the job, and the detergent was missing from the laundry room. I approached a smiley man I’d met in the office next door. I asked if he knew where I could find more detergent, and he was taken aback. Why on earth would it be OK for me (a woman) to use the only laundry room on site that happened to be located in the Men’s Restroom? I was surprised by his reaction since it was well known by all the employees that male and female coordinators like myself had been laundering rags for the department for almost 20 years.

“I’m going to call facilities and make sure they are OK with this.” Gee, it was sure nice of him to voice his skepticism of a fellow professional without a second thought.

I was close enough to hear the head facilities manager on the other end of the line say casually, “Oh, yeah! No, they use our detergent. Just open up the stock closet in the hall with your key. We just restocked, so you’ll find some detergent in there. With his smile returned to his face, the man seemed much more at ease and happily led me to the detergent. It was comforting to know that with one word from another man, he kindly repealed his accusation of my mischievous and unpredictable behavior, as to be expected of a young woman.

“Our visions begin with our desires.” —Audre Lorde

Image via In The Black

Power Tools

I was on campus working with power tools, which I loved. I mentioned to my manager (also a woman) how I had a coworker take a photo of me ‘for my resume’; sparks shooting out to the side, the orange color glowing in my eye-protection goggles…A crowd of suited people walked by, so we turned off our power tools to extinguish the sparks from their path. A woman trailed off to the end of the pack, smiled, and said, “It’s a smart thing, to learn those skills, just in case there isn’t someone else around to do it for you.

The problem about sexism is that people do it without realizing it’s sexism. Let us put it into perspective: remember that phrase ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’? Well, it applies to men, women, and their choices to defy gender roles, too.