I work in horticulture – plants, gardens, soil, design. Traditionally a male-dominated industry, it has come on a long way, but I still encounter sexism. I was at Borough Market last week and the man behind the counter asked me what I do. I told him and he uttered the immortal line “I’m not a sexist, but I thought that was a man’s job”. I’m sure you’ll all roll your eyes. We’ve all heard that one before, and we know that if you have to say you’re not sexist, or racist, or homophobic, there’s a pretty big chance you actually are.
I was using a hose to clean out some gravel, and my male boss shouted “Hey everyone, look, she’s squirting”. I’ve been told that women are better at certain tasks because “their hands are smaller and they’re more gentle and careful”. I heard a female Head Gardener described disparagingly as “rude and abrasive and more like a man than a woman”. I know, without even having to ask you, that all of us have stories like this. Since #MeToo I’ve noticed that quite a lot has changed. People are more careful, concerns are being taken more seriously. But we still have to deal with things that happen in the moment. I don’t know if I have the right answers but here’s how I’m dealing with it.
I no longer laugh. If someone makes a ‘joke’, I won’t laugh out of discomfort, or to make them feel better. If I’m safe, I will call them out. If I’m not, I will say nothing at the time, but often will afterwards. If I encounter any sexism, I will make it known. I’ve also started talking to my male co-workers about what I’ve experienced. I’ve noticed a lot more women doing this. The men are uncomfortable and sometimes say ‘well isn’t this a cheery topic’. We call them out on that as well. This is our lives. Bring it into the open.
I used to think that I should stay in difficult situations and fight and battle to make myself valued. I no longer consider my time worth so little. If I have a choice, I won’t take jobs in organisations or for people who are sexist. The internet is a big huge place, full of knowledge: if small-minded people want to educate themselves, all they have to do is google. I’m not going to waste my time on ignorance anymore. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features this heartbreaking line “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they’re afraid of being rude”. It’s not just afraid of being rude though, it’s afraid of being given the shitty jobs, being fired, or being physically hurt. All valid fears.
There was a man who sexually assaulted one of my friends at an after-work drinks thing. It’s her story to tell, not mine. But it’s one so many of us have experienced, to varying degrees of horror. My friend didn’t want to report it, which is totally her right. But we, the women in her life, made sure she was never alone with him again in work, we swapped shifts, we ‘tagged along’, we made sure he never got invited to after-drinks events. We heard men talking about what a ‘good guy’ he was, and we would give knowing looks at each other. Women know. Our silent eye contact says a thousand words. My friend didn’t feel safe enough to bring it out into the official channels, for many reasons, and we support her decision. But we’ve got her back. We’ve got yours too.