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The Woes of Women in the Work Place: From the Steps of the United States Courthouse to a Cubicle Near You

Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez’s political presence has caused commotion; whether you deem it positive or negative, well, that’s up to you. That said, as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, her name alone can spark some sort of reaction at a dinner table. Regardless of whether you like her or hate her, the woman has a point when it comes to sexism in the workplace.

Women are never free from the outer critic of society’s voice and set a standard for how women should behave at work, school, church, dates, pools, and in AOC’s case, certainly in politics. If a woman chooses to push outside of the limitations of this narrative or simply dare to pave a new road for women in society, then she is labeled a “b----”, disobedient, “too much,” “too loud,” or in the words of our president, “a Nasty Woman.” As professed by AOC, the harsh realities of sex discrimination aren’t new, and that’s the problem.[1]

Women have been subjected to sexist laws and policies in the workplace, school, and government. In addition to that, women also endured unsavory statements in the place of work, not only in America but internationally, as well. In her article in Time Magazine, “This Woman was Fired for a Heavy Period Leak,”Areva Martin, esq., Los Angeles-based attorney,cast doubt on the antiquated laws that suppress women. Is it ethically right for a company to be able to fire a woman for a period leak at work? Having a public period leak is already traumatic enough, imagine getting fired over it. Is it ethically right for a company to fire a woman over needing a clean, private place to pump breast milk? The answer to both of these questions appears to be clear, while the law itself isn’t always so clear. Through utilizing a scope of the legal context, this article will explore sexism in the workplace and how society has been conditioned to view and treat women as inferior to men (in even subtle, initially cheeky/ seemingly innocent ways).

Even at a young age, girls are taught to cover their shoulders since the accepted dress code deems them to be distractions for classmates of the opposite sex. In Cleveland Ohio, it is illegal for women to “show too much cleavage,” as the city prohibits women from showing cleavage “with a less than fully opaque” covering. [2] Dress code violations can be found outside of classrooms too. Carmel-by- the City, a small beach village in California, is known for its “high heel law”/ municipal code, which prohibits women from wearing heels that are more than two inches in height. While the ordinance has been around since the 1920s, it’s still within the law because its purpose is to protect Carmel from lawsuits. As Ron Stern stated in 5 unusual facts you probably didn’t know about Carmel-by-the-Sea, “Part of the ambiance of the city includes numerous towering pine and cypress trees that dot the landscape. Over time the roots have caused the pavement to become uneven creating a potential hazard. City officials, afraid of liability issues, thus created the ordinance.”[3] Instead of justifying subtle sexism, they could easily fix the roads or put up a sign. It should be noted that Carmel does not actively give citations for this. Nevertheless, Carmel’s City Hall has provided not only a solution but also created an unusual souvenir for visitors through having permits for anyone who wants to wear heels. Nevertheless, this is a prime example of sexism disguised as a cheeky way to gain tourists, since the ordinance itself affects primarily women.

Certain ideals are constantly pushed upon women. Society tells us how to talk, what to wear, and what is vs. isn’t acceptable according to the standards attached to womankind. For instance, imagine wanting to get a haircut before a job interview or an event, and your husband doesn’t approve of this potential appearance change. Well, this is an unfortunate reality for women in Michigan, as a wife must obtain her husband’s permission before she can cut her hair. [4] When it comes to the dating world, we are told we should be available but not “too available.” We are instructed to wait for the man’s lead. We are informed that, according to society, it’s admirable for a woman to have goals but if has too many or if she’s “too focused on work,” then she’s viewed as a bad mother.

These harsh realities of what being a woman in America ring true for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has endured dehumanizing and violent language in the workplace countless of times. From Trump telling Ocasio- Cortez to “Go home to [her] own country” to the governor of Florida referring to her in an incredibly dehumanizing manner through the words, “whatever that is” (not her first name, last name, or even pronoun… He treated her like she was less than human)[5]. July 21st marked both AOC’s most recent and possibly most publicized encounter with sex discrimination in the workplace through her conservative colleague, Rep. Tedd Yoho, verbally attacking her at the steps of the United States capital. AOC urged that it’s essential to note that, “You’re a f------ b----” were the words that Representative Yoho imposed upon a congresswoman. She initially planned to simply brush it off as many women have instinctively learned how to do when responding to sexism both in and out of the workplace. However, after Yoho decided to go to the floor of the House of Representatives with excuses in hand and no apology at heart or insight, AOC could no longer remain silent in the name of true equality and respect for women across the globe.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Another man called a woman ‘f------ b----‘… What’s the big deal? This isn’t unusual or uncommon.” To which I sustain, “There. The problem is right there in your subconscious stream of thought, which has been molded to fit sexist social constructs.” Sexism is all around whether it’s blatantly obvious like Yoho or simply in your head out of habit. Either way, it needs to stop. Either way, it matters. So if you’re still wondering why this matters, see the lines below: AOC elaborated that she could not let her nieces, little girls across America, or victims of verbal and physical abuse “to see that excuse and see our congress to accept it as legitimate and to see silence as a form of acceptance.” Yoho’s sexist transgressions matter because they were made towards a congresswoman who “not only represents New York’s 14th, but every congresswoman and woman in this country because all of had to deal with this in some form, shape, or way in our lives”. [6]

One would think that we wouldn’t have these issues in 2020; yet, we’re still needing to have these conversations. Don’t let the year 2020 fool you--- Antonia Kirkland, Global Lead for Legal Equality & Access to Justice, said there were still "hundreds, if not thousands" of discriminatory laws worldwide.[7] Kirkland went on to say, “It happens everywhere in the world ... almost every country (has them).” This isn’t a perfect Utopia we’re talking about. We’re talking about America here, and while we have made great strides towards equality, we still have a long way to go. To give an accurate picture of the reality of gender inequality, Kirkland went on to say that out of 195 countries in the world, the World Bank only judged eight countries to have legal equality, which includes Sweden, Iceland, and Belgium. Imagine wanting to work, and not being able to because of your husband. Kirkland affirmed that this is a cruel reality for many women in the world as she explained that, “More than 100 countries have laws barring women from specific jobs, 59 have no laws on workplace sexual harassment, and 18 have laws allowing husbands to forbid their wives from working, according to U.N. Women.”

Other countries are stuck in the past and are not making any strides at all. For instance, only two years ago, Saudi Arabia allowed women to legally drive by themselves. Before 2018, a woman would have to have a man in the car in order to drive at all. With consideration to the foregoing, even in these situations where a woman was escorted, it was still looked down upon for her to have control over the wheel. Moreover, due to the fact that sexism is embedded in Saudi Arabia’s laws, women may not travel, obtain a passport, open a bank, or register a business without permission from a male relative.[8] Another example is found in Russia, where women are barred from working 456 different jobs that the government has deemed a threat to women’s health.[9] Kirkland also called attention to the concern that some countries had not only failed to scrap discriminatory laws, but proposed new ones.

Women have control in the parliamentary role, but such control has caused men to embody harbored resentment to women who have achieved status in a historically dominated field. We are so resistant towards having a woman president when in actually COVID has proven that female leadership is effective despite the belief of women “being too emotional” to hold office (ironically, President Trump is most infamous for tweeting impulsively and reacting to anyone who criticizes him. Additionally, he attacks female leaders who are incredibly intelligent, yet his cruelty stems from his mental incompetency.). For instance, New Zealand under Jacinda Ardern or Taiwan under the presidency of Tsai Ing-Wen or Germany under Angela Merkel, serve as proof that instead of overreacting or gaslighting their base and COVID’s existence, they listen to scientist and actually implemented procedures to protect their instances.

My take is: a woman’s place is in the house---- and in the senate. Kirkland captured the reality of a woman in the workplace by noting, “It's not all bad news. But there's still a long way to go.” While things have certainly improved since the ’50s, where women were limited to the role of being housewives (not chosen by themselves, but rather by society), we still have restrictions on women’s employment. Whether it’s not being allowed to pump breast milk or being able to even be considered for a job. Sexism is also found through the treatment of women with authority. Some men constantly, not only question women’s authority or capability strictly based on their sex, but they take it another step too far by dehumanizing them with the label “b----.” Whether it’s on the steps of the U.S Congress or in a cubicle, there are women enduring sexism. Some endure it—others speak out against the limitations of systematic sexism and historical gender roles. Which type of “lady” are you?

Sources:

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI4ueUtkRQ0

[2] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/sexist-laws-in-the-us-in-2017/

[3] https://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2015/05/31/5-unusual-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-carmel-by-the-sea/

[4] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/sexist-laws-in-the-us-in-2017/

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI4ueUtkRQ0

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI4ueUtkRQ0

[7] https://news.trust.org/item/20200302184520-bdr66/

[8] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/7-sexist-laws-prevent-women-dangerousjobs/

[9] https://www.one.org/international/blog/sexist-laws-2019/

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