Gender bias in the workplace is a daily struggle for women
I once was invited on a Skype call by the male founder of a promising, well-funded start-up for quick knowledge exchange. I gladly accepted the invitation. Never mind that the individual in question did not show up to a previous appointment without the decency of notice or an apology. I rejoiced at the opportunity to learn more from a fellow entrepreneur.
During the very first minutes, the tone was set. I was sharply ordered to keep my mouth shut and ask my questions at the end of the “conversation.” You guessed right: I never asked questions and was left to my own dissection of such violence.
You may be willing to reassure me that this was a one-off event and that I may not have been thick-skinned enough. I wish. A year ago, on a call with a different organisation, a male director interrupted his female colleague while she joyfully shared their work. There was no apparent reason for the interruption than the man believing his words were more important than hers.
Just like me, she instantly silenced herself. I watched in bewilderment and, frankly, pain. Interestingly, when I spoke with other female entrepreneurs about these experiences, they shared similar ones of intimidation, aggressiveness, mansplaining and other “delicacies.”
In the spectrum of gender-based violence and female oppression in Arab societies, my colleagues and I might have been the luckiest after all but, no, we are not.
All types of violence on the spectrum of gravity are still violence. No distinctions can be made. One kind of violence fuels, justifies and prepares for its next cycle and ladder.
It seems that, no matter the amount of women’s rights activism and call for women’s inclusion and gender-parity, that cycle of violence continues outside those conferences, talks and reports.
Maybe because, no matter the importance and the energy behind those efforts, they will never teach basic human decency to some men who have learnt somewhat else in our societies and elsewhere despite the strong presence of feminism as a concept in our Arabic literary, philosophical and intellectual heritage.
On this occasion of International Women’s Day, I wanted to recount those two events to share what had ended such violence, at least in my daily encounters with men: immediate plain call out to behaviours disrespectful of my integrity as a human in my professional interactions and of my presence in the public space.
Through repetitive experiences, I mastered how to sharply address and resolve those behaviours live — call that crisis management, if you will. I came to the sad conclusion that men with fully grown prefrontal cortex do not need another gender advocacy campaign to cognitively accept and respect the presence of a millenary female human.
I learnt my power was regained and rebalanced in imposing boundaries to men who have the healthy cognitive capacity to understand them.
Mind you, such facing required much exercising and disruption of my Pavlovian brain, which had somehow — until my first anecdote — been going along with ingrained patriarchy and the unparalleled sense of male self-entitlement.
For much of his discomfort, my fellow male entrepreneur was the first to receive my plain call-out, to which he responded with silence, then embarrassment and finally an apology.
Sure enough, when we have taken our power in random daily events, then we will be more strongly equipped to demand equal pay, appropriate childcare, the right to pass on nationality to our children, full right to divorce, fair involvement in politics, rights to own our bodies, reap the full financial benefits of our work and equal parenting emotional responsibilities.
Until then, regaining our power is priority. Our silence not only entertains the traumas of such experiences but fuels such toxic behaviour. We must speak up for ourselves, so our daughters will never be silenced.