Edit desk: Shades of sexism


Emily Ward

It’s been 173 days since Donald Trump was elected president, 173 days since my last edit desk and 173 days since I was coldly reminded that sexist rhetoric remains the norm.

On Nov. 9, 2016, I wrote a response to Trump’s election. In it, I described my fears about the next four years, which included restriction of women’s reproductive rights.

An hour later, the article received its first comment: Take your contraceptives, and you won’t have to make a choice to murder your child.”

It came from someone who had chosen to identify with the name “Lehigh Engineer.” I don’t know the commenter’s name, gender, age or race. But that’s not what matters — sexism is reinforced by men and women alike, regardless of demographic factors.

Although the most blatant, it wasn’t the first time I had experienced sexism as a journalist.

During interviews, I have witnessed male faculty subtly — and sometimes, not so subtly — insist on asserting their authority over me. Once, a man who works for Lehigh asked during an interview, “Are you following along, sweetie?” He was talking about a simple financial process, and yes, I was following along.

Last year, a male graduate student wrote me a 700-word email regarding one of my articles. He repeatedly questioned my intelligence, and by the fifth paragraph, I was told I was supposed to interpret his condescension as feedback.

In March, Martin Schneider, a writer and editor for the news site Front Row Central, tweeted the chronicle of his first true experience of sexism. He and his colleague Nicole were working for an employment service firm, and their boss constantly complained that Nicole was taking too long to work with her clients. Schneider attributed his speediness to more experience.

One day, he was emailing back and forth with a client who was being rude and dismissive. That’s when Schneider noticed he had been signing all of his emails as “Nicole.” Since the two shared an inbox, the client thought he was communicating with Nicole, not Schneider.

Out of curiosity, Schneider said, “Hey this is Martin, I’m taking over this project for Nicole.” He noticed immediate improvement. The client started responding promptly and thanking Schneider for his suggestions. He became the model client.

“My technique and advice never changed,” Schneider said. “The only difference was that I had a man’s name now.”

Schneider and Nicole decided to conduct an experiment. For two weeks, they switched names. He signed all client emails as “Nicole,” and she signed as him.

“It was hell,” Schneider said. Everything he suggested was questioned, clients were condescending and one asked if “Nicole” was single.

His female colleague, on the other hand, had the most productive two weeks of her career. When she didn’t have to spend time convincing her clients she knew what she was doing, Nicole flew through her work. Schneider realized he wasn’t any better — he just had an “invisible advantage.”

Schneider was right.

Sometimes sexism is invisible, even pleasantly worded, when masqueraded by “sweetie” or “honey.” Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious, like the commenter who simultaneously discredited my fear and lectured me about my reproductive rights. And sometimes that sexism doesn’t go away even when a woman becomes more experienced and more successful.

In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice presidential candidate to represent a major political party. She was running with Walter Mondale on the democratic party ticket. At the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, as Ferraro stood before the crowd, an NBC news anchor announced, “Geraldine Ferraro…The first woman to be nominated for vice president…Size 6!” At the same convention, Ferraro was asked if she knew how to bake blueberry muffins.

Sexism won’t always be this blatant, and it doesn’t always manifest in the same ways. As a white woman, the sexism I experience is different from the sexism a black or hispanic woman experiences, which is different from the sexism a mother experiences.

Although it is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, women need to reject it at every level. They need to be taught as a child to recognize sexism, both blatant and benevolent, and call it out when they see it.

I hope “Lehigh Engineer” reads this, I hope the faculty member reads this and I hope the graduate student reads this.

I recognized your sexism, and I’m calling you out.

Emily Ward, ’18, is the news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Robert Davenport on

    Unfortunately, people try to attack, belittle or marginalize others in a debate or in situations they hope to gain an advantage. This is human nature not at its finest. I don’t forsee discrimination disappearing in the near future.

    Let’s try to advocate solutions to the problem rather than railing against it. Try to respect those who disagree with you in hopes that they do the same.

    Don’t call them out, help them change.

    • Emily's Mom on

      Mr. Davenport,
      I think that is exactly what Emily is trying to do…help them change. But, to change behavior it needs to be recognized. And we all need to recognize and call out sexism when we see it. Especially men. Men cannot leave this only to the women to change. I am very proud of my daughters and their approach to sexism but honestly I am prouder of my son. It will be the fathers, brothers and sons of strong women who will change this discussion.

  2. Brooklyn Jim on

    Thank you, Emily, for raising this issue so eloquently. We need to confront sexism and sexist behavior whenever and wherever they exist. Keep advocating and don’t let the ankle-biters deter you!

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