LEE DESSER TACLIAD
I believe that writing has the power to change the world.
Specializing in writing about feminism, mental health, pop culture, and motherhood, Twistedfeminism takes a unique approach to address contemporary issues.
Lee Desser Tacliad is a freelance journalist and writer who lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and son.
IS IT INAPPROPRIATE FOR MEN TO ASK OUT WOMEN AT WORK?
Comedian and late night television host, Samantha Bee, brought up something controversial on NPR’s Fresh Air about sexual harassment.
She started off with a couple of news stories of women facing discrimination for avoiding men’s sexual advances at work, and at the end of her segment she said, “Right now I’m actually picturing some guy saying, ‘Ugh! What do I have to do? Stop asking women out at work because it makes them uncomfortable?’ ” To which she replied, “Yes. You are at work.”
I’d always thought of sexual harassment as a habitual offense of great magnitude. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to agree: “…the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” Yet, ideally, shouldn’t a woman be able to go to work or school and not have to deal with the added pressures of a man (or anyone) hitting on her? Shouldn’t work or school be a safe zone from sexual advances?
SNL did a skit on workplace relationships titled, "Sexual Harassment and You," starring Tom Brady (Greg) and Fred Armison (Frank). In short, when the “average-looking” Frank asks a woman out to lunch she shuts him down, scoffing at “the ask,” and presumably calls human resources to report the incident. Then, when the “Adonis-looking” Greg asks the same woman out, she cheerfully agrees and doesn’t seem to mind him cupping her breast.
At the end of the segment, the narrator determines that ultimately, “You can have sex with women at work without losing your job by following a few simple rules: be handsome, be attractive, and don’t be unattractive.”
I realize that people (including many women) are fiercely divided on this issue. One night I was at a woman’s book club and I told an anecdote about how, when I was taking a course at a community college, a man 30+ years my senior asked me if I wanted to “hang out this weekend” and how it made me feel incredibly awkward and uncomfortable.
“How dare he?” I thought. “Now I have to run into him Monday through Friday and avoid his advances. Will he ask again? How will I say 'no'? Why is it that when a woman is nice to a man he assumes that she’s interested in him?” I complained to my girlfriends about this and, to my surprise, not everyone agreed. Some said he had every right to ask; he didn’t know I would say, 'no.' “What about the age difference?” I said. To which one woman replied, “My uncle is 20 years older than my aunt. It happens.” This changed my mind a bit. Maybe it wasn’t so out of line?
If I had to draw a conclusion it would be that asking a woman out only makes her uncomfortable if she isn’t interested. Yet, a man may not know if a woman is interested if he doesn’t ask her out. In the end, Samantha Bee’s statement at the end of her segment may be the only advice that people can agree on , “…if you must ask a colleague out at least learn to take no for an answer…” What do you think?
GENDER PRONOUN AMBIGUITY: PRO OR CON?
It all started with a post on the “Student Affairs Professionals” Facebook group. Chris Liebert of The University of Kansas wrote, “Today I began using a new email signature that includes my gender pronouns. If anyone else has been considering the update, join me! Since my gender pronouns associate with the typical perception of cisgender-normativity [descriptor for those whose experiences of their own gender agree with the sex they were assigned at birth], this public display of my pronouns cost me little to no social capital…If this small, cost free, adaptation makes even the slightest difference in how supported my students feel on campus, I should have a more substantial reason not to list my pronouns…”
After reading this, I visited the suggested Samuel Merritt page titled “Gender Pronoun Resources”. I liked the section on, “Why is it important for SMU faculty, staff, and students to respect gender pronouns? ”I kept nodding my head reading, “Asking SMU community members what their preferred pronouns are and consistently using them correctly is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity” and “Discussing and correctly using gender pronouns sets a tone of respect and allyship that trans and gender nonconforming people do not take for granted.”
Yet, some other parts about the page bothered me. Why does the Masculine have “he, him, and his” and the Feminine only “She, her, and her”? The singular, “they, them, and theirs” still throws me off. And one example email signature included “hers” next to “her”- isn’t that implied? Why not simply put a more subtle “Mr.” or “Ms.” in front of an email signature instead of including all of these pronouns?
Still, I immediately considered getting on board and changing my email signature, but something was bothering me. I realized that in the 80’s my mother named me “Lee” because she was a big fan of gender neutral names. My mom, Christine, always went by the gender neutral, “Chris,” so that in written communication she could prove herself by her work ethic and skills instead of being judged by her gender. As a regional manager at a bank, this helped her communicate with other offices without the stigma of being one of the only women in the male-dominated workplace.
Fast forward to 2016: now her grown-up daughter is thinking of purposefully adding her gender pronoun to her email signature in order to show allyship for the trans and gender nonconforming community. What an interesting turn of events. Will I purposefully reject pronoun ambiguity and face possible discrimination for being a woman in order to show allyship for a different marginalized community? While I certainly don’t want gender imposed on others, I also (perhaps selfishly) don’t want discrimination imposed on me, either.
After mulling this over I thought about resumes and all the studies out there that hiring managers discriminate based on “African American sounding names” and on female students. I had a teaching assistant in college who assigned us a number and we were not allowed to write our name on papers. He determined that this would prevent discrimination. In the same way, why don’t employment applications bar applicants from writing their name on their resume? Instead, a number could be assigned and the individual would only be called in for an interview based on their qualifications and work experience. Having no gender and/or racial identity at all would be helpful in first-round screening processes..or would it?
In the end, though, I added gender pronouns to my email signature in order to show allyship and if people judge me for my gender or my addition of pronouns, so be it. If, however, I were to publish a book I would create an unrecognizable gender-neutral pen name. Compromise?
WONDER WOMAN AT WORK: THE MIXED MESSAGES SOCIETY TELLS YOUNG WOMEN
On my winding bus ride to work, I often stare out the window and tune into podcasts. This morning I was listening to the TED Radio Hour featuring a session called, “Disruptive Leadership”, in which Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, discusses the lack of women holding leadership roles in companies. Sheryl is well-known for her bestselling book Lean In, which encourages women to step up into senior leadership roles. She discusses the gender bias experienced by women and how girls avoid positions of power in order to avoid being called bossy.
The b word. This brought me back to 2013. At the time I had just finished my master’s in education and was temping at a large, public, research institution. Full disclosure: I was having a really tough time living in one of the most expensive areas of the United States without job security. My goal was to land a full-time position in academic advising or career services. I had been getting called in for interviews, but that “permanent” position evaded me. Was it the lack of experience? I had gone straight from college to graduate school. Could it be my age? In meetings with graduate advisers on campus I was the youngest one in the room by at least 10 years. Or maybe—perhaps most disheartening of all—was it me, my personality, my disposition? I wanted feedback. I needed it.
That day eventually came. A director on campus who had been part of a hiring committee for a position for which I had just interviewed was kind and courageous enough to provide me with some honest input. She sat me down in her office and had a few suggestions. Thanks to the rise of long-term email storage and my obsessive cataloging, I wrote her ideas down: “Present an advising example or challenge with a mutually beneficial solution,” she said. “That seems like a no brainer! I can do that,” I thought. “Think deeper about examples and expand.” Will do. Check! Then came the suggestion that haunts me to this day and perhaps speaks to what I considered, at the time, a failure not only in terms of the interview, but of my womanhood: “Present a more welcoming, nurturing side.” Ooh burn.
I remember I cried in her office that day and, as appreciative I was of the feedback, it hurt really badly. I felt like I had been told all my life that women need to step it up, have to be assertive to get what they want. And then I did that and this happens. For years afterwards, I worked on “lightening up,” “softening” and through facing some challenging times, I think—at least in some ways—it worked.
When I heard Facebook’s Sandberg say that girls don’t want to be called bossy and that they are encouraged to put their hands down, to let boys lead, I remembered this conversation I had with the director. Have I been wasting all this time lightening up when I should have been stepping it up? Sandberg seems to think so.
I realize now that, rather than hearing her feedback as an acknowledgement of my own personal failings as a woman, I should have instead considered alternate opportunities. These mixed messages for women to both assert themselves and also nurture others are confusing and difficult to navigate and yet, happen all of the time. How assertive is too assertive in higher education? What about in student affairs? What about in life?
GET IN TOUCH
San Diego, CA