I always feeeel like, somebody’s…

By Joey Konrad

Have you ever encountered a male co-worker or a customer that gives you weird vibes—you know, when it feels like he’s looking at you behind your back, rating your body and how “hot” you look? Do you get these feelings even though you can’t identify who specifically is watching you?

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If you identify with that situation, you certainly aren’t alone. Researcher Beth Quinn conducted 43 interviews with working men and women about their experiences in the workplace with “girl watching”: those unwanted or unnoticed sexual gazes towards women in the workplace by men.

Quinn found that most of the people interviewed were aware of girl watching in the workplace, however the men interviewed often understood girl watching as a harmless joke or simple appreciation of women’s appearances, while the women felt it was objectifying and didn’t like the attention.

Quinn further questioned the men’s acceptance of girl watching and found that many responses fell along the lines of “that’s just what men do” and the women feeling objectified was not the reason why men engaged in girl watching. In fact, when forced to imagine themselves in a position of being sexually watched, all the men interviewed understood the harm or discomfort of girl watchingyet were unable to generate that empathy when listening to women’s experiences.

In 1980, the U.S. passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which outlined sexual harassment as illegal and required employers to provide preventative measures to address sexual harassment, like awareness seminars.  However, sexual harassment in the workplace is still rampant, as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes that around 40% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, and that statistic does not account for the women that do not report or share their experiences.

Quinn’s findings reveal some flaws in the way we approach teaching and preventing sexual harassment at work. Who knew those mandatory seminars that showed weird videos from the 90’s were ineffective?

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The larger problem here isn’t that men need help understanding what sexual harassment is, rather what men understand to be masculine includes proving their (hetero)sexuality at work through girl watching or other forms of sexual harassment. Men must confirm how manly they are to others at work by asserting their enjoyment of sex and appearance, and also show no emotions of compassion or concern towards women because they can be labeled weak and their masculinity is threatened.

Sexual harassment training and information sessions need to address stereotypes of what it means to be a man and a woman if they want serious gains at eliminating sexual harassment at work. Men specifically can provide positive reinforcement for other men who speak out against sexual harassment and redefine masculinity, as well as speak out against men who don’t.

So whether it’s you or your buddy….dude, stop looking at your coworker like that, alright?

Hair we go again…

By Erika Harrington

Let’s talk about the sassiest nonverbal. Let’s talk about the act done by the tallest of runway models to the smallest of cute toddlers. Let’s talk about the hair flip.

Well actually, let’s talk about hair in the workplace.

It’s no surprise that when we talk about getting a job, we talk about appearance. Self-presentation is definitely important. But where do professional standards come from? One answer to this question might be policy. Legal scholar, Angela Onwuachi Willig, analyzed cases in which women’s hair was the bases for reprimand. And who were the women that were most likely to be involved in these cases? You guessed it– African American women.

A quick google search of ideal workplace hairstyles, and what kind of results do you see? Straight hair worn down and tucked behind your ears, an organized bun, or relaxed but well-managed curls. All suitable options for the hardworking woman—well, the hard working white woman at least.

Willig’s study addresses Title IX, explaining that discrimination goes further than a woman’s right to not wear makeup. Our workplaces are not only plagued with gendered norms, they’re plagued with gender norms typically associated with white women. What is the company policy on dreadlocks? Afros? Kinky curls that can only be held down after a draining battle with blood, sweat, tears, and tons of product? Pressure to conform to these appearance policies is the exact burden that Willig describes, and the exact burden that violates the rights upheld by Title IX. This pressure is too real because to resist it is to welcome career-impacting consequences. The result: an average work day that begins at 7:15 am with fine tooth comb and a hot iron. Why do we look at braids with disdain? Braids! A style we spent a large chunk of our adolescence styling on our Barbie dolls.

This is unacceptable. Keeping our hair down is literally keeping us down. Why are we focusing so much time and energy on hair, instead of focusing on killing the next sales presentation? Why are these expressions of individualism and culture being stifled? This doesn’t only apply to black women– although if you’ve never had to run away from your mom as she tried to hot comb your relentless curls, consider yourself lucky. It applies anybody who’s putting in extra effort to uphold standards that are completely unrelated to their actual work performance.

Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to address this problem. For starters, let’s shift the emphasis on producing, not primping. If there are specific policies in your organization that address appearance, check to make sure that they’re inclusive to women of all races and ethnicities. If you’re an employee and you encounter a disagreement with a higher-up about what constitutes “extreme” or “unkempt” hair, understand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manual on Race Discrimination is on your side. Speak with your organization’s human resources department or coordinator and keep a detailed record of all pertinent conversations.

say enough. And if you’re like me, and love looking into a crowd of people and seeing heads of diversity, then tell the world you’ve had enough too. Say it loud, say it proud: a woman’s hair, afro or otherwise, has nothing to do with her professional competence.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.