Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Upward Mobility

I haven't really spoken much about my work - understandably, as I'm essentially on trial here to see if they want me afterwards - but one thing that drives me nuts about office culture as a whole is the way men absolutely refuse to leave the lift before I do. They just can't do it. And I can't go first without automatically saying "thank you," even though I really, truly do not want to do so, because it will encourage and reinforce such behaviour.

A woman I worked with once went nuts because some bloke passed us in the corridor and didn't stop and wait for us, who were going two-by-two, to go past. Given that I was working somewhere I thought the staff would not be bothered by that sort of thing, I was somewhat taken aback, and mumbled that I thought it was much worse to not say thank you when someone holds the door open for you (NB: I definitely do think that!). Why should a man have to wait for me to go past? Why is it "polite" in that definite gender context, and not impolite for a woman to rush past a man?

I don't think it's due to harmless, old-fashioned manners. I think it's still a way of men controlling women's movements, albeit in an oblique way. I always feel it's them treating me like a guest, instead of being there as equals. Not that gender differences should be unnoticed - or noticed - but rather in this sort of situation - where women still make up less than a fifth of partners at law firms - I appreciate every acknowledgement of equality and gnash my teeth at every remaining trace of our inequality. And as long as men continue to do this, we will never be their equals in the workplace.

And we won't be as long as law firms give etiquette classes to their summer associates, "for fun," which set out so many manners based on gender. Apparently, women need to walk in front of men going upstairs, and behind them going downstairs, all presumably based on the fact that having a uterus makes us think about pink and sparkly things which, in turn, make us giddy and need the potential support of a hombre when we faint. We also need men to walk on the side of the pavement nearest the street, presumably to shield us from running screaming across the traffic if we see a baby or a nice pair of shoes.


Cerebus said...

or a sale at HMV?

Presumably the rule about women going upstairs first is so we can look up your skirts?

Anonymous said...

HAHAHA, Cerebus, that's more like it, honest politess!

Office culture is the worst! I hope never to return to it, although every profession has its sexist culture, and academia is not excluded. But I do have to put in a word for politeness, equal politeness that is. I do think it makes a difference to hold the door for somebody else, but not determined by gender. Women should hold the door for men and men for women, as well as be as considerate as possible everywhere and always. For me these gestures are reminders of the other, other people, who are there too, on the street with you. Few things upset me more than noticing that people don't help each other out on the street, complete strangers, not members of a community. But I do agree totally that gender-biased politeness is an enabler, a serious one. Perhaps you could give a bloke an example one day. Hold the door for him at the elevator and say "After you, please."?

missygp said...

I have started trying to let others go first. The problem is, all this good intent goes to pot as soon as I'm desperate to get inside the building for some air conditioning on a disgustingly beautiful but warm day like today - when I'm wearing ridiculously overwarm office wear. For my cold office.