The girl in the pantsuit who cried sexism
Despite the fact that I don’t own a pantsuit, I cannot dismiss the comment Jones heard as harmless. You can say, like Jones, that taking offense from this comment is an “overreaction,” and that in addressing the problems behind it I am causing an unnecessary “uproar.” But it is crucial that we “cry sexism” as long as it exists. I agree with Jones that the goal of feminism is not to divide the sexes in a war of women against men. And yes, it would be wrong to create a problem to garner sympathy and attention. But it is worse to ignore a real problem for fear of rocking the boat.
Jones explained that she asked the representative about his activities on a “day-to-day basis.” I assumed Jones was asking about the tasks that employees perform, and the goals and expectations for employees at the company. Jones equates the male banker directing her to a female representative with him directing her to a representative who had her same major, English. But Jones is equating two different things. It makes sense that an English major might have different duties than, for example, an economics major, due to different skill sets. But Jones’ gender should not have the same bearing on her job description. Women do not have inherently different skills than men. The only reason that a woman would be able to better answer a question about daily activities at this company would be if women were designated different duties than men.
I agree with Jones in her assumption that the representative at the info session probably was not trying to cause any harm. And there may be some questions that could be answered more honestly and relevantly for Jones by a woman. For example, if Jones had asked about workplace culture, it could have made sense for her to get a woman’s perspective. But in assuming that this specific question would be better answered by talking to a woman, the representative was admitting that his company sets different expectations and designates different positions to women than men — even if, as Jones argues, women and men were still “equal.” But “separate but equal” is not an idea that we tolerate anymore. If this representative had suggested that a black student talk to a black representative to get a better idea of the “day-to-day” for black people in his company, there would be no question that the representative’s proposal was wrong.
Jones’ anecdote is one incident specific to her experience, but sexism of this nature is widespread. Although Jones is hesitant to examine the meaning behind this representative’s language, nuance and intent are important. When we talk about feminism or gender in these pages, we’re speaking from a privileged position. The women of Princeton are lucky. We don’t have to fight for our basic human rights — we don’t even have to fight the battle of our mothers and grandmothers, women who were told that they were unequal to men and could not hold the same positions. Instead, we are fighting a battle of nuance and suggestion. The Wall Street representative was not telling Jones that she didn’t belong; on the contrary, he was engaged and welcoming. But he did imply, intentionally or not, that she would be treated differently — given different tasks and different expectations — because of her gender. This is still a real problem — and while it’s arguably not as pressing or important as the problems of other women in the United States and around the globe, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it when we encounter it.
Sarah Schwartz is a sophomore from Silver Spring, Md. She can be reached at email@example.com.