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The Overt, Acceptable Sexism

I've talked previously about how women face the subtle sexism of people's unaddressed expectations in the workplace. There are traditional gender roles that our society has long ascribed to women and men that, no matter what changes we make, Americans have had a hard time leaving behind. For this reason, even in the most high-powered executive suite, women tend to be given the more administrative tasks, because it fits our expectations. It's worse for women of color - they are more likely to be mistaken for members of the janitorial staff than others.

These expectations, even when not reinforced by reality, have tended to contribute to an imbalance not only in wages, but in opportunities and achievements. I'll point you to my root cause analysis on the gender wage gap for more info on that. But if you want to see all of this turned up to eleven, dressed in a neon wig and shoved directly in your face, get pregnant and then try to go to work.

I'd like to point you to the current experience of a woman who is doing this. She's a working woman, just like the rest of us, just trying to do a day's work, support herself and her family, and she just found out she's pregnant. She's that smiling lady pictured above, and her name is Jacinda Ardern. Big congrats to her!

If you've never been pregnant, let me share some of the pitfalls of attempting to work whilst pregnant. Pregnancy is different for everyone, so you could have quite an easy time and have no significant life change (but I'd call this unlikely). You might vomit at any time for the first three months (longer for some lucky ladies!), you could get terrible headaches for which you can't take medication, and any host of things could be happening to your body that you don't understand and could be terrifying. Your blood pressure might be too high. It might be too low. Your feet might swell immediately and all of a sudden you have to try to explain why you can only wear flip flops to work. It's a cavalcade of nightmares (sometimes), but it's worth it (mostly), and in the end it makes for some great (gruesome) stories (hoo boy).

Despite that, women are tough, and we do a great job of just going on about our lives with little disruption, including working through pregnancy until and unless it's not feasible (or we just choose not to, of course). Jacinda is doing the same thing. Oh, but did I mention she's the PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND???

Yes folks, she's running an entire country. Meanwhile, I struggled not to weep with joy when someone offered to give up his seat to me on the subway, so moved I was by his gesture. Yeah, I forgot to mention the emotional roller coaster before.

Back to Jacinda. I mentioned our expectations about women and working, and to New Zealanders' credit, there have been so very many messages of love and support to her as she embarks on her pregnancy. Unfortunately, once a person becomes pregnant, the advice usually starts to fly out, unabated and unwelcome, and revelatory about the sexism we've done so well to pretend we no longer harbor.

From the comments section of the Washington Post:

"Should we worry about her mental state?"

"I understand you want to be supportive but is she going to be the primary caregiver of the newborn? Not possible, and not possible to breastfeed normally. Expressing milk and giving the bottle to a nanny to feed the baby is not establishing normal breastfeeding."

"I support, in principle, women who work and have a career. But I will not take on more work without more pay while I am covering for a co-worker who is on maternity or paternity leave."

New Zealand, however, is demonstrating why it still holds the best bona fides in the fight for equality, first in suffrage, and now on the front lines of working moms. As quoted from the Guardian, "That a woman can be the prime minister of New Zealand and choose to have a family while in office says a lot about the kind of country we are and that we can be – modern, progressive, inclusive, and equal." I can agree to that!

There are other norms that go out the window when you become pregnant, such as touching. My belly got touched in very unwelcome ways when I was pregnant. Non-pregnant, it's pretty much known that this type of gesture is strictly verboten. And yet, pregnant ladies endure it constantly. Why?

What do you think? Any experiences? Horror stories? Leave your comments below!

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