I was speaking to a man at a street fair today, as a candidate, and he asked me if I had ever experienced discrimination as a female.
First sir, I give you credit for asking. I’m a fan of addressing the un-pretty that exists, and I applaud you for directly addressing a question that most white males do not. Women don’t ask it because we know.
Second pause: How does one answer that?
What should I tell him? That when I was in the military I escaped an attempted rape by my supervisor? That another supervisor outright told me if I slept with him I wouldn’t have to do any work for the rest of the year? About the time I was in Memphis and a random stranger thought it was perfectly okay to grab my ass on a crowded street? About how EVERY woman I know has a similar story? All of that is harassment, and not discrimination, so that didn’t seem appropriate. Still, it came to mind, as one does not endure the threat of constant assaults wholly unscathed.
What I did say was, “Well when I was in the military, it was pretty blatant, but that was 20 years ago, so I’m sure it’s better now.” (Note: I do not actually know if it’s better now.) His response was, “Well yeah, but the military – that’s expected.”
That’s expected. Expected that a female would be discriminated against and harassed, because it’s a traditionally male institution. But you see, so is nearly every historical institution.
I segued. “Well, a more recent example I can share with you is that recently at a candidate endorsement interview, I was asked how I would handle being a council person and a mother, and I know none of the male members of my slate were asked a similar question about how they would balance parenting with elected duties.”
At this point, his wife nodded, “Mothers are the nurturers.”
I’d like to take a moment and remind you that this couple was on my side. He told me he and I shared a political party. They stated they live out of my district but would vote for me if they could. But even they, who are on my side, didn’t understand why such a question is wrong. It discredits my children’s father, for one, who certainly does provide as much care and nurturing as I do. And it dismisses the difference in the way I was treated in comparison to my male running mates.
Aside, the most personally distressing thing about the question I was asked in the endorsement interview was that even though I am an outspoken, liberal, feminist, I didn’t even recognize the sexist nature of that question until after the interview was over. How does one answer that? In the moment, I responded as a candidate and moved on. That’s how pervasive and ubiquitous this sort of thing is.
My new friends at the fair continued their conversation with me. The man shared with me how he had been discriminated against, passed over for promotions and other opportunities because he was a white male. “They needed an Asian, a Black……,” I recall him saying. I could be appalled. But I’m choosing to view this man as someone who was trying to relate to me; sharing that he too had been subjected to discrimination. He was trying to share a common, negative experience – human to human. His experience is not the same as mine, nor could it ever be. In the end, we shook hands, I thanked them for taking the time to speak with me, and they went about their street-fair day.
As a candidate, one vies to be an elected representative of the people. Reflecting upon today’s conversation, I thought of the many people in my life who have experienced varying types of discrimination and harassment due to differences in race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, citizenship-status, political affiliation, religion, and on and on…
I hope to represent them all as an elected official in the best manner I possibly can. I will surely listen. I aim to empathize and to stand for what I believe to be right. However, as a caucasian, cisgendered, heterosexual, middle-socioeconomic-class female, could I ever truly relate to their experiences of discrimination and harassment?
How does one answer that?