Are Men Able to Call Out Sexism?
I work in education, as a teaching assistant. In my entire team of around 25 people; two are male. Education is predominately female — except for head teachers, IT staff and PE (gym) teachers to name a few. Obviously, there are exceptions, but generally speaking education features far more females than males. This is especially true in nurseries and primary schools. My guess is that it’s linked to pay, and traditional gender roles still play a big part in today’s society — with men expected to be the breadwinners and bring home more money for the family unit. Men are not expected to take jobs as teaching assistants.
It is totally wrong that women are expected to work these very important jobs in educating our children for such low pay. It is crap that the system is set up in such a way that people are almost punished for wanting to help educate youngsters and it is really crap that men progress to higher levels faster. I find that most of the people who do a similar job to my own are women whose partners earn far more money than themselves, or younger women who still live at home and have very few bills to pay.
Work in education sucks. The pay is lousy, and the work is often unappreciated by other adults and always stressful. Some teaching assistants do almost as much work as the teacher for far less financial reward. Career progression is limited too, with a degree still the primary route to becoming a teacher — not experience in the classroom.
I’ve experienced a few instances recently which made me think. Firstly, the teacher in my classroom made a couple of comments about men being lesser in comparison to women. These were passed off as jokes, but they sat uncomfortably with me. I found myself wondering if a man had made those comments — would they be well received? One of the comments was about my lack of observation skills, the other was to do with the well-known phenomenon of man-flu. Implying that everyone else had recovered quickly from Covid-19 because they are women who just ‘get on with things.’
I spoke of these instances with my manager who was very understanding, and she said all of the right things, such as ‘that’s not right’ and ‘I’ll talk to her’ and I even got an agreement that she was being sexist (are men even allowed to call sexism? Like, it feels wrong to do that amid all of the challenges which face women on a daily basis). My manager spoke to the teacher who apologised profusely and promised that she never meant any harm. Apparently, she even apologised again later in the day, once she had thought about it further.
I also mentioned the comments in passing to the HR manager, after she asked how I was settling in at this new company (I only started in September). And, again, I received the same reaction — ‘I’m sorry that happened’ and ‘that’s not fair’. Everyone is so good at saying what they think someone wants to hear.
That kind of ended today when the same HR manager called for an update on my leave from work. Her position had seemingly changed, and she went from encouraging me to ‘just get better’ and ‘don’t come back until you’re ready’ to ‘you need to push yourself harder’, ‘your pay may be affected’ and then ‘I’m not being sexist BUT most men don’t handle being ill as well as women’. I was in shock, and she could tell, she made me agree with her. So, I kind of said that you could say maybe some men do.
I feel like I’m getting a tiny insight into what it is inevitably like for women all over the country in other workplaces who experience sexism and have to agree with their colleague through gritted teeth because they outrank them and outnumber them. I have no-one to go to about this and I’m not sure I’d get anyone on my side if I tried. After all, she has been at the company for many years and is well-liked. I’ve been there a few months and I’m currently off sick. But, this should not be about sides, it’s about right and wrong and sexism.
If this was the other way round, no doubt at all that it’s sexism in my opinion. Especially after prefacing her comment with ‘I’m not sexist but’ — she may as well have said, ‘I’m not racist BUT’.
Where do I stand though? Is this sexism? Should I even care? Does it matter that I feel like I’m being forced back to work? Do my feelings matter at all or as a man am I meant to just ‘grow a pair’, hike up my big boy pants and quit crying, Shirley.