Living in the U.K. and Israel in what I perceive to be quite a sheltered life, I never thought I would be confronted with outright sexism. Not to mention, I definitely didn’t expect to hear it from an international student at my university.
I was sitting in the library waiting for a friend when someone came and sat down across from me. We were both in our first week of school, so we found it natural to ask each other where we were from and what we were studying. When I told him that I was studying government, he asked me what the gender breakup of the class was. I replied that our class had around 90 students, 60% of which are women and the other 40%, men. To this, my new acquaintance responded, “makes sense.” I was sure he would say something along the lines of, “men prefer to learn something more practical and less theoretical,” or “more men study hard sciences than women.” These remarks would have been understandable observations about the different fields chosen by men and women. What followed, however, was shocking to say the least. I was told that the reason it made sense that more women study government than men is because we (women) are only studying government in the hopes of one day getting sexually harassed and being able to sue for sexual harassment resulting in a big pay-out…
As you can imagine my reaction could hardly be contained in the whisper-only environment of the library. I attempted to clarify whether he was actually inferring that women are studying government because they want to be harassed, to which he replied that it made sense and that had he been born a woman, he probably would have done the same thing. To say I was offended is an understatement. On behalf of women who aim high in the workplace, I was appalled. On behalf of women who want to work in government in order to take their future into their own hands, I was fuming. But most of all, on behalf of women who have been the victims of sexual harassment in and out of the workplace, I was disgusted.
At this point, I understood that only by actions could I change the perceptions of those who fail to see women as deserving the same equal opportunity as men. I also understood that only by speaking up, could I give a voice to those who aren’t heard.