My name is J o ‘ e l, pronounced “Jo-elle.” Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, most people first mistake me for a male named “Joel” before they meet me in person. At any appointment or meeting I show up to there is usually confusion in the room as people look around for a guy named Joel. Commonly being mistaken for being a man is just a common nuisance, “no, no it’s Jo’el, not Joel.” Most of the time I laugh with them over their mistake. I’ll even throw in a joke, “well you know I was just never the same after that trip to Thailand…” It only starts to bother me when people start forming opinions about who I am and the quality of my work based on me being “Joel” or “Jo’el.”
I currently work a second job as a waitress at an Irish bar/restaurant. It has been a great second job that helps me bring in extra cash for my travels. However, two times within the last month alone I have been manhandled. Since I’ve started, I’ve had my ass grabbed, had the arms of a random inebriated stranger grab me for a drunken hug, and most recently some guy belligerently smashed his face against mine as he tried to sloppily kiss me. Each of these encounters have left me feeling angry, and even guilty, that somehow I caused them to behave that way. It is easier to joke around on Facebook or in text groups about it. Make light of it, play it as off nonchalant. Like it’s normal. Like it isn’t the embodiment of the soul crushing dismissal of a human being. “Well it’s how you make tip money, am I right?”
No. No you are not right thinking it is okay to violate my personal boundaries for a $2.50 tip, not even a $250,000 tip. I do not “ask” for this treatment just because I choose to work or have worked in a bar, military, or other male dominated industries.
Unfortunately, that experience at the bar wasn’t my first rodeo with objectification and sexism. I joined the military at age 19. Words cannot describe what the military did to a naïve and doe-eyed innocent like I was. I was belittled; I was nothing more than a “Marine mattress,” undermined in authority, constantly harassed, culminating with my virginity being forcibly taken from me at the age of 20. I shifted the blame from “them” to myself, each year losing myself in more and more layers of guilt and shame. It has taken me years of experiencing many forms of sexism and objectification to truly understand the impact it has had on me and other women.
After I left the military, I worked as a US government contractor in Washington, D.C . During that time the sexual innuendos and sexism were subtler, a refined version of the treatment I received from my peers and chain of command in the military. I had senior government officials ask me in the elevator what kind of underwear I was wearing. I had bosses use me as bait for our government customers, getting them time alone with me in return for a favorable contract evaluation. I’ve had men tell me “I was just a cute little bear and needed to sit there and look pretty.” I’ve been told I just need to be less assertive. I was given administrative assignments men considered beneath them because I was the only female in the office. As a young female engineer in a workplace that was 85% male, I had to fight for every ounce of professional respect, and I fought. I proved myself time and again. I strove to take tough assignments and not only excel but surpass the expectations of anyone else in my position, regardless of gender,
When people think I am “Joel,” life is easier.
People automatically put much more stock in my technical opinions and recommendations. In a corporate environment, I just did my job, without fighting what seemed to be a never-ending battle for legitimization. After almost ten years, I was so worn down that I eventually left my Systems Engineering career. I left everything I had worked so hard to achieve, high pay, technical specialization and respect among my peers. I quit and left it all behind, traveled for nine months, and took a $90,000 pay cut and began working in a remote position from home.
I started waitressing to earn some extra cash believing that after the last ten years of sexual domination and objectification I could deal with drunken guys and their fratboy-like attempts of flirting: ass grabbing, “negging” and dirty jokes. After all I had been through, what did I care if some drunk guys took me seriously or stared at my ass?
I denied the power of prejudice for many years. However, after the steady escalation of incidents, what I discovered is that in any form, it hurts; it is painful to my soul regardless of the context, and I am seething with anger and frustration. Anger at the injustice, anger at myself for believing the lies that sexism and objectification propagate, that you are only worth the sum of your physical attributes. Frustrated that this type of behavior is widely tolerated and minimalized.
Sexism isn’t funny. It isn’t a joke. It is so commonplace in our society to make light of it, to categorize actual feminists fighting for true equality as just another “crazed feminazi blaming the patriarchy.”
When I posted on my facebook one of the incidents from the bar I was met with “haha #tipmoney.” To repeat, is to perpetuate; to diminish and downplay is to condone and accept the unjust status quo.
Objectification and sexism is not a victimless or miniscule crime. The awful fact is that it is extremely effective, effective in the devaluation of women. Whether always trying to keep up with societal mandates of physical beauty, or working three times as hard to be treated as an equal, we wear these wounds on the inside. Our wounds may not be visible, even to our inner selves, but they eventually manifest. The manifestation varies from person to person; I personally battled depression, and a marked lack of self worth. We need to collectively face the consequences, as men and women. Because in the end, unless we truly change as a people, the causes of these scars will still be there, waiting to slap, spank, pinch, and prod us physically, verbally, and emotionally.
Feminism isn’t this grandstand that I am better than you RAWR! I am not asking for much here: Don’t grab my ass when uninvited; Don’t marginalize me in a meeting; Don’t tell me to be cute and unassertive.
It really is as simple as treating me the same, whether I am Joel or Jo’el.