Being A Woman When Vulgarity Runs Rampant In The Workplace
Editor’s Note:Today’s submission is by Allie Hoyt. She is an aspiring missionary pilot. She’s acquired her A&P (aicraft mechanic’s certificate) and her private pilot’s license. She blogs at allietrustworthy.wordpress.com. – Lauren
Aviation is very much a male dominated field, with only 6.7% female pilots, and just over 2% female mechanics. And sometimes, when you get a bunch of dudes together, the conversations turn…well, vulgar. Indecent. Uncouth. You get the idea. And sometimes, I am unlucky enough to overhear them. This time, however, it was sort of a blessing in disguise.
And now, here’s the entry:
I sat there in stunned silence, mouth open, holding my phone away from my ear, like it was a diseased rodent that might bite me, as the first few seconds of the filthiest, most obscene voicemail I’d ever heard in my life played out. Then I swallowed hard, set my jaw, and made myself listen to it in its entirety, because I knew this was going to turn into a fight. And I wanted to be well armed when it did, with all the outrage and indignation I could muster.
Just a few hours earlier, I had attended a bimonthly luncheon for corporate aviation professionals at a local flight museum. If I had time afterwards, I always loved walking around the exhibits, and catching up with all the older folks who volunteered there. Many of them had served in World War II, and almost all of them had long and storied aviation backgrounds. There were usually at least one or two women there, which was always inspirational to me: you see, of all licensed pilots in the United States, less than seven percent are women, and those numbers were even lower back when they started flying. Women like these paved the way for women like me: although women in aviation are still relatively rare (I’m an aircraft mechanic too, a field that’s only two percent female), I don’t face nearly the same amount of prejudice and barriers that they were constantly fighting to overcome.
But this day was an ugly reminder of what being a woman in a male-dominated field can be like. During my usual post-meeting walkaround, I had struck up a conversation with a middle-aged man who held a position of importance at the museum, and two of the somewhat younger volunteers. We talked at length about airplanes, airports, and the museum’s living history program. Summer was approaching, a time when the museum always had loads of children’s programs, and while they already had an Amelia, they had plenty of authentic WWII-era WASP (Womens Air Service Pilot) uniforms in storage. I was very enthusiastic about the possibility, and asked for his card. He produced one, but told me that his mobile number was the easiest way to reach him. He pulled his cell phone out and said, “Here, give me your number, then I’ll call you so you have mine.” He called, I pushed the “Ignore” button, saved his information, and then left.
I was about five minutes into the drive home when my voicemail notification went off. I chuckled as I realized what had happened; he’d never hung up. I went to just erase it, but something prompted me to listen to it instead. I heard myself tell everyone goodbye, and then as soon as the door to the museum shut, I heard the middle-aged man with whom I’d just had a very professional, aviation centered conversation, free of any innuendo or flirtation at all, remark, “Yeah, I knew that girl when she worked at (a business on the same airport). She always seemed really cold. I think she just needs a really good orgasm.”
And then he proceeded, in graphic detail, to describe how he or one of the other men present could make that happen for me. And I felt more and more humiliated with every passing second. Then he went from talking about me to describing other woman in objectifying, degrading ways. And that’s when the fury started. It rose and swelled til I was practically choking on it.
It inspired the following angry Facebook status: “Men who view women chiefly in a sexual light disgust me. I just listened to the foulest voicemail someone accidentally left on my cell phone, and I have never felt so violated. Men, even when you think no one can hear the things you say about women, God does. And God is my father, and fathers never take kindly to someone talking about their daughters that way.” I got a lot of amens and you-go-girls, and that felt good, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t satisfying. As much as I always try to eschew confrontation, I knew what I had to do.
The very next day at the museum, an event was being held to celebrate the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to women who had served with the WASPs in World War II. These women took over the work of ferrying military aircraft and towing airborne targets, so that male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas. From the very beginning, they were met with resistance, skepticism, outright hostility, and (it is widely suspected) sabotage. Decades passed before they were recognized for their service, and years more went by before they were honored properly for it.
And I had to ask myself, in light of what these women went through: how could I just hide behind a Facebook update, a few words on a screen, when I knew exactly where that man would be that day, and that he needed to know exactly how he’d made me feel, and that he had no right to make me feel that way? So I prayed, I practiced what I would say to him, and I listened to that voicemail a few more times for motivation. And the next day, I attended that event.
After it was over, I walked right up to him and repeated the first few words of his voicemail back to him. And it was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
But even as I said it, I could see the abject guilt and accompanying nausea wash over him, and I realized my mission there was not just to make him feel like dirt. This was a teachable moment, and even though I had no control over whether or not he learned anything, I was free to check my rage and handle myself like an adult woman who deserved and demanded respect. So as he stammered and tried to explain that sometimes men (himself included) are just pigs, and that he was sorry I had to hear that conversation, I explained to him that there were no acceptable excuses for what he had said and done, and that even if divine intervention hadn’t recorded that exchange on my voicemail, it still would have been wrong of him to say it. He said he understood. I asked him if that meant he would change. He said he’d try.
I said, “You’d better.” And that was that.
I still wonder sometimes what my male colleagues say behind my back. But I’ve learned that the best policy is to presume people are innocent until proven guilty, and that what people say almost always gets around. I still get frustrated at the thought that my modesty and good girl behavior don’t earn me a free pass from harassment. But I now understand that the fault lies largely with men who refuse to see women as equals, or better yet, as sisters. I sometimes wish I had my dad (or a large, threatening boyfriend) immediately available to back me up in situations like this, but now I know that I am a daughter of the King, and I am quite capable of standing up for myself.
I don’t have to tolerate being treated like I’m less of a person (or less of an aviator, for that matter) because I have breasts. You don’t either, ladies.
You have rights. You have privileges. You have a voice. Exercise them. Your Father and I, we’ve always got your back.
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