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Pairs well with:

Glenfiddich 12-year Single Malt Scotch Whisky, because scotch isn’t just for men and this cheap scotch will give you the same headache you’ll feel after how annoyed you are at the patriarchy by the end of this post.


Today I want to share with you a story of feminist self-discovery. I’m cheating just a little, stealing a bit from an essay I wrote for my existential philosophy class I took three years ago. I promise you don’t need to read Simone de Beauvoir or Jean-Paul Sartre in order to enjoy this article, but hey afterwards you may be interested.

Here’s a quick bit of background on the scholars I’m pulling from for this post. Simone de Beauvoir is the author of The Second Sex — a book that The Guardian suggests as a “must read book before you die” and is often referred to as a major influence for second-wave feminism. I make several references to her book throughout this post. I also refer to Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher who was a key author of existentialist work throughout the 20th century. Fun fact, de Beauvoir and Sartre were considered to be existential philosophy’s 20th century “power couple” who famously had an open relationship and lived rather controversial sex lives. Not really relevant, but interesting nonetheless.

Let's go ahead and dive in. In The Second Sex Beauvoir writes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman… Up to twelve, the girl is just as sturdy as her brothers; she shows the same intellectual aptitudes; she is not barred from competing with them in any area.” Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, but it still rings true even today.

Growing up I never thought that being a woman was really all that different from being a man. From my perspective I could see three key differences: 1. Only women have the ability to carry babies 2. Women have to suffer monthly for the “privilege” to perhaps one day carry a baby and 3. Women have breasts, and big or small they somehow tend to be an incredible distraction for men. I never thought any of these things meant that one day I would worry about getting a job, being paid less or be discriminated against because I’m a woman. I knew I was smart, capable and ambitious and felt that meant I would be offered the same opportunities as anyone else in my socio-economic class.

Beauvoir writes, “Throughout her childhood, the little girl was bullied and mutilated; but nonetheless grasped herself as an autonomous individual.” Young girls don’t see themselves as any different from boys, society forces those differences upon them. We see it in advertising, classrooms, television, magazines and all throughout society. Little girls don’t just come into existence believing it’s a man’s world and their inherently oppressed. They have to learn it.

I learned it the hard way, as many of us do. When I was 17 I got a job at Future Shop, a predominantly male-employed store. I was excited, I love technology and Future Shop was one of my favourite stores. I didn’t think much about the fact that there weren’t very many women who worked at Future Shop, or that the majority of women only worked in certain departments. I didn’t think about it because I didn’t care. I didn’t think about the little comments from the men around me, comments about how cute I was, slapping my butt or calling me “jail bait.” If you're horrified, you should be. I told myself it was just a joke, they were just playing, they don’t mean any harm by it… but it’s not okay, and now I know better.

Everything we do affects other people. We are all responsible for our actions. In Sartre’s paper “Existentialism is a Humanism” he asks, “Am I right to set the standard for all humanity?” He responds to himself, “To deny that is to mask the anguish. When, for example, a military leader sends men to their deaths, he may have his orders, but at the bottom it is he alone who chooses.” Every action I make I am responsible for. I can’t possibly know the ripple effects of my actions, but every action I make has the potential to influence someone else. At the end of the day people have the choice to be influenced by me, but I don’t have the choice as to whether or not they are influenced by me. Once I have acted, I can’t “unact.”

When I was younger I laughed off the sexual harassment and let it slide for the sake of “not making waves” or shrugged it off as “no big deal.” Now I worry that I influenced other young girls to make those same decisions. I also look back and remember the women I worked with had the same reactions as me and I chose to be influenced by them. We all silently confirmed for each other that we would just be quiet and take it as to not risk our jobs or our status within the organization.

I worked my way up. I had top numbers and was looked up to for my sales skill and excellent customer rapport. I sold cameras and cell phones, which was one of the rare departments in the store that employed more women than men. I didn’t see myself as different, we were all capable of our jobs, we all got along and, other than the sexual harassment that I ignored, I felt I was the same as everyone else.

A couple years later, after having not worked at Future Shop for about nine months, I was moving to Calgary and looking for a new part-time job while in University. Future Shop was a comfortable and familiar environment so I decided to apply at the closest Future Shop to Mount Royal University. Thanks to an excellent recommendation from my former general manager I was offered a job without an in-person interview.

When the woman (who would later turn out to be a dear friend of mine) offered me the job over the phone she said, “I want you to work in home theatre (televisions and home surround sound).” Embarrassingly, I was dumbfounded and replied, “But I’m a woman…” She responded, “Yes, I’m a woman too and the manager of the department. I know it’s a male heavy department, I’m looking to get more women in there.” I was shocked, and am incredibly ashamed of my reaction. In my entire “career” at Future Shop I’d never seen a woman work in home theatre, it had always been a department dominated by men. Eager to prove myself I took the job and immediately began learning about the department so I would be well prepared for when I started, but nothing would ever prepare me for what was actually in store.

I’ll never forget my very first day at the Deerfoot Meadows Future Shop. I was nervous, excited and terrified. That day I met the men of the home theatre department who were obviously not eager to allow a woman into their “boys club.” One man in particular decided to follow after me as I returned to my computer to complete training and decided to confront my audacity to infiltrate their department. He looked me up and down and said, “I hope you realize that you’ll be selling small TVs (36” and under) for a long time; you’ll never make it to where I am.” Angered and annoyed I quickly retorted, “You don’t know anything about me or what I’m capable of.” I quickly walked away shaken and furious at how he’d written me off so quickly. “I’m an incredibly capable sales person,” I thought to myself, “how dare he assume anything about me.”

I kept the situation to myself, it was my first day and just like the sexual harassment from before I didn’t think it was worthwhile to make waves. I returned to my computer and silently continued my training. Later that day my female department manager, the one who hired me, asked to take me aside to the office. She sat me down, looked at me with a serious and concerned face, and said, “[Name redacted] came up to me and told me about the conversation the two of you had earlier.” I was stunned, what could he possibly have to say about it? He had been pretty awful to me and I hadn’t said much at all so I was curious as to where she was headed. I simply responded, “Oh?” She looked at me with her concerned face and said, “He told me you called him an asshole.” My jaw literally dropped, I felt hurt, angry, annoyed — she began to say more, but I couldn’t hear it. I blurted out, “Excuse me?” She began, “Yeah I know…” and I quickly interrupted her, my body trembling, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize he was a mind reader, because I would never be so rude as to actually say that out loud, but yeah he definitely is.” It was obvious she had dealt with him before because she took my word for it and didn’t question me any further. I would later come to realize this was his regular behaviour, but because he made good money for the store and was an otherwise excellent and well-equipped sales person people let him get away with it.

But everyone who never stood up to him, myself included, is guilty of letting him bully others. Sartre writes, “We will freedom for the sake of freedom. And through it we discover that our freedom depends entirely on the freedom of others, and that their freedom depends on ours.” How could anyone break free from his incessant bullying and sexism if everyone else allowed it? My manager and I shared a lot of similarities, she wasn’t much older than me, was ambitious (She still is slightly older than me and is still ambitious) but she had the bonus of authority. I still don’t think he treated her with as much respect as she deserved or could have gotten if she was a man, but he still provided her with a decent modicum of respect. I should also point out that not all of the men in the department were awful to me, it was primarily just this one. But he was the alpha, he had been around the longest, made the most money and had somewhat demanded the respect of his peers. There were other men in the department who were supportive of me, helped me and genuinely wanted to see me succeed. I cannot discount how much I appreciated those people, but it just wasn’t enough.

One day one of the other men, who had been in the department for many years and was at the same level of sales skill and commission earnings as the other man who degraded me, scolded me for selling a larger TV to a couple who had originally come to me looking for a smaller one. He scolded me until I reluctantly agreed to ring the entire sale under him (forgoing a decent commission for myself despite doing all of the work). I fought to hold back tears and finished the transaction with the customer, but they knew, I could tell. I will mention this man, years later, apologized to me, but annoyingly told me that my eagerness to prove myself was my detriment in the department. We can delve into how my ambition is often one of my greatest downfalls in a later post.

I gave up that day. I felt broken and like I could never succeed in that department. The place I had come to work that was supposed to be comfortable and familiar now felt hostile and strange. The man who never liked me or gave me a chance was constantly battling to remove me from the department, and at this point the other woman my manager had hired to create more diversity in the department had quit out of frustration. I was alone. Beauvoir asks, “Why do women not contest male sovereignty?” I answer, because we cannot do it alone. Earlier I shared Sartre’s quote suggesting freedom comes from each other, and I strongly believe that. Without any solidarity I was defeated, I had no one to turn to and I was alone.

That day as I was standing in my aisle fighting back tears contemplating what I should do another manager came up to me and could see I was in pain. He could see my ambition, my drive and instead of pushing it away he encouraged and supported me. He requested I transfer to his department (my original department of selling digital cameras) and he continued to be an excellent and supportive boss throughout our entire time together. The home theatre department was once again returned to its “old boys” club. They had won. I justified to myself that I had to do what was best for me. My female manager understood and we forged a friendship that continues on to this day.

I never knew I was a feminist until I came to understand feminism. Once I knew I was a feminist I reflected on my life and realized I had always held feminist values. Now I have the tools to know what I could have done better, what I should have done. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I will forever appreciate my former manager, now friend, for giving me the opportunity to transcend the preconceived notion that only men could work in home theatre. I failed, but perhaps if I had the strength, knowledge and resources I now have I could have done better.

I believe understanding feminism is a burden of knowledge. Once you understand that the inequality does exist you have to be vigilant in defending feminist values. Third-wave feminism, which is the ideology my blog primarily prescribes to, doesn’t just focus on women — but on race, ability, sexuality and really any marginalized group. Once you can fully see and begin to recognize the inequalities that exist the only way to overcome them is to continue to push boundaries. It’s important that we fight for equal opportunity and band together in the defence of marginalized persons, because the only way we as a society can transcend institutionalized sexism, racism, ageism, etc. is to work together.

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