Subtle Jabs that Injure

By Gloria Vaquera

When I was in my late teens, or maybe it was my early twenties, I was asked if I had ever been racially discriminated against. My answer was: “No, I don’t think so.” Call it naivety, or call it anything else, but I genuinely didn’t know what it meant to be discriminated against. That’s not to say that I had not actually been discriminated against, but rather that I literally did not know what it “meant”. 

Growing up, I was taught by my very loving dad that that’s just how some people are. And I was taught by very apathetic society that I just had to accept it. I was indirectly and systematically taught to ignore it and go about my business. It wasn’t until I took a diversity class in college where we were discussing discrimination in various forms that I came to the realization that I had, in fact, been racially discriminated against, repeatedly, all my life.

Some were very obvious, calculated and callous. Most, however, were subtle jabs at the fact that I was of color–or not white. Like the time when an ex-employer was giving a client a tour of our offices and enthusiastically introduced him to every white employee, including a co-worker who sat right next to me and had the same title as me, while bypassing all of us who were not white. It may have very well been his business and his prerogative, but this time was it different for me. This time it was unacceptable, it stung and I couldn’t ignore it. I did the only thing I could do; I quit my job and made sure my reason was documented. I wish others would have followed suit, but they did not. To my satisfaction, the boss personally called me to ask me to come back to work and I had the great pleasure of respectfully responding: “No, thank you!”

Just like with racial discrimination, sexual harassment could be delivered with the most subtle of jabs and may not be easily spotted or proven. Because of my knowledge and perception of it then, had I been asked several years ago if I have ever been sexually harassed, my answer would have more than likely been: “No, I don’t think so.” But, because of my knowledge and perception of it today, my answer to that question is much different. 

I know, all too well, what it feels like to be in an excruciatingly, uncomfortable situation because of the sexual connation of a conversation, or a repulsive stare, or an unwelcomed graze down my arm. The feeling is nauseating, unsettling to the core and utterly humiliating. At the same time, the fear of it being known is debilitating if not paralyzing. I sympathize with any and all who have experienced anything similar and appreciate the courage of the silence breakers.

The reason I bring up both of those instances is to point out that when we don’t know any better, we simply don’t know any better. Education is and always will be an extremely powerful tool. When we become educated about social issues and our constitutional, civil and human rights, we arm ourselves and are better equipped to protect those basic rights. 

In recent months, allegations of sexual harassment have dominated mainstream media and it doesn’t seem to be fizzling out any time soon. The headlines, the growing list of high-profile perpetrators and the perturbing statistics have shined the spotlight on the severity of the issue of sexual harassment. However difficult it may be, we should look at the bright side; at least now there is open dialogue about the issue. And at least now, women know that it’s not okay and are standing side by side, emboldened to speak out against their offenders. Hopefully now, enough attention will be given to the matter to put us on the road to a much needed social change. 

In the wake of the onslaught of allegations, a poll produced for ABC News/Washington Post by Langer Research Associates in October, 2017, revealed that, “Among women who’ve been subjected to unwanted work-related sexual advances, eight in 10 say it rose to the level of sexual harassment, and a third say it went a step further, to sexual abuse. This translates to approximately 33 million American women being sexually harassed, and 14 million sexually abused, in work-related incidents.”

The same poll also found that, “More than half of American women have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men, three in 10 have put up with unwanted advances from male co-workers and a quarter have endured them from men who had influence over their work situation.”1

It’s very frustrating to think that we have simultaneously come so far in the war on social injustices and yet have barely made any strides at all. At times, it feels like we have taken a step forward in the right direction only to take three steps backwards. 

Created in 2014, Executive Order 13673 provided employees, especially women, with very basic protections from discrimination, ensured equal pay for women and fair processes in regards to sexual harassment allegations. The order essentially stopped companies from using forced arbitration to keep sexual harassment and discrimination cases out of the courts and off public record. Most commonly known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, it called for businesses that received federal contracts to ethically practice and adhere to labor and civil rights laws.2 

Effective November 6, 2017, an Executive Order was signed to officially repeal the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order.3 The reason: Because overregulation and compliance is costly to big corporations; and besides, who needs fair pay and a safe workplace anyway?

Winter 2018

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