On March 27, Ellen Pao lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm where she formerly worked. Pao and her attorneys argued that over the course of her 7 year career at the firm, she was treated unfairly, was not promoted, and was ultimately fired due to gender discrimination. But the court, sadly, did not agree. Apparently the sexism she experienced just couldn’t quite be proved, as is brilliantly referenced in this New York Magazine Article.
We’ve talked about this over and over again in class. What’s better: Outright, overt isms? Or consistent, subtle micro-aggressions? They’re both painful; they both cause harm to the perpetrator as well as the recipient. But the more I think about the issue, the more I’m recognizing that micro-aggressions are more damaging. Not because they are any more painful to hear or process, but because the person on the receiving end must go through so much stress simply determining intent. “Did that person say that to me because I’m a woman? Was I reviewed poorly because I rejected his sexual advances? Would they have listened to my idea more intently if I were a man?”
It takes so much emotional time and energy to process these instances of sexism. We can drive ourselves crazy wondering! And beyond that, after we have determined that, yes! That was sexism! Then, we have to bear the burden of proof. If you’re called “a c*nt” in the office, everyone agrees that the perpetrator is sexist. If you’re called “sweetie,” how can you prove that it’s doing you any harm?
That’s the problem with this next-generation sexism. Women often have no allies, no one to turn to for validation, no one who believes their experiences. We’re left with this feeling that something is wrong, but we can’t quite prove it.
Ellen Pao tried to prove it. Unfortunately, she didn’t win in the courts. But perhaps she’ll win in other ways. After all, we’re talking about it, aren’t we?