It’s shameful to think that career women in 2018 still need to contend with the gender-biased attitudes, actions, and abuses of male chauvinists. But, as current events continue to prove, this issue persists, with sexism informing political discourse, policy decisions, and cultural conversations.
According to Merriam-Webster, chauvinism entails “an attitude of superiority towards people of the opposite sex.” The dictionary cites “male chauvinism” as the most common example, implicitly making the valid point that chauvinism involves people with privilege and their negative attitudes toward people in less-privileged positions.
While the definition of a male chauvinist seems fairly straightforward, examples of chauvinistic attitudes can be trickier to pin down. Essentially, any behavior casting female perspectives, opinions, and viewpoints as trivial and inconsequential fall under the chauvinistic umbrella.
Chauvinistic attitudes affect women in all corners of society, and while aggressive outward displays of misogyny are sadly not uncommon, chauvinism can also appear in more insidious forms. For example, Donald Trump’s sexist belief system arises regularly, even when he thinks he’s praising the women in his life (and explicitly denying his own chauvinism). During an ABC Primetime interview back in the ‘90s, Trump said the following about ex-wife Ivana and her burgeoning career as a businesswoman:
“I don’t want to sound like a chauvinist, but when I come home at night and dinner’s not ready I go through the roof. But I got handed casino numbers. After 12 hours dealing with my companies, I didn’t want to talk business. I can instantaneously shut it off, my survival mechanism. But she’d be yelling into the phone with the casino; I didn’t want my wife shouting like that. Ivana had a great softness that disappeared. She became an executive, not a wife.”
In the workplace, chauvinistic attitudes frequently manifest in arguably subtle ways that nevertheless smack of inappropriate gender stereotyping. One example offered by Business Insider is the fact that “women are often expected to answer the phone, set up meetings, and fill out paperwork” in office settings, even when their job descriptions don’t include administrative tasks, simply because secretarial work is viewed by chauvinists as a “woman’s job.”
Although the “chauvinist” title applies to individuals who consider members of the opposite sex inferior, popular culture and societal norms have so associated chauvinism with male chauvinism that the term now almost exclusively refers to those who consider females less relevant and significant than males. So while the technical definition of a female chauvinist suggests a woman who considers women superior to men, the fact that women still qualify as a minority removes the privilege necessary for one group to position themselves as “superior” to another. Some have handled this imbalance by redefining “female chauvinist” as a woman with a sympathetic outlook on male chauvinism, but when it comes to the existence of female chauvinism overall, the jury’s still out.
As many an ambitious female employee can tell you, chauvinism shows up frequently in the professional world. Particularly if you work in an environment heavily populated by conservative men of an older generation (although certainly not exclusively; young men are just as capable of chauvinism as their elders), the tendency of certain senior staffers to dismiss feedback or advancement requests from female employees runs rampant. But there’s no need to sit back and accept these discriminatory attitudes as a necessary evil; both women and their male and non-binary allies can and should fight back against chauvinistic behaviors.
In the year 2018, it’s less likely than ever that you’ll encounter an explicitly sexist, “Mad Men”-style boss. But while today’s chauvinism may come in a more subtle package, it’s still damaging and should be discouraged and combatted at every available opportunity.
Sometimes, confronting your boss in a public forum doesn’t suit your purposes in an effective way. In that situation, a private talk may have a greater impact. “If the subtle sexism is getting to you and you are unsure of how to handle it, a good idea would be to request a private chat. The person you are talking to may not even realize that they are doing this and that it affects you, a friendly reminder that it’s not okay is sometimes all that they need,” Zambas explains.
When dealing with a workplace peer (not a supervisor or a subordinate) who exhibits chauvinistic attitudes, this negative outlook can manifest in a number of ways. Sometimes, the bigger issue involves the way that others in your workspace interpret the interactions between you and your sexist colleague. Other times, you can find yourself saddled with less-than-ideal responsibilities because your coworker perpetuates harmful and outdated gender constructs.
Sometimes, a male direct report may push back against your entirely-reasonable requests and expectations, giving you cause to believe that he takes issue with the concept of being managed by a female superior. In more minor instances of this behavior, humor can go a long way.
The Guardian recommends the following: “If a colleague repeats your idea to mass applause at a meeting, it’s perfectly fine to raise an eyebrow and say gently, ‘Great idea, John. Although, didn’t I just say that five minutes ago?’. The trick is to smile: after all if you’re smiling you’re not angry, you’re just stating a fact. Your fact.”
But if these situations persist, termination may be the best and only solution, after appropriate employee counseling and documentation. After all, you’re the boss. If a chauvinistic subordinate disrespects you repeatedly, he isn’t doing his job, and he’s hindering your ability to effectively do yours.