Folks from around the world (but mostly North America) took to Quora last week to answer the question, "As a female, when was the first time you felt discriminated against because of your gender?" A big thank you to all of them for sharing their stories.
1/16. One requirement at family breakfast was that we had to read the newspaper -- at least the headlines. I was seven years old, and reading the front page one Sunday -- I know it was Sunday, because my father was at the table too. Elvis Presley had just been drafted. I looked up. "Dad, what's 'drafted'?"
They explained simply, and I got furious. That someone could, against his will, be dragged into the armed forces seemed on the face of it unfair, and I said so. My father, a veteran of WWII, and my mother, descended from and related to multiple career Navy officers, disagreed.
It had finally died down a little, on the "agree to disagree" level, when I asked the question which was at the heart of my outrage. "You mean, when I turn 18, I'm going to have to go into the military whether I want to or NOT?"
"No," my mom said, "because you're a girl. Girls aren't drafted."
"But THAT isn't fair EITHER!" I said. At which point I was spanked and sent to my room.
2/16. When we were little, my older brother and I played baseball with other neighborhood kids. Neighborhood boys, that is, since I was the only girl. I hit the ball as well as most of the boys, and had such a good arm that they let me pitch.
My brother joined the local tee ball league, and progressed to the next level (small fry?). No league welcomed me, though, and the gender restriction made no sense to me. I switched my focus to tennis, and became a serious competitor. Not much later, my brother switched to tennis, too.
The inability to join a team destroyed my love of baseball. We grew up an hour's drive from Cincinnati during the "Big Red Machine" era of World Series domination, and we used to go to games with our father and track the box scores for each player. My love of the sport faded when the Reds' winning phase did.
Decades later, my brother told his daughters (who both played in softball leagues) that I would have become a professional player if girls had been allowed to play baseball when we were kids. They believed him, bless their hearts.
3/16. The first time I was aware of being discriminated against based on my sex was my sophomore year of high school, in speech and debate.
I did a 10 minute comedic monologue. I was usually the only female in the finals round, as it was a pretty male-dominated event.
I had three judges- two men, and one lady.
I performed my piece, and I was really proud of my performance. I sat down and watched my competitors, pretty sure I'd done a great job.
I got sixth place.
At the end of the tournament, we got back our ballots, where judges write feedback they have of your performance. Two of my judges had some good points about what I could do better, but I remember what one of the male judges wrote.
He drew the little symbol for a female, wrote "polka-dot shirt", and circled the 6th place spot.
No feedback. No critiques. Nothing.
His only note was my gender- as if he didn't watch my performance, saw a woman and assumed I should be last. He didn't even put in the effort to help me get better. It was the first time I realized that my gender had probably been a factor in my loss. It wasn't just my performance- it was that a woman gave the performance. I'll never forget that.
Speech in Wyoming is rampant with sexism. A number of my female students have gotten critiques ranging from "don't wear a button-up shirt- dress like a lady!" to "your skirt distracted from your speech." Many judges fail to give useful critiques in favor of criticizing dress and speaking style related to being female.
It also comes out in their speaking. It's disappointing to know that a woman being an aggressive speaker is "bitchy" while a man is just "aggressive". My girls lose on that sort of thing all of the time.
Speech and debate was really the first place I was widely exposed to the sexism of the older generation.