By Reyam Jamaleddine, October 3 2023—
In my second year of university, I was attending a lab for a data science course. I grouped myself with a few girls who were also attending the lab. We sat amongst each other and voiced our admiration for the women instructors and professors we had for some of our classes. As my journey of being a university student continued, I didn’t notice myself allocating all the strong woman role models I had in my life to the category of strong woman-model. They were always just strong individuals who inspired me.
Fast forward to my current position in my academic and professional journey, I find myself in the exact grouping that I never thought to place myself in before — a Woman-dominated office. In the face of slander, in the light of this allocation — I find myself shocked and insulted but more so confused at the appalling culture that surrounds the woman in the office. I had been working in woman-dominated spaces my whole life and never noticed.
I now reflect back and recognize all the young women sitting at that round table, ever so innocently admiring strong role models without an inkling of the need to address the stigma that surrounds those who inspire them. However, seemingly a micro event, the discussion in that lab was something that established the need for recognition of women in the workplace alongside equality and respect. Young girls and women need role models to look up to in a male-dominated world.
In light of these reflections, I turn to the instructor of that course who at the time inspired the discussion at the roundtable, to discuss the stigma of the woman-dominated workspace.
Sydney Pratte is currently completing her Ph.D. in Computer Science. She is one of the many women who have been in the emergence of my academic and professional career as a woman. In an interview with the Gauntlet, we steered across the question of the woman-dominated office. We navigated prevalent questions yet discovered that the answers came about to be blatantly obvious to us.
Pratte provided her insights on why there is a powerful stigma that remains in the notion of woman-dominated. Her insights tackle the idea of men’s perception of masculinity being challenged.
“For almost all of history, men are the ones who work, men are the ones in charge, it’s only really in the last hundred years that women have pushed that boundary really hard, probably in only the past 50 years that women have really gotten into being equal space, but there’s still that toxic masculinity. Men should be the breadwinner, men should be in charge. They don’t like being fought against, so whenever a woman is powerful and a strong person then now it’s more stigma, they’re a bitch, they are aggressive, they’re anti-man when it’s really just people being equal,” she said.
The nuances between male-dominated offices and woman-dominated offices never struck me as something that is prevalent. Yet, it was pointed out by Pratte that there are indeed differences, ones that are exaggerated by the stigma itself.
“Women would feel more comfortable in woman-dominated because there no longer is this question of their expertise, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever found, if I feel challenged in the workplace it’s usually because I have to feel like I have to prove myself just because I am a woman, where men don’t have that struggle, they don’t feel like they have to prove themselves, they got the job so they proved themselves. Whereas women I feel like, they got the job, but then a lot of people would be like they got the job because they are a pretty girl. If you were in a woman-dominated office you wouldn’t have to fight that either, because you’re not proving it to the men”
The reason for the presence of this stigma is yet to have an obvious answer, why men themselves have an issue with women dominating a workplace seems to be indecipherable. Puzzled by this I asked Pratte, where she clarified her insights, “I think men would feel antagonized by a woman-dominated space where they feel they are not allowed there, like if they feel they are not allowed there, that’s the only reason I can see why they would be hostile towards workspaces like that, they only hire women, men aren’t allowed here, or they feel like they are being passed over because of their gender, which is ironic because that’s what happens a lot to women.”
Pratte’s statement about why men feel hostile towards women in workspaces holds many truths. Inspired by her insights, I researched real-life commentary made by individuals on forums such as Reddit and Quora, the majority of the commentary fell into the categories of Guys of Reddit who work in a female-dominated field…whats it like? What’s it like working in a female-dominated field? How do I survive in a female-dominated office?
Besides stereotyping, misogynistic and malicious commentary. The stigma also stems from a place of curiosity and a place of seeking understanding. Although the woman-dominated space should not be considered different or alternative to any other workplace, I can appreciate the need for exposure to these new and demanding workspaces. As Pratte had said: “Everyone’s equal, as long as the job gets done everyone has the capability, there shouldn’t be a label of male-dominated or woman-dominated, it should just be a workspace”. We are far from achieving this narrative but we can take steps towards including curious individuals in the conversation and being mindful of the fact that not everyone has the chance or opportunity of working in woman-dominated spaces in this patriarchal world.
We concluded our conversation by acknowledging how obvious the above statements were deemed by us. It was obvious to us yet I can acknowledge that it is not obvious to the majority of the world. This stigma is not something that is fiction or something that should be glazed over. The stigma of the woman-dominated office holds its power in an ever-so-powerful patriarchal world. The first step to overcoming this bigotry or innocent ignorance is to broaden the perspective of normalizing workplaces for individuals of every identity. I bring back the powerful quote stated by Pratte: “There shouldn’t be a label of male-dominated or woman-dominated, it should just be a workspace”.
Conversations like these, however repetitive they are perceived in spaces that appear more progressive, are powerful in spite of this and bring voice to topics that might be better in some spheres but worse in others. A strong stance against misogyny and oppression, as needed and as required for the hunt for equality.
My part, the call of action that I will always repeat to myself and to all women is to continue to do what you love. Embed yourself into everything that you are interested in regardless of societal allocations or preconceived notions. We are so much more than a condescending allocation of woman-dominated workspaces. We are educators, professionals, mathematicians, scientists, writers, problem-solvers, politicians, doctors, lawyers and so much more, most of all existing as human beings.
In strong parting words from Pratte, “Stick to your guns, believe in your abilities, don’t be afraid to show it”
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.