Is Trump's Victory a Setback for Women's Rights in the Workplace?
Published: Nov 14, 2016
Here in deep blue New York City, where 79 percent of all presidential votes cast in the recent election went to Hillary Clinton, perhaps no other group of people were as despondent over Trump's surprising victory than women. The day after the election, I saw groups of women hugging and crying everywhere: outside schools, in playgrounds, in office buildings, in lines at restaurants and cafes.
One reason for the tears was not difficult to understand, no matter which candidate you supported. Since it was widely believed that a Clinton win was a sure bet, the thinking went that the highest glass ceiling on the planet was once and for all going to be shattered: a woman would be the President of the United States for the first time in history. And, as a result, many women (and men) believed that, in short time, the standing of women would improve in any number of other industries that have also been historically dominated by men, such as Wall Street, BigLaw, technology, and energy, just to name a few.
However, instead of a big breakthrough, women woke up (or went to bed very late) to a shocking reminder that they were still far away from shattering that metaphorical ceiling, which more and more is looking like it's made of imaginary steel, not glass.
Another reason for the tears, perhaps a little less obvious to those on one side of the nationwide divide, was the fact that, "We picked a President whose ex-wife once testified that he ripped out her hair and raped her, a man who's been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by almost two dozen women, a man whose own words corroborate his accusers' claims."
And so, women were despondent over the fact that "locker room" talk would once again be considered just something boys and men do. Which would, it would follow, undermine any advances that women had made when it came to being able to confront sexual harassment issues in workplace settings, not to mention hamper any progress women had made when it came to gender wage equality.
Of course, it remains to be seen what will ultimately happen to women's rights and standing in the workplace as a result of Trump's presidency. There are those that would argue that Trump has not been criminally prosecuted of any wrongdoing in connection with any harassment charges, that Trump may end up increasing maternity leave for women, and that, as the President-elect himself had said in his own defense, what he was recorded as saying on tape about women was "just talk, meant to entertain."
However, talk, as many know, can be just as damning as actions. Ask any number of recipients of bullying messages via social media, or any number of Harvard female athletes.
Last month, the Harvard men's soccer team's season came to an abrupt end when an annual "scouting report" of female soccer players "quantifying each woman’s attractiveness with a numerical rating [and] assigning her a nickname and sexual position" was uncovered by the Harvard Crimson. And, in recent days, a similar report put out by Harvard's male cross-country team was discovered. These incidents have been huge embarrassments for what's widely considered to be the most prestigious place of higher learning in the U.S., if not on the planet. In Harvard's defense, the school did quickly denounce the soccer team's "scouting report" and quickly killed what was an extremely promising season (the team was atop the Ivy League and ranked No. 15 in the nation).
Still, the scandal was yet another example of a pattern of behavior rampant throughout all corners of the land of the free and home of the brave, and one that can have wide-reaching effects.
The soccer-team revelations are a sobering reminder that sexist behavior can’t easily be stamped out through rules, regulations, and imposed consequences alone. The problem with "locker-room talk," whether it takes the form of Trump boasting about groping women or college students ranking the appeal of their peers, is that sexist speech normalizes sexist behavior. In the case of Harvard's soccer team, what’s extraordinary is that the talk can’t be dismissed as casual or made in passing: it was co-authored, edited, and preserved as an official group record. While we might be resigned to encountering objectifying speech or behavior at a bar or a beer-soaked spring-break party, it's sobering to see it codified in the form of a shared Google document. In effect, the scouting report became a set of instructions used, year after year, to dehumanize women.
As for those who were targeted by the document, their response reads like it could've been written by any number of Clinton-supporting women in the wake of the results of last week's presidential election. In an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson, the school's women's soccer team wrote of the "scouting report":
The sad reality is that we have come to expect this kind of behavior from so many men, that it is so 'normal' to us we often decide it is not worth our time or effort to dwell on … In all, we do not pity ourselves, nor do we ache most because of the personal nature of this attack. More than anything, we are frustrated that this is a reality that all women have faced in the past and will continue to face throughout their lives.
Harvard isn't the only Ivy League institution dealing with derogatory comments made by members of its male athletic teams. Today, Columbia University suspended its wrestling team's season while it investigates text messages sent by team members that include "frequent use of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic terms."
Related to all this, below are some words recently written by ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who famously and very publicly accused her former boss, ex-Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes (who was a confidant of Trump during his presidential run), of sexual harassment this past summer. Carlson wrote about the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in the New York Times over the weekend. Here's an excerpt:
According to the National Women's Law Center, almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it. Why don’t women tell?
That is the question we hear all the time. If it was so bad, why didn't they just find another job? That's what President-elect Donald J. Trump suggested when asked what his daughter should do if she encountered sexual harassment.
Here's why women don't come forward. We don't want to be labeled troublemakers. We don't want to put our careers at risk. And in the end, one of our greatest fears is that we won't be believed. "He said, she said" is still a convenient phrase that equates victims with harassers. It trivializes workplace harassment and has become synonymous with "Don't take that risk; they won't believe you anyway."
And so, to answer the question that the title of this post poses, it seems very hard to believe that a Trump presidency will, in any way, shape, or form, advance women's rights in the workplace. However, as one of my female friends here in New York City who ardently supported Hillary Clinton told me this morning, "I am willing to be surprised."
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