Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sammie Gets A Job

Actually, Sammie didn't get a job. I'll talk about that in a minute.

The topic in class was: Boys and Girls. Based on a news article whose headline screamed: it is more difficult to be a girl in America than in Kazakhstan, I wanted my students, most of whom are girls, to reflect on whether it was more difficult to be male or female in China, and on what they could do about it.

To make my case, I delved into the NBC piece, which stated the organization Save The Children conducted a poll on the quality of life for girls all over the world. China was notably absent from the report. I made sure to point that out.

I also pointed out that boys's lives were apparently not worth a report.

And then, the twist: the female students should research and report on life as a boy and the male students should research and report on life as a girl: how is life easier? How is life harder? How can we even out gender responsibilities and privileges? I told my rapt audience that, in order to prepare for their assignment, they should visit that organization's websites:

They should also interview people of the opposite sex:  family members, classmates, boyfriends or girlfriends. That way, they could get a good picture of how life is, on the other side of gender barrier: 

The week before, we had talked about racial discrimination, following a viewing of the movie Freedom Writers. The kids were apalled at what-all that movie alludes to, especially the racism. Because of their interest, I decided to explore their feelings and expand the topic to include gender bias. The boys being girls and vice versa, for the purpose of this exercise, was my way of getting them to discover how life is for the other gender. Perhaps girls would stop being so demanding of their men? Maybe men would be more supportive of their women?

I was eager for the next week's classes, when I would hear what they'd discovered. A lot of what they said was banal; I suspect about half the kids only went with their thoughts/ideas, without interviewing anybody. A few made up whole speeches from lines of the song: If I Were a Boy, by Byonce. Maybe they thought I don't know that song?

A few blew me away with their depth of thought. August got the straight dope from his mother: life is not easy at all for a woman, no matter how good looking she is, or how rich her husband. Quite a few girls expressed sympathy for males, who are called on to be the family provider. Many of them disdained the cultural norm of men having to have a house, car and cash before they can think of marriage.

On that one, I urged my female students to be true partners with their men. Why shouldn't they  contribute equally to their home and bank account?

And then, there was Sammie: a shy, soft-spoken girl with radiant skin and wise eyes. Her turn at the podium revealed a loathing of lordly men, withholding or dispensing to women at will. She hated being at the mercy of males! I was quite taken aback by her seething report and vowed to talk with her privately about her feelings. Surely she must have been grievously injured to feel this way!

No need for private conversation. We soon learned why this shy girl was enraged to the point that she would speak so vehemently in front of the whole class. She had applied for a job the past weekend and gotten turned down: “I'm not going to hire you. You're a girl.”

No, not turned down: humiliated.

I know that feeling of impotent rage she felt; I've been there. I too have been denied work because of my gender, when I was not much older than she is now. And, like her, I had no idea how to assert myself.

China has laws against gender discrimination. It doesn't stop employers from practicing bias, but it does give the likes of Sammie a leg to stand on... if they dare. There seems to be a cavalier attitude towards women who complain of gender discrimination, and that attitude is well-known. Many women simply accept rejection (humiliation) and hope the next time, it won't feel so slimy.

I don't want that for Sammie, or any other female, in China or elsewhere.

Fortunately, more and more women in China are coming forth with outrageous stories of bias against them. The teacher who was fired for being pregnant – her contract specified against marriage or motherhood. The young woman who responded to a 'males only' job ad (yes, those still exist in China!), only to be rebuffed as not anatomically correct for the position: administrative assistant at a language school. Hers was China's first gender employment discrimination discrimination case. She won. 

Her case was arbitrated a mere 2 years ago. She adopted a pseudonym during the proceedings to protect herself from possible negative fallout. Those facts, in themselves, make a statement. Don't you think?

As does the report from Save the Children. I keep coming back to the question: why only girls? I couldn't find a report on boys: does this organization believe that boys do not have any issues? Does Save the Children not consider boys' issues? Are boys' needs less urgent? Unimportant? You might think that, as a female who has endured discrimination, I would be overjoyed that girls are in the forefront. I'm not. I tend to believe that a biased focus, in itself, causes and perpetuates bias.   

In China, there are now advocacy groups in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere to attend to and help enforce women's rights in the workplace. Changes are coming slowly, but they are coming. Recently, an ad specifying only male applicants would be considered was removed, thanks to the diligence of those groups.

Thanks to them, and to the slow-dawning realization that women are equally valuable employees, Sammie and, in the future,  her daughter might never have to endure the humiliation of being turned down for a job simply because they were born female.

I can hope, can't I?   


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