Since 1987, the month of March has been recognized as National Women’s History Month. In March, our country recognizes and honors female leaders for their extraordinary achievements and contributions. Females across the country join in sending messages of thanks and appreciation to moms, sisters, and friends. This acknowledgement and praise is deserved, especially in light of recent, brave strides made by women sharing personal stories in an effort to stop sexism and sexual harassment. Yet, this is just a step…
We must not settle for progress, but aspire for lasting change. Meaningful change requires constant effort to uncover, illuminate and educate on issues of sexism and harassment, and commit to devising sustainable solutions for future generations.
Sexism exists in every profession, in every workplace, in every community. Sadly, sexism even exists in helping professions like psychology, meant to empower not deny.
At Wellman Psychology & Associates we applaud current progress, yet recognize the need for even greater change. In solidarity and support of women, team members bravely share personal experiences of battling sexism and harassment in both education and training. It is our hope that sharing real stories is a step towards real change.
Excerpts from our personal battles
“She was one of my professors. One day, after class I approached her because I was interested in what she did outside of school and teaching. I wanted to learn more about her private practice, as she was a professional in the field, and I wanted to know what it was actually like. I started the conversation by asking her direct questions about her practice and her professional experiences. I was not asking about what she thought I needed to do to get into the field. I just wanted to get to know her and learn from her. Right away, she zoomed in and told me, ‘You need to be less feminine in order for people to take you seriously.’ At the time I had blond hair, and she told me that ‘my blond hair was not going to work. It had to go. You need to wear your hair pulled back everyday, especially when you are interviewing. Your voice, it’s too high pitched too, no one will take you seriously, so you have to change that too’. Basically, the message was, ‘since you are so feminine no one is going to take you seriously in this field as a therapist.’”
Occurred in Clinical Psychology Program, 2014, Current Female Therapist at Wellman
“At first, my clinical training supervisor was super nice. I felt like he was really dedicated to my education and my training, and that he wanted me to do well. But then, he started texting me a lot after work. And in his messages he would call me pet names like ‘tiger.’ Those messages spiraled into texts about how special and amazing I was. This actually started causing a problem with my boyfriend because he was wondering what was going on. I ended up not responding anymore because it was causing me so many problems. After I stopped responding to him, he stopped having time to supervise me. He would schedule things over our supervision time and he gave me clients that didn’t really match my skills or areas of growth. I actually don’t think I had one-on-one supervision with him after that, and whenever I had to see him or talk to him he was very rude. It didn’t feel safe at all.”
Occurred in Psychology Practicum, 2016, Current Female Therapist at Wellman
“One day my clinical practice supervisor at the school I was training at called me into his office. He sat down and said to me, ‘You are very pretty.’ And then, he just stared at me for a couple minutes. Then he said, ‘you attract the eye as you walk across the room, and that is not a good thing. In this kind of setting, and in our culture, you can’t be both pretty and smart. So, you have to pick one.’ He then went on to tell me that I shouldn’t wear any form fitting clothes because that could be interpreted as an invitation by the high school students I was working with. From that point on, any time there was any indication or comment about me at work, he would call me into his office and ask me what I did to make the students say or act like they did toward me. Basically, pointing out that since I looked a certain way, and since I didn’t wear baggy clothes everyday to work, that I was ‘asking for it.’ I was shocked. Speechless. I went back to school after that to tell my professor what happened. I told him, word for word, what I had been told about my femininity and my looks. My professor told me that even though the sub text of that conversation was inappropriate, there was not actually anything overtly inappropriate in what the clinical director had said to me, so it could not be reported as misconduct or sexual harassment. He pretty much told me to ‘tough it out.’”
Occurred in Clinical Training, 2014, Current Female Therapist at Wellman
From these three honest incidents, we understand that people skilled in a profession of helping others are actually hurting the confidence and ability of the women around them. Given that it’s women’s month, let’s dedicate ourselves to being sensitive to the unintentional bias around us, and being strong in our intent to solve this going forward.
Advice for women in similar situations
Talk to as many people as you can. “Instead of asking questions, I kept what happened to myself. I wasn’t sure if I should resist the feedback from my clinical director, or if it was something to embrace. For awhile I stopped wearing makeup, I died my hair dark, I would pull it back everyday into a bun or ponytail, I bought black, baggy sweaters to wear to school. I was in my head for a while thinking about what I needed to do to change, and if this was even the right career for me, if I have to pretend to be a man to be taken seriously as a clinician. Instead of keeping it in, talk to other people to gain perspective and understating, and to find strength to overcome these challenges and know that it’s not a you problem.”
Spread the word. “Sexism and gender harassment are very much happening right now. Dismissing it as a thing of the past is not okay, because it is not in the past. And that fact that I faced it in a helping field, as a therapist, shows how pervasive it is. In order to root out sexism and gender harassment we have to understand real situations in which it happens, and we have to talk and learn from each other.”
Acknowledgement and awareness through shared stories is key in empowering others to recognize situations involving sexist behavior, or gender harassment, and arming future generations with insight and confidence to protect themselves.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you felt discriminated against, or harassed? Share your story to prepare and empower someone else.
How can you make steps to reduce sexism in the job or community you work in?