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'On the Basis of Sex' highlights the struggles professional women still face in the workplace

by Baylie Clevenger On Christmas day of 2018, the film On the Basis of Sex premiered in theaters. This film follows the story of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how being a woman inhibited her from opportunities in law school at Harvard and afterward in the workforce. In law school, she is one of the few women in her class. At the beginning of the film, she is invited to a dinner with the dean that was meant for just the women in her graduating class. During dinner, he goes around the table asking the students to come up with a good reason for why they are in a position at Harvard that could have been given to a man. This scene kicks the movie off and sets the tone for the kinds of adversities that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will run into. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28dHbIR_NB4[/embed] After graduating at the top of her class, with experience at both Harvard and Columbia, Ginsburg still struggles to find work. She searches far and wide, but there were no law firms that wanted to hire a woman even though she was more than qualified. Though the movie ends happily with Ginsburg’s victory in court with her first court case ever, so many people presented her with troubles that she would not have faced if she were a man. This movie is the story of a woman’s triumph in a world that favors men. At the time, this kind of thinking was common, and there are still women far younger than Ginsburg that have struggled to make it in the professional world because of their genders. These women are everywhere, even here in Muncie and the surrounding communities. Two women in particular shared their stories that mirror the type of discrimination faced by Ginsburg in the film. For purposes of anonymity, we will call one of the women Mary, as she did not wish to share her identity and, as a result, face repercussions for speaking out about experiences in her career. Mary is a physician at a large health network in Indianapolis. The second to share her story is Lori Luther, and she is the Chief Operating Officer of IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital here in Muncie.

Image from Muncie Journal
Lori and Mary both have stories of triumph, much like Ginsburg, and they had to work just as hard to get to where they are now. They both had to pay for their own education since women at the time were not expected to go to college. “I began my career during a generational time when careers and even household responsibilities were categorized as male or female," said Mary. "This was particularly true for my parents. Although they were paying for my older brother’s private college, they refused to pay for my college education because, ‘girls only went to college to get an MRS degree,' i.e., find a husband rather than pursue a career.”  Mary also said that her parents and her college boyfriend also told her that she should be a nurse instead since they thought that was a more acceptable career for a woman. She and her college boyfriend even split up because he did not want to date a woman who was a doctor. Aside from having to pay for her own education, Mary said that medical school was difficult because some of her superiors would disrespect her and do things to purposely make her uncomfortable. Specifically, she spoke about her experience in clinical rotations in her third year. “...So while my male counterpart was assigned patients with kidney stones and enlarged prostates, I was given penile implant cases,” she said. “...Fortunately, the surgery went well and the patient was much kinder than my attending who, during the surgery, asked me if I approved of the size of the implant.”
Lori Luther, Chief Operating Officer of IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Image from Indiana University Health
  Lori shared a similar experience of paying for her own college, and her parents told her the same thing: that she should only aspire to become a wife and a mother. Lori also talked about her experience as a professional woman. She described being undervalued and even harassed severely enough that she took a job opportunity outside of the country to escape her harasser. “I finally left the country to get away after 15 years of following him from place to place. The harassment and the uncomfortable conversations and slipping me papers with his hotel room number on them when we were at conferences…” she said. “And I was publicly humiliated when, you know, I wouldn’t cooperate with things. So in group settings, he would humiliate me or get even through pay…” Along with the harassment she experienced from her male counterparts, Lori also describes having to become more man-like in her actions to make it in the workforce. “I found that I had to adopt the personality of a man…” she said. “If I wanted to continue to progress, I had to become one of the guys. I don’t know if she [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] had that experience, but I suspect very much so because women… that’s how we had to succeed." Professional women often feel compelled to act like men, because male attributes are associated with success. The result is women suppressing their femininity to appeal to the professional sensibilities of a male-oriented workplace.  “I believe my professional experience would have been different as a man versus a woman,” Mary said. “...I think the additional scrutiny, and at times harassment, I received as a female medical student and physician resulted in making me a more competent physician as I was having to prove my worth more so than my male counterparts had to do.” Lori said that she has no doubt in her mind she would have made it to a higher position by now if she were a man.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Image from The Nation
What we can conclude is that women have often had to do twice the work to make it to the same professional position as men. They have to act more manly, face harassment and even pay their way through their own education. Mary, Lori and Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced inequality, but they are not the only ones. They were triumphant in a male-dominated  world and have helped to pave the way for the women of today and of the future. The workforce is still far from equal, but without the perseverance that women of the past have shown, we would not be where we are today.
Featured Image: IMDb Images: Muncie JournalIndiana University Health, and The Nation

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