Whether you like it or not, our country still has a long way to go in terms of addressing gender-based pay gaps and discrimination in the workplace. While the issue is a result of factors embedded in our culture, the change needs to start from within us.
But not everyone is willing to address internalized sexism.
Why do women have the involuntary belief that the stereotypes and myths about girls and women are true? Firstly, we are part of a systemic problem which began before we were even born. Secondly, the idea of unlearning the things we’ve been taught at a young age seem terrifying, even to a full-grown woman.
However, the longer we perpetuate these stereotypes in our heads, the more it becomes a problem; there’s a huge chance you’ll end up taking these beliefs with you to your adulthood. This is why it’s important to make sure that your voice is being heard at home, in school, and even in your workplace—that you express your opinions and needs loud and clear so that you can have the right opportunities to grow as a person. Empowering yourself and fighting internal sexism requires a level of maturity and knowledge, a sense of self-awareness that doesn’t come quickly.
To help you figure things out, here are some of the things women say in the workplace that are holding them back from being empowered women.
1. “She’s so bossy!”
The 2018 Women in Business survey from Grant Thornton showed that 46.58% of women in Filipino workplaces hold senior management roles, making the Philippines the first in the world.
However, senior management positions require tenacity. As such, female bosses are often forced to show teeth and act tougher in front of their employees. So we need to check ourselves and keep ourselves calm before saying anything out of line to anyone—regardless of gender or age. The same rule applies to female co-workers who fall prey to malicious office gossip. Sitting idly while other girls tear down or backstab a female colleague isn’t very helpful either. Remember that every conversation is a chance to change someone’s perspective. With a different mindset, we can change the culture of sexism in the workplace little by little.
2. “She’s too girly! / Oh my god, that’s so gay. / She’s one of the boys.”
The idea that a girl can’t be so girly, or that an effeminate man is immediately gay, is what internalized sexism is all about.
A paper from the Journal of Integrated Social Sciences defined “internalized sexism” as situations where “women enact learned sexist behaviors upon themselves and other women.” Judging someone harshly because of their physical appearance and measuring them based on how they’re supposed to look is a form of objectification. In a way, day-to-day conversations in the workplace tend to magnify these. Remember that our clothes, interests, choice of company, and work style allow our true selves to shine. At work, we need to focus on our career goals, or on finding ways to make our workplace a kinder, more welcoming place for everyone.
3. “I’m not sure. I think he knows this better than I do.”
Selling ourselves short and holding back to give way to men is the quickest way to sabotage our careers.
We tend to limit ourselves because of fear or let other people take credit for the work that we do. As a result, we’re not only allowing our own career goals to take a step back, but we’re also conditioning other people to abuse us in the long run. So if we think that someone else can do a task better, we need to take it as a challenge and ask for guidance instead. This way, we can foster a culture of collaboration within the team and give ourselves an opportunity to learn a new skill.
4. “Sorry, but can you…”
When asking for a small favor or seeking help, we should never start our sentences with an apology.
As Filipinos, and as women, we tend to feel bad about speaking up because internalized oppression is deeply embedded in our culture and our history. We never want to be an inconvenience to other people so it may be hard to ask for help when we need it. This apologetic attitude reinforces a feeling of powerlessness and incompetence.
In reverse, we should learn how to build good relationships in the workplace and bank on the Filipino bayanihan spirit in times of need. If a task is too heavy, we have to work hand-in-hand with the decision-makers so that the load can be distributed evenly. Remember that it’s better to send an S.O.S. early on than have to apologize for mishaps or low quality work.
5. “It’s okay. It’s nothing.”
Finally, the best way to be heard in the workplace is to find the courage to speak up.
Dismissing our feelings and invalidating our own opinion will only lead to frustration and discontent. While it’s not always easy to confront people or to express our disagreement, it’s also unhealthy to keep these thoughts to ourselves, especially in a professional setting.
If a debate is ongoing, set expectations immediately and ask the people to listen before laying down personal opinions. When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, remember that it’s never right to keep quiet. If a female colleague is on the receiving end of inappropriate actions or sexual advances, seek help from an HR personnel immediately. Our silence on this matter can largely affect our work environment and company culture so be brave and speak to the right people.
This Women’s Month, may we all find the courage to let our inner feminist out and create ripples of change in our culture, one phrase at a time. We urge every young Filipina to celebrate Women’s Month with Edukasyon.ph by sharing more inspiring stories on women empowerment and learning about opportunities for young females in senior high school and college through our #FutureOfYoungPinays page!