This is the first of three excerpts from Dr. Lisa Kemmerer’s upcoming book on sexism and male privilege in the anymal1 activist community. Each excerpt features a sub-heading from one of the chapters in her book. This first essay is from the third chapter, which focuses on a survey that she created and ran to assess harassment and discrimination in the Anymal activist (AA) community.
“It breaks my heart to now see my generation of men getting away with this sexual harassment [in the AA movement] because they have watched others do it for so long and get away with it.” (Kemmerer2017 #24, Q24)2
The Kemmerer2017 Survey: Harassment and Discrimination in the Anymal Activist Community is the first survey designed to explore harassment and discrimination inside the AA movement. This survey, announced in late July of 2017, with the first response registering on August 4th of 2017, provides data3 on sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, and classism in the AA community. Created specifically to gather information on harassment and discrimination inside the movement, the Kemmerer2017 Survey selected for survivors/victims of harassment and discrimination.
Forms of Harassment and Discrimination
“The most prevalent forms of discrimination that I have witnessed or experienced have been on the basis of biological sex, gender identity, and body size. (#36, Q14)
Question 14 of the Kemmerer2017 Survey asked respondents on “what basis would you say the person was targeted” for harassment and/or discrimination? The Kemmerer2017 Survey selected for those who were aware of or who had experienced harassment and discrimination in the AA movement—but the survey did not specifically select for those who had witnessed or experienced sexism or male privilege (as opposed to racism, ableism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, and so on). Survey respondents indicate that sex discrimination was the primary form of harassment/discrimination witnessed or experienced:
- 33% sex discrimination
- 21% age discrimination
- 12% being younger than others
- 9% being older than others
- 12% race or ethnicity
- 9% reproductive choices
- 6% economic status or social class
- 5% sexual orientation
- 3% differently abled
- 2% religious background
- 1% identity as trans or intersex
- 1% immigration status
Additionally, 6% chose “other.’ Write-in responses reported experiencing discrimination based on:
- 3% “body size,” “size,” “weight and physical appearance” (#36, #46, #57)
- 2% education level (#77, #95)
- “biological sex, gender identity” (#36)
- “their position” (#70)
- “marital status” (#59)
- “primary language” (#42)
- being “open about being an abused survivor and/or feminist” (#57, Q14)
- “not sure” (#8)
Sex discrimination is reflected not only in the 33%, but also among those who reported discrimination based on age, reproductive choices, body size, “marital status,” and being “open about being an abused survivor and/or feminist” — 68%. Almost two thirds of respondents (all women) reveal a sexist focus on female bodies (types and ages) and female sexual availability.
Respondents reported that age discrimination moved in both directions. Indeed, women are in double jeopardy, standing at the interface4 of sexism and ageism.5 Heterosexual men who seek sex or female attention tend to focus their energy and interests on sexually available younger females. Where sexual preference is concerned, studies show that men favor a younger appearance.6 Men tend to consider women most attractive when they are in their “mid-teens through twenties” — “when reproductive value and fertility are at their peak.”7
Interested, empowered men are more likely to promote women in this age group, at a time when heterosexual men are likely to consider female employees to be the most attractive. Such promotions do not include top leadership positions, positions that would put women on an equal par with interested men. When men control hiring, such positions are generally reserved for men.8 Nonetheless, promoting women—without actually empowering women (which could threaten a male suitor’s chance of success) — can be a method by which interested men attempt to gain the attentions or affections of women. Such promotions are likely to lead at least some women to rise disproportionately in the ranks.9
Sadly, scholars note that the more time and resources women spend on physical appearances, the less time they need to spend honing “skills that are actually necessary to rise to the top of the organization.”10 This is particularly true when sexually interested men are empowered to promote women they consider sexually attractive. In such cases, promotions are not necessarily based on employee skills or aptitude, but might instead be offered as rewards for malleability, supporting a leader, sex, or to encourage a sexual liaison. In such cases, those chosen are primarily (if not exclusively) of interest to overhead physically and sexually11 — not intellectually or in regards to work skills. Meanwhile, women viewed as “old” are generally of comparatively little interest sexually, intellectually, or for well-honed skills. Male leaders promoting based on sexual interests are not to be interested in all that older women offer the workplace. Indeed, in many Euro-North American cultures, age carries connotations of being outdated and useless.12
But there is a distinct double standard with regard to age and performance, which favors men.13 A study involving “1,849 women over age 50” reveals a sense of injustices and inequities that aging women face.14 A sixty-one year old respondent wrote, “Men get more respect as they grow older,” while women do not.15 As men age, they are assumed to gain competence (at least up until the age of about 75), while aging women are not recognized as becoming more competent or developing and perfecting skills across time.16 A sixty-eight year old woman called attention to “linguistic cues” indicating “how poorly our culture thinks of the older woman.”17 Seemingly without awareness, she noted a link between sexism and speciesism: “Terms such as ‘old hag,’ ‘old cow,’ ‘pig,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘dog,’ ‘witch’ compare a woman to an aged, ugly person or to an animal.”18 Indeed such referents denigrate both women and anymals.
The Euro-North American cultural assumption is that “[n]o one wants to go out with an old woman”19 In sexist cultures, where men tend to set standards and women tend to be viewed in relation to men and male interests, women are frequently marginalized as they age. As a result, women are more likely to feel invisible and voiceless across time — marginalized both in relation to men and in relation to younger women.20 Survey respondent #1, who identified as 56 years old or above and in the movement for more than twenty years, notes that, though a supervisor, volunteers (likely considerably younger than she) overtly excluded her from activities (Q24). She categorizes her experience as ageism, but she actually stands in the interface of ageism and sexism, and it is likely that both were at play.
It is impossible to be sure why a male boss promotes a comparatively young female employee — particularly a woman who is in the “sexually desirable” age range noted above (mid-teens through twenties). Suspicions rise when newer, younger, more conventionally attractive and sexually available women quickly climb the ranks, leaving perfectly competent, longer-term employees behind21 — and resentment (hopefully directed at leaders) is likely. Indeed, Kemmerer2017 Survey respondents questioned hiring practices, and their skepticism led to resentment. Respondent #24 noted “male leadership” seeking/establishing/enacting “sex/relationships/sexual harassment with female staff” (#24, Q13). Respondent #59 observed: “Marital status, i.e. being a young single woman” is “treated *very* differently to colleagues in relationships.” Respondent #24 mentions a “systemic issue” where empowered men exploit staff for sexual pleasure, creating a work environment where employees constantly question who is sleeping with whom, to the point that when women are promoted, others assume they are sleeping with leadership (Q13). Meanwhile, women who are not sexually available and/or are no longer young, and those who are not considered conventionally attractive by men in power, are likely to feel that their skills and intellect are unappreciated, even wasted — they are likely to feel marginalized at work.
Survey respondents noted other forms of discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of education (#95 and #77), English as a second language (#42), and gender identity (#36), pointing to a more generalized and worrisome narrowness, ignorance, and quest for domination in the AA movement.
Banner Image: From the Women’s March, Salem, MA, January, 2018. Photo by Elyssa Fahndrich, Unsplash
- “Anymal” is a contraction of “any” and “animal,” pronounced as “any” and “mal”. “Anymal indicates all individuals who are of a species other than that of the speaker/author. In other words, if a human being uses this term, all species except Homo sapiens are indicated, but if a chimpanzee signs “anymal,” they reference all species (including human beings) except chimpanzees. Using the term “anymal” avoids the use of “animal” as if human beings were not animals; dualistic and alienating references such as “non” and “other”; and cumbersome terms such as “nonhuman animals” and “other-than-human animals”.
- In this chapter, information taken from the Kemmerer2017 Survey is referenced by the number of the respondent (#) and the number of the survey question (Q) to which they were responding.
- Figures are rounded to the nearest whole number, or in some cases, to the first decimal place.
- I use “interface” instead of “intersection”
- Barnett, Rosalind. “Ageism and Sexism in the Workplace.” Generations 29.3, Sept. 2005: 25-30. Accessed Feb. 1, 2019. p.25. <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297845615_Ageism_and_sexism_in_the_workplace>
- Whitley, Bernard and Mary Kite. The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Boston: Cenegage Learning, 2009. P 504.
- Thornhill, Randy and Craig Palmer. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. p. 181.
- Barnett 26-27.
- Sitzmann, Traci. Quoted in “How a Woman’s Appearance Affects her Career.” Julia Carpenter. Money: CNN. Sept. 20, 2017. Accesesd Feb. 1, 2019. <https://money.cnn.com/2017/09/20/pf/women-attractiveness-work/index.html>
- Sitzmann n.p.
- Thornhill and Palmer, 181.
- Whitley and Kite, 500.
- Whitley and Kite, 504; Barnett 26-27.
- Hofmeier, Sara M., Cristin D. Runfola, Margarita Sala, Danielle A. Gagne, Kimberly A. Brownley, and Cynthia M. Bulik. “Body Image, Aging, and Identity in Women Over 50: The Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): PubMed Central (PMC). July 11, 2017. Jan-Feb 29.1: 3–14. Published online 2016. Accessed Feb. 1, 2019. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215963/>
- Hofmeier et al, n.p.
- Whitley and Kite, 504-505; Barnett 26-27.
- Hofmeier et al, n.p.
- Hofmeier et al, n.p.
- “To Age is to Fail: The Media’s Message to Older Women: Invisible Woman.” The Guardian, Aug. 21, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/21/older-women-media-message-age-fail Accessed Feb. 1, 2019.
- Czernecka, Julita quoted in “Sociologist: Women Judged more by their Looks in Various Spheres of Life.” Science in Poland: Human. Feb. 21, 2018. Accessed Feb. 1, 2019. <http://scienceinpoland.pap.pl/en/news/news%2C28321%2Csociologist-women-judged-more-their-looks-various-spheres-life.html>
- Barnett 27.