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Ask Dr. Helen: Workplace Discrimination Against Men

It's high time for men to start fighting back against this ugly trend.

by
Helen Smith

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August 20, 2008 - 12:00 am

Reader Len writes in to ask for advice on how to handle discrimination against men in the workplace:

Dear Dr. Helen,

I read one of the letters sent to you about male-bashing and just wanted to share one of my experiences also. I work at a fast food restaurant where there are “unofficially” two positions: the boys and the girls. Whenever a new guy is recruited he is given the “boys” training. They show him how to do the tasks that the restaurant deems appropriate for the men to do. This struck me as very sexist from the outset, but I held my tongue because I was just a new guy and obviously needed the job. As time went by, I started noticing the huge differences in workload between the boys and girls. It seemed to me that the men had to do far more work in the restaurant than the women. To be sure I wasn’t just exaggerating, I took it upon myself to learn how to do the girls’ tasks also and confirmed my suspicions: the girls had it much easier than the boys and we were both paid at the same rate.

What I couldn’t understand was how none of the other guys had noticed this, so one day I mentioned it to one of my fellow male workers and imagine my surprise when he said that he had always felt this way also. I soon discovered that all of the other guys felt the exact same way. When I asked why they hadn’t spoken up, some said that they had tried but were immediately ridiculed by both the managers and the girls and were labeled as “whining babies.” Naturally, I was outraged and decided to speak up myself — and boy what a mistake that was. I quickly realized why none of the guys ever spoke about this. My complaint was completely ignored by management but the worst came from the girls.

I became the target for a barrage of anti-male attacks about how I was just another lazy good-for-nothing man trying to get out of work, how I was just a whiny baby that couldn’t take it like a man, how I probably was lazy in sex also and hence I was no use as a man, etc. They would band together in groups of two or three and launch these attacks at me every single day for about a month. At first I had said some very vicious things back at them to defend myself but when they reacted by taking serious offense and playing the victims, the idiot managers would reprimand me. So eventually I just got tired of fighting a war that I apparently had no way of winning, and I fell into the same attitude as the rest of my male co-workers: I shut up and “took it like a man.”

I am by no means happy with the way things are but it’s going to take a while until I have the guts to risk that kind of abuse again. So for now I’ve just resigned myself to an attitude of silent misery. What can a guy do to fight against this, especially since most of his fellow guys are scared to death of having their masculinity threatened and ridiculed and dare not say anything either?

Len

Dear Len,

Unfortunately, male discrimination in the workplace is becoming more and more common. For example, in PC Canada stats show that more men complain of workplace discrimination than women:

According to a 2006 survey commissioned by Kelly Services, a firm that finds temporary and permanent staff for companies, 34.8% of men said they believed they had experienced discrimination over the past five years at work compared with 33.3% of women. Similar findings were reported by University of Toronto sociology professor John Kervin. In a survey of business students at an Ontario college, Prof. Kervin found that just as many men as women — 21% each — felt their professors were biased against them because of their gender.

It’s the classic workplace discrimination scenario in reverse: All things being equal, if a man and woman are up for the same job, the woman has an unfair advantage, say men’s rights advocates. And they blame decades of affirmative action initiatives that have encouraged companies to promote women and minorities.

The problem is that all men do is complain. One employment lawyer noted that while men are discriminated against under the law, he has never had a client bring a discrimination lawsuit against a company. But men do win suits if they bring them. For example:

In 1993, administrators at Northern Arizona University decided to give some of their professors a raise. Under the school’s plan, female and visible minority professors would receive pay-equity raises of up to US$3,000 each. The plan excluded all 192 white male professors.

Eleven years later, an Arizona judge awarded US$1.4 million in back pay and raises to 40 of those male professors who brought a discrimination suit against the university.

My advice is to write to the HR department of the fast food chain and file a complaint. Keep a record of the harassing events and send the documentation with the complaint. If the company has any scruples, they will take your complaint seriously. They might even have your managers and co-workers go through sexual harassment training, including the women. If the company is stupid enough to dismiss a discrimination complaint, then you have a copy of your complaint to file with a lawyer. I would find a good civil rights lawyer who works on contingency fee. You can sue each individual manager and the girls involved. You have a hostile work environment claim — that is obvious. If nothing else, the lawsuit will be sufficiently negative that they will think twice before abusing another male worker.

The dismissal of your complaints by managers and the resulting verbal abuse by them and your co-workers is sexual harassment, pure and simple. Do not hesitate to take action. I’ve seen men win these cases before. I understand that you feel you need your job but what you are going through is atrocious. The “take it like a man” line is said to psychologically weaken you and shut you up so don’t listen — it is a manipulative tactic meant to silence you. Remember that one definition of bravery is “the quality of mind enabling one to face danger or hardship resolutely.” If you stand up to these workplace bullies — and that’s what they are — in a constructive way, then you will know deep inside that you really are a brave person who has inner strength, despite what your co-workers say.

I do want to point out that it may not be constructive in your situation to shout back vicious things, for you have seen how it can backfire, as the women can easily use it against you and make you seem like the bad guy. Keep your cool, remember your plan of action, and do not stop until you are satisfied that your complaints have been taken seriously.

Readers, do you have any other advice for Len on how to handle his workplace situation? If male, have you experienced discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace? How, or was it resolved?
_______________________

If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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