Don’t tell me my dress looks good between the hours of nine and five.
“I’ll sit at the back, next to her. She’s got the best legs in here!” an older male colleague joked, as he filed into the crowded meeting room and took a seat beside me.
There are many other places I would rather have been at that moment. Back in the privacy of my office cubicle, at home washing my wildly overdue laundry, walking barefoot over a pile of broken glass – literally ANYWHERE, but next to this man. This man who, with one “harmless compliment”, made me feel like the smallest person in the room.
That’s the thing with “harmless compliments” in the workplace. On the surface, they often appear jovial and well-meaning – but behind every forced smile, fake laugh, and eye roll, they detonate a woman’s worth in an already masculinised space. It is, after all, not even a century since women were afforded the opportunity to work at all. It wasn’t until 1942, we were allowed to move beyond the domestic space and take on jobs traditionally classified as “men’s work”. And some eight decades later, we’re still fighting for the right to be recognised equally via our paychecks.
It’s somewhat unsurprising – albeit depressing – then, that this culture of dismissiveness and derision toward female employees lives on in the more subtle corners of gender inequality today. And nowhere, NOWHERE, is it more insidious than in the so-called “harmless compliments” we’re encouraged to accept with smiles and bashful laughter each day.
Take a compliment, would ya?
On my first shift in a new job at a glossy magazine, my computer screen froze. Thankfully, the IT department was impressively responsive.
“I’ll be over at your desk in a minute,” came the email back to my issue lodgment.
A few moments later, a friendly older man appeared at my desk.
“Not to worry. I’ll be your Superman,” he grinned, leaning across me to tinker with a cord at the back of my monitor.
Watch: How The Wrong Girl tackles sexual harassment in the workplace.
“You know, we’re like Beauty and The Geek, you and I. I’m obviously the geek!” he laughed, as the pixels on my screen began to dance around.
I suddenly felt incredibly uncomfortable, and willed the computer to unfreeze itself so he’d leave…
“That dress looks great on you,” another male coworker told me one day as he stepped into the lift – his eyes scanning up and down my body.
Yet again, I found myself smiling through gritted teeth, silently praying I could materialise and be somewhere, anywhere, but in that seven-foot-square box.
“You look beautiful today, Princess,” the courier chirped as I signed off for a delivery, recently.
I gave a forced grin and beelined it back to my desk, feeling my face turn hot with equal parts embarrassment and annoyance.