A woman's perspective

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I didn't watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night, but I heard about Patricia Arquette's acceptance speech almost immediately after it happened.

Arquette, perhaps stunned by the fact that she managed to win an Oscar despite being part of the Arquette family, thanked everyone from family to her favorite painter and finished the speech with a political turn.

Dedicating the award to "every woman who gave birth," she said, "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

As I am a professional woman with a weekly column, I felt it would be a tragedy if I wrote about anything besides Arquette's speech today. Of course, she isn't the first celebrity to highlight a political or social issue at a live televised event. Hollywood awards shows have a tradition of promoting certain politics, some I agree with and some I do not.

I agree with Arquette.

I'm very young and have yet to truly experience the wage disparity between men and women Arquette was talking about, but I deeply understand the struggle women face in the workplace compared to men.While I don't feel I've ever been discriminated against at my current job, I certainly felt that way in the past.

During my last year of college, I interned at the school's public relations office. It was fairly cut and dry; I wrote press releases and feature articles along with various administrative duties. I had worked there for the past three years and truly enjoyed it, but the school replaced my respectful male boss with another male who had as much respect for me as I had for the college's cafeteria food. And guys, that food was really bad.

One day, as I was slightly zoned out and checking my email, my new boss decided to catch my attention by rapping hard on my wooden desk and exclaiming, "Ma'am!" I was so taken aback I almost yelled "Sir!" right back at him. Of course I reeled it in; that wouldn't have been ladylike at all.

He continued to talk down to or, in some cases, completely disregard me for the rest of the year. Not being one to blame discrimination for my hardships, I tried to see if I was doing something wrong or if I was simply misunderstanding my boss' communication style.

Then I heard him interview a male student for a position in the building. His tone markedly kinder, he treated a man who didn't work at the office better than he ever treated me. While he never explicitly insulted me, he let me know my place through his actions. I felt demeaned.

More importantly, I became hyper-aware of my actions at work. I never brought personal problems to work, but I began to worry about expressing frustration over my work, too. If a source failed to email me back after promising to, I couldn't sigh or curse under my breath. I didn't want my boss to hear it and decide that I was just another moody woman.

This job experience continues to haunt me though I've been given no reason to worry about discrimination at my current job. I can honestly say I've been treated with more respect than I ever expected by my male superiors and coworkers here, and I'm not just saying that because some of them pay me to write this column.

Still, I often worry I'll be seen as too emotional if caught expressing emotions. There's also the chance that, if I appear too aggressive, I might get the reputation of being difficult to work with.

Money is not a huge concern for me at the moment, but I do worry about missing out on promotions and wage increases in the future because of my gender. If I get a job at another publication years from now, I know I'll have to work extra hard to negotiate for 77 percent of what my male counterparts might make.

That's scary and upsetting, so I'm happy Arquette is trying to raise awareness about the difficulties women face. While her proclamation won't change everything, it might inspire others to think about the issue.

In the long run, it might help young women like me succeed in ways we've only dreamed.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News.