Feminism 101: What It’s Like Being Treated Differently Because You’re a Woman

11 Feminists share their stories of being treated differently for being a woman
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 02/10/2017 at 8:00 AM EDT

[Photo credit: Kaye Blegvad]

Going through life as a woman comes with it’s own set of difficulties. One of the most frustrating is when you find yourself faced with someone — a colleague, a boss, someone you’ve hired, a random stranger — treating you differently just because of your gender. There are times when somebody says something to your or treats you in a way that you know would never happen if you were a man. And yet, this type of thing happens all the time (and we hate it!).

So, of course, this week we had to ask our fabulous cabal of feminists:

What is just one instance where you were treated differently simply because you are a woman?

Emily Comeau:When I was a newly minted seamstress and looking for work, I applied to A LOT of different places. One man I interviewed with over the phone thought I was expertly qualified to do upholstery in his shop without ever asking for my CV because I was a woman and had breasts. He concluded that because of this I must be used to sewing curved seams such as you might find on a sofa. I did NOT agree to meet with him for an in person interview.”

Casey O’Brien:Every time I leave anywhere at night, whether it’s work, a party, or a restaurant, I am asked whether I want to be walked or driven home. This is significantly rarer for my male friends. Unfortunately, this concern stems from my friends’ (and my own) very real fear of sexual assault which as women, we are conditioned to possess, because the truth is that the street is less safe for us as women.”

Patricia Valoy:My company was expanding to international markets and were pursuing work in Abu Dhabi. I inquired about being put on the project and expressed my willingness to relocate if necessary, but was told that ‘the Middle East is not very safe for a woman.'”

Ki Russell:Our bank consistently switches my husband’s occupation (homemaker) with mine (English professor) in their records. We call and correct. And then awhile later, we’ll be doing some paperwork and see that once again he is listed as the professor and I am the homemaker.”

Rachael Berkey:I had a boss on years ago who would start calling me honey and sweetie in order to win an argument.”

Sara Habein:A long time ago, I interviewed for a customer service job at… let’s call it a big box electronics store. My husband also worked there, but in a different department at the back of the store. Our positions would have barely overlapped. The hiring manager asked me if it would be a ‘distraction’ having my husband also work there. It was said in such a way that left me with the impression that he thought we’d be stealing away to make out in the stockroom or something, and I couldn’t really picture him asking my husband that. I don’t remember how I answered him, but I’m sure my face betrayed how ridiculous I found the question.

I ended up not getting the job, and in retrospect, I realized that this store tended to hire a lot of men for sales positions, and the women were hired mostly as cashiers and customer service… AKA, the people-pleasing jobs. It did not surprise me at all when this company was sued several years later for not adequately promoting women or paying them like their male counterparts.”

Kelley Greene:While out car shopping, a salesman introduced himself as ‘Barnacle Bill,’ and proceeded to ask me if I wanted to know where his nickname came from — before we’d even started discussing cars. Without giving me an opportunity to respond, he started in on stories about his days “on the road” in some band I’d never heard of. I jokingly said, “I figured with a nickname like ‘barnacle’ you were a real bump on a log.” He started laughing, then said “Aren’t you a cute one!” and leaned over and *pinched my cheek*. I may be petite, but I think it’s still pretty clear I’m an adult woman. I was in total shock! Needless to say, I did not buy a car from that dealership.”

Leigh Shulman:My earliest gender related memory is of a kindergarten stand-on-one-foot contest. We all hopped and wobbled and the last one standing would win a prize. I was the last one standing. It came down to me and one boy. We wiggled and flapped our arms for balance and at the end of it all, I alone remained aloft, yet I didn’t win.

Why? Because I’m a girl and the boy has to win. I swear to you that’s what the teacher told me. It made no sense at all. (Read more…)”

Carrie Cutforth:My fave is when I’m told the reason that I haven’t gotten farther ahead in my industry is because I have yet to learn to ‘Lean In.’


Jen Selk:Life as a woman is an endless parade of microaggressions — the number of things that happen to me that would never happen to a man is so high, I’ve lost count. Little things happen every. single. day. Men regularly assume they’re smarter than me, try to ‘help’ when I tell them I don’t need any, suggest that I should ask my husband before making purchases, etc. — ad nauseam. Recently, I needed new car insurance. The agent couldn’t accept that my partner doesn’t drive. He literally does not have a driver’s license. The car is mine and I am the sole operator. Guess how many phone calls and emails it took to get the insurance company to comprehend this simple fact? More than 15, over the course of months. I’m not even kidding.”

Mayim Bialik:As a hard core feminist, my ears are finely tuned to men — and many times women — poking at my female-ness in ways that imply they are uncomfortable with me being ‘too’ outspoken, ‘too’ mindful of language, and ‘too’ vocal about injustice. Whether it be being told by a male professional that my stern tone in an email scared him (would he ever say that to a man I wonder?), or being called uptight, sensitive and hysterical for asking people not to refer to women they don’t like as a ‘bitch,’ this feminist can’t win. I’ve come to realize I can’t back down when I’m accused of these things, and if people want to call me a bitch, I’ll take issue with that, too, even as I secretly smile at the acknowledgment that I’ve made them uncomfortable by calling out their misogyny!”

Have you ever been treated differently because of your gender?


Have a question for our ragtag group of raging feminists? Send it to Avital Norman Nathman at and it might just be answered in a future Feminism 101!



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