When I received the job offer to work at Subway from my dad’s friend this past summer, Making sandwiches…how bad could it be? The last thing on my mind was workplace sex discrimination or verbal assault. Little did I know, according to the Catalyst Organization, “46% percent of women believe they’ve experienced sex discrimination in the workplace.”
On my first day at Subway I met the manager, an immigrant Bengladeshi young man, and two other men who would be my co-workers. One of the first things the manager said to me in Bengali after teaching me how to clean a toilet bowl was, “Making sandwiches is easy. Your job is to get the customers. If you can’t get the guys to come in here and order some sandwiches, there is little chance I can.” For the first time, I was taken aback by what he was implying. Furthermore, I didn’t know how to reply to him; I feared losing my job and I was experiencing discrimination due to my intersectionality—I’m a young Bengali-American female.
As I worked more hours and spent more time under my manager’s observance, I received many more disturbing comments including: “You’re lucky you’re in America; If you were Bangladesh, you would have a half dozen kids in your hands, not a half dozen bread,” and “Do you go to the gym? You would look much prettier if you slimmed down a bit.”
I wondered if things would be the same if I was of a different race; simply wondering would not help. Nothing justifies the manager’s behavior and I realize that I didn’t take the initiative to change the situation for girls who will work there in the future. What could I have done? Instead of fearing him, I could have complained to the owner, who gave me the job in the first place. Perhaps the owner would then train the managers of his stores proper etiquette and how to treat a new employee with respect.
As an individual, it is difficult make changes alone. When I say “we” or “our” I’m referring to young females and women. If we want to progress in our careers and strive for equality, we must share our experiences, learn from each other so we can move forward and change the workplace for the future, and confide in our allies. We cannot tolerate any misbehavior or discrimination in the workplace because of our sex, age, race or ethnicity. If and when we do encounter discrimination, we must record and report it immediately so light can be shed on the issue there can be change.
The day before I quit, my co-worker, a Bengali man in his mid-thirties, expressed his gratitude for my presence. He reassured me that he was well-aware of my manager’s misbehavior and admitted that the only reason he did not speak out on my behalf was because he feared what he would experience. I realized then how important it is for feminism to have male allies. Without men as our allies we will inevitably face what we should never face: assault, invasion of our privacy, suppression of our individualism, all of which prevent us from succeeding in the workplace.
Feminism should not be the domain of females specifically. It should be everyone’s duty rather than their burden to be feminists and help us overcome, or better yet, prevent harassment from taking place so women do not feel violated in first place. Sociologist Michael Kimmel said, “Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women— as well as with other men. Feminism loves men enough to expect them to act more honorably and actually believes them capable of doing so.” I agree with Kimmel and I hope men of all races realize this expectation and act upon it so we can achieve more equality.
Op-Ed Piece Originally Written: December 3, 2013
Edited: November 25, 2014