March is Women’s History Month, and I have been reflecting on the long history of women’s issues, especially in the workplace where woman have historically had to deal with lower pay, sexual harassment and other types of discrimination. Over the years I have tailored my own actions as a woman in the workplace based on my experiences and the fear that I would appear less than equal to my male co-workers.
In the last month I had two medical issues to deal with. The most recent happened when I managed to slip while hiking and wretched my back. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the couch with a heating pad and letting the kids destroy the house. It wasn’t until Monday morning when I dropped like a sack of potatoes trying to stand up that I realized I may have done a little more than pulled a muscle. Turns out I am the new owner of a bulging disc. Not a slipped or herniated disc, just one that is bulging, and I have been told this is better, less painful.
The whole scenario was pretty funny and offered some excellent stories for me to tell. In less than 48 hours I over-shared this whole experience with co-workers and my poor boss … texting him at 6 am to tell him I wasn’t going to come in to work and explaining the why and the how. I am sure he was beyond thrilled to be woken up at 6 in the morning to me explaining that my left leg was numb and asking about back injuries.
The other medical issue? Well, it was a miscarriage. This, dear reader, is difficult to discuss. I like to share funny stories, but emotions? Not so much. It happened in the middle of February and began at work. I had to ask to leave. I spent the rest of the day on the couch experiencing intense symptoms and eventually had to go to the ER. I was then sore, tired and overall pretty off for a few days. I had gone in to work, though, and assumed I would be fine, but it turned out I just wasn’t. Yet I was loath to tell my boss; I needed to explain to him that I was not well and needed to leave, that I had pushed myself too hard but it hadn’t worked. What was the difference? I told him every sordid detail of my back escapades, why didn’t I share this medical emergency too?
Partially it was because it wasn’t funny. I like to make people laugh, and letting them laugh at my own misfortune is fine, but this went beyond misfortune to misery. The other reason, I think, is because it can’t happen to him, at least to his person. Anyone can have back issues, and it didn’t make me feel weak or “less than” to share that experience, but I was afraid to talk about my miscarriage. I was afraid that it would look bad to discuss a woman’s issue in the workplace and to use it as a reason for missing work.
Of course, this was my own inner projection. My boss is a lovely, caring soul who could not have been more understanding and accepting. The difference though, was my own experience of how it would be perceived. As a younger woman in the workplace I heard the grumbles from co-workers about the moms who would leave early to get a sick child. At the time, I vowed never to be that woman. Then I had kids of my own, and I have left on many occasions for lots of issues, all the while hoping that my co-workers understood.
The experience of women in the work place isn’t something that is the same across the board. It is as different as each person in the work place. We all have our share of obstacles and difficulties, and my recent experiences serve as a reminder to me that we should support each other, because you just don’t know what might be going on behind the scenes. I am lucky to have experienced such support at work, but realize this isn’t the case with every, or possibly most, women in the workplace.
This is a huge issue, and thankfully, the Library has plenty of resources where you can learn more about women’s issues in the workplace: