"Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes."
- Jim Carrey
There's been a lot in the news lately about how woman are treated in the workforce, especially in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandals. Logging on facebook, I have seen a very large percentage of my female friends displaying the #metoo hashtags. If nothing else, it has made me more aware of the struggles for respect that many woman face, and vow to be more attentive to how I interact with female colleagues. Not that I routinely go around sexually harassing them, mind you. But there is more than one way to be disrespectful.
A year or two out of college, the owner of the zoo where I worked at the time called me over to come and help him wrangle some camels into a livestock trailer. I was a bird, small mammal, and reptile keeper at the time. I was also the only male keeper on staff. Apart from the owner, every other person working with the animals had a XX chromosome pattern. All of the keepers who cared for the camels for women. They were the ones who knew the names and personalities of those camels. They were the ones who could have, with a little time and notice, trained them to walk in voluntarily. Failing that, they were the ones who had the best experience and judgement to know how to safely maneuver several thousand collective pounds of angry ungulate into the trailer.
I was the one who the boss chose. And I was the one that he chose the next time he needed to move large hoofstock. And the time after. And when we finally did hire another male keeper (who, I must admit, was an absolute idiot), he was called to help us more animals, too.
I didn't know too much about camels and eland and bison at the time. During the moves, the animals had my undivided attention, you know, with me trying not to get trampled to death. If I had stopped to glance and look at the faces of my female co-workers, I don't think I would have liked what I would have seen.
mansplain (manˈsplān) - verb
Zookeeping has increasingly become a female-dominated profession, but woman in zookeeping still face the challenge of being critiqued or judged for doing "man things" - like working with dangerous animals, using power tools, and moving big damn heavy things. I've seen the bias in the workplace, especially in reptile departments, which are still typically male-dominated (and where the stereotype is that women in herpetology are expected to work with amphibians - small, delicate, mostly harmless - while men wrangle crocs and cobras).
A lot of the times, the sass comes from visitors. I've heard guests express (loudly) doubt that a woman keeper could carry a bale of hay, or stand up to an aggressive ostrich, or work a power saw - all things that many keepers do every day. I've seen visitors cross railings and barge in to the work to tell women how they are "supposed" to be holding a hammer, or try to take a 5-gallon water bucket from them. I've heard women visitors tell women keepers, "Oh, honey, isn't there someone else here you can do that for you?"
One memory that stands out is of a boss of mine - she was five foot six, slim and light built, long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and looked about as feminine as a woman could. She could also fling a hay bale halfway across the giraffe barn, muck pens for hours under a blistering sun, and, on her days off, drop a deer with one shot, then field dress it cheerfully. She was getting ready to mow an exhibit using a riding tractor. The second before she put the key into the engine, she heard the snide voice of a ten year old boy say to his family, "I've never seen a girl drive a tractor before... this oughta be good!"
It is a testament to her patience, discipline, and good humor that I did not have to bail her out of jail that afternoon.
The mysogny also sometimes reflects itself in comments aimed at men... even such pillars of masculinity as myself (there really needs to be a sarcasm font). Just the other day, I was sweeping up some loose hay that had spilled outside of one of our barns. Two older men walked by, and I heard one say to the other, "Has anyone ever told that guy [me] that brooms are for women?" I wonder what they would have said if they'd seen the cake that I'd baked and frosted for our bear cub's first birthday.
I'm getting to the age where I'm (against my will) starting to think of every new hire we recruit as "the kids", and I'm reminding myself to do my best not to embarass them (or, more likely, myself) but making assumptions about their abilities. In the wake of my facebook feed, I'm also going to try harder to make sure that, no matter how much disrespect some of my female colleagues face elsewhere, they'll find none at our zoo.