Juwon Park, I am sorry.
I am sorry that you were a hard worker at school, graduating from a top university and clinching awards that can only suggest how seriously you took your education.
I am sorry that you spent your school holidays knocking on the forbidding doors of the corporate world, securing internships that most students can only dream of, with the likes of Google, United Nations, Bloomberg and Associated Press.
I am sorry that you chased your dreams, including one that may have involved becoming a broadcast journalist someday. Spending the past year working as a producer for Channel NewsAsia’s business news segment suggests you were well on your way.
But most of all, I am sorry that a casual remark made by a male colleague was all it took to knock the wind out of everything you have achieved, and reduce all of it to a mere function of your appearance.
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I am sorry he felt that you were too smart and that as a woman, you would go much further in your career by playing dumb. That was a pretty transparent way of saying that being a woman defines your worth as a journalist, and not the strength of your wit.
Are there men who prefer working with female colleagues that play dumb and don’t get any work done? If these men were their bosses, would they be more likely to promote these women the less smart they acted?
I’m not sure how any of that makes sense in a corporate setting, but I’m feeling very woman right now, so don’t hold me accountable for how much intelligence I manage to articulate.
I am sorry that he tried to wave away his remarks as a joke, casting it as an unfortunate slip between the boundaries of friendship and professionalism.
Consistency, though, can be pretty telling of a person’s true self. I reckon the five other women who have since spoken up about having similar encounters with him would have something to say about whether he was really being sexist or not.
Like you, I’m feeling sorry that sexism still exists at the workplace in 2017. It’s sad that there are surveys aplenty that point to this, including one that found 66 per cent of female respondents in Singapore saying they have been unfairly treated at work on the basis of their gender.
Gender inequality isn’t something that’s only happening in our heads. It manifests in real life seeing as women in Singapore made up only 10.7 per cent of those who sit on corporate boards in 2016.
I’m sorry that some may protest this and ask, why drag a bit of water cooler talk into a debate about gender inequality?
I’m sorry that what they don’t see is that problematic attitudes, when left to fester uncorrected, breed problematic behaviours.
I’m sorry that that’s probably the point that your colleagues missed, the ones who told you to take these incidents in your stride, even when they had clearly made you feel uncomfortable and had cast aspersions on your professional integrity.
While you were told to lighten up, grow a thicker skin and accept this behaviour as industry talk, it was easier for your male colleague to shrug his shoulders and say, sorry, I was joking.
I am sorry that despite you taking the effort to reason out your contentions with him, he thought it was apt to wish you a happy Mid-Autumn festival instead.
I am sorry that you, like other victims, may have felt like you were caught between a rock and hard place. Make a report and you risk being singled out as a troublemaker or a misfit. Keep quiet and not many would take your concerns at all seriously.
And because silence often gets misconstrued as approval, in a twisted way, you set yourself up for the sexist treatment and uncomfortable situations to persist.
But I am not sorry. I am not sorry that your post has brought to the surface a conversation that has tended to be discussed only in hushed tones, buried perhaps because those who encounter sexism at the workplace felt it was easier to keep mum than to deal with the repercussions of confrontation.
Sexist perspectives however casually conveyed perpetuate unfair stereotypes, typically of women, on little more than the basis of their gender. And unfairness, if left unchecked, is the root of many inequalities we see in the world, whether at the workplace or otherwise.
And I’m not sorry at all — that we’ve heard that loud and clear, now.