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Sexism in the Workplace

The allegory behind Black Mirror’s “USS Callister”

Author:
black_mirror_uss

By Stephanie Wang

WARNING: the below includes major plot spoilers for season 4 episode 1 of Black Mirror, “USS Callister”

Content note: Sexual violence, control

At first glance, “USS Callister” seemingly features some odd Star Trek-adjacent fantasy of a genius programmer, Robert Daly. And at first, viewers tend to sympathise with him – he’s clearly shy and used to being manipulated and walked all over by his co-workers at the company he co-founded. Despite coming up with the idea and code for the popular virtual reality game, Infinity, he receives little of the credit as the spotlight falls to James Walton, a man much more charismatic and likeable, but with no real knowledge of the technical side of the company.

While all the other workers treat Daly with as little respect as possible, the new hire Nanette treats him with the utmost respect, idolising his code and recognising him as the one who actually coded for Infinity. After being given even the slightest attention, Daly begins to stare at Nanette constantly during work, even eavesdropping on her conversations with other workers – basically, he’s giving off major stalker vibes.

And then, he digs through her trash and obtains a coffee cup and it’s revealed that with this DNA, he’s able to essentially create a digital clone of her. It turns out that this Star Trek-adjacent fantasy is not so fantastical – instead it features cloned copies of co-workers. These individuals still have the same personality and memories of their lives in the real world but are stuck on this ship, USS Callister, for Daly to control in the form of a modded Infinity game that looks like Daly’s favourite TV show.

In this game, he’s the one in charge and the one responsible for keeping peace in the galaxy, tracking down villains. On this ship, Daly can do whatever he’s too scared and timid to do in real life – whether that’s kissing the female members on his ship, choking or otherwise abusing everyone, or turning anyone on the ship who even slightly questions his leadership into a monster.

And it turns out, the smallest thing done in the office could land a worker into his controlling playground – whether it’s “insufficient smiling,” calling him out for “staring” at employees, or bringing him the wrong sandwich.

In these ways, “USS Callister” can be seen as a type of allegory for the abuses of power taken by the men in leadership roles in big tech companies. It’s no secret that in many of the big Silicon Valley companies, there’s a culture of harassment and sexual misconduct that’s often just pushed under the rug by the companies. In many cases, these perpetrators are never brought to justice as there’s either not a human resources department or if there is one, victims are simply told by HR that nothing can be done. And then there’s the threat of unemployment or for their career to be defined as a whistleblower, giving those higher-up the ability to do anything they want without fearing any sort of backlash.

In 2017, several women in tech came forward with their stories about sexual misconduct of those in Silicon Valley, and while companies promised investigations women say that there have been few tangible changes made by those in power. And still, the simple fact remains that the tech industry on the aggregate has done little to none that would systematically support women in an industry dominated by men because there’s “too much power, too much money, and too few reasons to change.”

Robert Daly is the classic “misunderstood, bullied coder” who uses that to justify the actions he takes. This draws similarities to the way Silicon Valley’s big players wouldn’t try harassing women in the “real world,” but feel free to do so in the workplace where they reign as king, unchecked and knowing that there, their actions have no consequences. And of course, this problem isn’t just limited to the tech world – it’s also seen with the dozens of women who’ve stepped out to reveal the awful abuses of power taken by directors in Hollywood as well as the other silence breakers of varying races, income classes, and occupations. It’s a problem that’s unfortunately prevalent in all aspects of society.

While Black Mirror is infamous for sad endings, “USS Callister” ends on a bright, light-hearted note. The happy ending of the episode – namely the prevailing of the digital clones in escaping to a space universe without Daly and his abusive control – is brought by a woman (Nanette) who comes up with the ingenious plan despite being initially underestimated both by the other clones and Daly. And while this episode, like other Black Mirror episodes, does warn watchers of the dangers of technology (it is technology, after all, that allows Daly to create the digital clones and create this warped world), perhaps the even bigger point is to be even more wary of the human players behind the technology – to keep those with access to technology and power in check.

Whether this same happy ending – the ending of a culture of harassment in both Silicon Valley and on the aggregate level – will occur in the modern world remains to be seen. And it seems like a good step is being taken with this anti-harassment action plan signed by 300 prominent women in Hollywood.

Being a feminist in the workplace

Author:
Office Professional Occupation Business Corporate Concept

By Lauren Ewing

This summer I am at my first real adult internship. Although I am in college and have done seminars and attended lectures at other universities for fun, I’ve never had a learning experience like this before in my life.

To me being a feminist means being confident in yourself and especially as a female. However, I have constantly been self-doubting myself. Normally some self-doubt is not a bad thing. It makes me focus and double check my work, however here I’m constantly trying to strive for perfection. And this time this attempt of perfection is what is causing my downfall. It is making me slower on tasks, and I’m making a bunch of errors.

Now you may be thinking it is the environment I’m in that is causing me to be this way – after all, my internship is with a prestigious law firm – but it’s not. My internship is with a great group of people. My boss is not only female and super stylish, but she is also a strong leader and is always on top of her game. It can be stressful sometimes in the office, and I have never seen her lose her cool. Truly she is an inspiration to me. Also, my other co-worker is the sweetest person ever. She helps me catch my mistakes and makes sure I’m on the right track. So trust me this is not an environment issue.

So what is making me so doubtful when it comes to my internship? After much reflecting I realised, I haven’t found a way to be a feminist in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong being a feminist is part of my identity and something that is uniquely part of me. I have no problem being assertive or calling people out when needed. I can easily spot inequality and speak up. I am part of organisations on my campus that try to improve the conditions of young girls in my community. However, somehow when I’m there part of my identity got disconnected.

To combat this issue, I went to the books. Currently, I am reading a great book called The Art of War for Women. Yes, the art of war finally has a version just for women and it is amazing. There is a ton of workouts in the books where you can analyse all your strengths and weakness as well as areas you would like to improve upon. This book is incredibly helpful as you become ready to transition into the working world.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned so far in reading this book is the power of knowing yourself. When you truly know yourself, you know what to do in a situation you may not have control over. The author, Chin-ning Chu is great at breaking down Sun Tzu’s intricate work. She also gives practical advice for the business world and how to compete with men even when it is a male dominated field. Chu’s explanation of Sun Tzu’s work also allows for more feminism in the workplace.

Another great read is Women Don’t Ask. Although this book is a little older, I find it to be true in every sense. Not only is it about the women in the workforce, it is about women in general, we simply don’t ask for things. After reading this book, I found myself constantly wanting to be more involved with my life. I wanted to participate more in class and ask for more leadership opportunities.

After looking over information and reminding myself of the lessons, I have learned over the years that I shouldn’t hold myself back even if I think I’m unqualified. I learned that it was okay for me to feel like I was under-qualified. This was an internship, an opportunity for me to grow and to ask questions. This opportunity wasn’t the place for me to know everything.

Dear Young Women

Author:
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By Beatrix*, Guest Blogger

Dear Young Women – we aren’t welcome in Politics. That’s why there needs to be more of us.

I’ve a bit of a reputation for being positive. Relentlessly so. I can be a bit of a whirlwind; pitching up to events, finding the funny and re-enthusing tired activists. People think it’s a skill, and in part it is. But it’s also a way of coping with the fact I live and breathe a world where women – and especially young women – are not welcome.

I could recount the instances of sexism and ageism I’ve experienced in my 10 months working in Politics; the male colleague who flirted with all the subtlety of a brick, asked me out and when I said no ignored me for the best part of a week. The other male colleague who took such delight that I couldn’t translate a piece of legislation that he felt the need to tell the office next door. And the next one after that. And then bring it up at the group meeting later that day. Then there was the time an older woman sent a personal attack via email to an entire committee because she didn’t like that someone ‘in their twenties’ was in charge of social media. The male boss who told me to smile no less than 12 times in one day.

The list goes on. It’s relentless and it’s exhausting but Politics for many young women is a catch 22. The more you want to leave, the more you realise it’s so important to stay. The less you feel welcome, the harder you have to fight to make your voice heard.

There are beacons of light. There are incredible and strong women who have experienced all of this and more yet still stand for selections, elections and for their beliefs. It’s stopped being scandalous to hear of the women who are elected receiving rape and death threats now; it’s expected. Unfortunate perhaps, but not a surprise. Yet these powerful women stand strong and fight for what they believe in – sometimes – nay often – at the expense of their own wellbeing.

I wish I could make this blog inspiring. I wish I’d overcome a challenge that meant I could put out an authentic call for more young women to become involved in Politics, but I can’t do that in good faith. What I can do is leave you with three nuggets of wisdom for those who do:

  1. Stick together. Have each other’s backs.
  2. Know that what you are doing is really fucking important
  3. Speak up. I know it isn’t easy, but if we all chip away at this giant, ugly, macho wall then we can and we bloody well will knock it down.

*This name is a pseudonym

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