Office Culture in Trump's America

So I don’t know about you, but when Donald Trump won, to say that I was pretty sad about it was the understatement of the century. Being in a Red state though, I totally saw this shit coming. But - being in a red state that happens to be Florida also made me extra prepared to deal with all things batshitcrazy. Florida is the mothership of crazy. We invented crazy. So I felt that prepared me well for what was coming.

I thought I could deal with the linguistic clusterfuck and misogyny a Trump Administration would bring. My brain, trying so hard to be rational, understood November to be an unfortunate consequence of a very strange and very depressing shit show of a year. Hashtag go home 2016, you’re drunk. But, another part of my brain kept telling me that one guy couldn’t possibly do that much damage.

Just as the POTUS was bound by constraints of that office – people who felt they had permission to be sexist or racist would be bound by rules of decorum and, well, laws. I took comfort in the fact that just because someone was racist, sexist, or whatever, it doesn’t mean that he or she won’t be held accountable and that our legal system didn’t protect people from sexism, discrimination, hate crimes, and other stuff like that.

Well, I was wrong. Like, SO wrong. Turns out, I was more wrong then a bro in a seersucker jumper.

Since the election, I left my job with the federal government, took a position at a PR firm, bought a house, and generally thought 2017 was going in a positive direction. A few weeks ago, however, I learned from a few friends who still work there that since my departure, all four guys I called colleagues and friends have started to bully me on the regular. Yes, you read that right. Six months AFTER I had quit my job, four of my adult male colleagues are suddenly acting like Regina George, making fun of my appearance, things I say, and even my graduate degree. WTF right?!? Did I mention that I don’t even work there anymore? The worst part is that apparently, they do it in front of people who haven’t met me.

While some people might blow it off as immature behavior, I just can’t. There’s a reason this is happening now. My feminist politics prevent me from chalking this up to immature boy behavior, locker room talk, or filing this under boys-will-be-boys and excusing them from responsibility. I genuinely loved my old job. For much of my time there, I was the only woman on a team with four men. I never felt marginalized because of my gender. I enjoyed working with them so much that I didn’t mind putting in all the long hours. I really liked and respected all of them and thought they respected me too. They never acted like that.

What the fuck changed over the last six months and why was I, the only woman, being singled out? Did all four of them suddenly wake up and decide to hate me? So. Many. Questions.

The answer is simple. Language is governed by rules and the rules have changed. Seven months ago, the world was different. It wasn’t socially acceptable to act this way. That climate of toxic masculinity that I wasn’t that worried about had come back to bite me in the ass.

From November to January, we have seen dramatically different expectations for acceptable attitudes and language towards women. We’ve seen a familiar vocabulary being reintroduced into the workforce.

I don’t take it personally. Empowered by a culture that told them “locker room talk” was normal, it’s not surprising that they felt it was ok to collectively bully me, precisely because I wasn’t working there anymore. Where I was once treated as an equal, these men are now given access to a vocabulary that allows them to easily dismiss my qualifications. This vocabulary of toxic masculinity also makes it totally cool for men to talk about women behind their backs. In Trump’s America, it’s perfectly fine to assume that I became successful only because of how I look and it’s ok to make fun of me if I’m not there to hear it.

I no longer think it’s overly dramatic to say that a Trump presidency normalizes toxic masculinity. I also know that I can’t possibly be the only woman in the world this is happening to.

I wish I had an actionable solution to fix what happened with the guys on my team. It's not like I can show up to work tomorrow to confront them. Well, I could, but that would be super weird. I think instead, the solution lies in what I can do going forward. When stuff like this happens, I need to lead by example. We all do. That’s both frightening and empowering at the same time.

We need to collectively create an environment that empowers each other to push back when we hear this kind of language, even if that means calling out colleagues we otherwise respect. I know it’s easier said than done but just as the rules of decorum have swung in favor of toxic masculinity, it’s also capable of swinging back in the opposite direction.

Ambitious AF

Ambitious AF is written for women, and about women who work, with a little feminism, politics and pop culture thrown in to make things fun. It's a space to discuss complicated issues that women in the workplace face and talk about the very real complexities and nuances that make being a woman who works challenging.

Karla Stevenson Mastracchio

About Karla Stevenson Mastracchio

A professor of writing, feminism, and cultural studies at The University of Tampa and The University of South Florida and consultant focused on media analysis and strategic engagement.

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