Applicants must not be aging or lactating

If Sandra Rawline and Sashay Brown were to play a game of Workplace Sexism Top Trumps (my personal favourite Top Trumps pack)*, who would win?

Rawline scoops the points in the category of Sexism and Ageism overlap: she hit the headlines on both sides of the pond this week as the woman who was sacked because she wouldn’t dye her grey hair. After working for Capital Title, a real estate company, for 6 years, twice winning their annual outstanding employee award, she was abruptly sacked a week after refusing her boss’s request that she start wearing “younger, fancy suits” and dying over her grey hair. Rawline notes that she was replaced with a woman ten years younger than her and is now suing on the grounds of age discrimination. Yet she seems to have been dismissed not so much for being old as for looking old, an infinitely more heinous crime for a woman than a man, indicating the peculiarly gendered nature of ageism.

Brown, meanwhile, lost her job because of lactation. Actually. The American police officer returned to work in May after having her second baby. She was allowed to briefly spend time at a desk job, but was rushed back to patrolling the streets which, in Washington D.C., means wearing a bullet-proof-vest. This caused intense pain in her breasts and also threatened to damage the milk supply. Brown’s request to return to a desk-based post, backed by a department doctor, was turned down, forcing her to take unpaid leave in order to keep breastfeeding her child. Her employer made her post-maternity-leave return to work physically incompatible with the demands of motherhood: Brown clearly takes the Oldest Trick in the Book round.

Next up: Objectification. Rawline is an outright winner here. The request that she change her appearance came as Capital Title was due to move from the outskirts of Houston to an area closer to downtown, and she explains that the idea was for her to “upscale” her look to match the company’s new image. The proposed makeover  – for which, bizarrely, her boss even offered to do the dye job himself – places an experienced professional in the same category as a piece of outdated office furniture. Perhaps she should have asked what the colour scheme would be for the new premises and tinted her hair accordingly.

No-one could deny handing points to Brown in the Top Trumps category I like to call the Medicalisation of the Female Body. When Brown was denied access to appropriate work, she was told that should could take sick leave. Having no sick days left, she is now on unpaid leave and applying for disability benefit in the hope that she will be deemed to have a medical condition. The reality for the officer is that she has to try to find a way to support her family in the absence of her salary. What is exasperating is that she is, in fact, neither sick nor disabled (in this respect: clearly we don’t know if she has other disabilities). She is a healthy, breastfeeding mother, who has been forced through economic need to participate in the framework that pathologises pregnancy and motherhood. And that’s just icky.

Rawline takes the win in the Blatant Double Standards round. Her boss, Capital Title CEO Bill Shaddock, describes her discrimination claim as “preposterous”. That’s him, there, on the left: the one with the grey hair.

In the final, prestigious category of Misogynistic Bile in Comments Sections, the glory is all Brown’s. Wowza: there are some serious haters out there. From the recommendation that if a woman wants to have a baby, she do it “in her own time” to the person advising Brown to “stop complaining” and use formula, kindly assuring her “the kid won’t die either way”, I was taken aback by the level of disregard for hardworking women and their vulnerable children on show. There was also the one who equated breastfeeding in public to defecating in public : not even relevant to the story, but so bizarre that I thought it worth a mention.

A well-fought match, ladies: I think we have a draw.

* NB: not real Top Trumps. I know y’all were dying to go and purchase a pack.

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