Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, women told me about their experiences with sexism in the type community, either in the workplace or at conferences.
I took a workshop at a conference a couple years ago, where the instructor started his class by establishing parallelisms between his “beautiful” work and “sexy ladies” (images included). While most of the class seemed to be enjoying themselves, and actually cracking up at a few of the “jokes,” I on the other hand was puzzled. I could really see no point to his remarks or why he needed to go down this route. That day really stuck in my head, and ever since, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon at other talks where male designers objectify women while talking about design / type in hopes of getting the audience to laugh. And sadly, they succeed a lot of the time.
In my years as an employee of a type company, I received a number of sexist comments from one of my older male colleagues, both verbally and via email: comments about my physical appearance, about the fact that he found me attractive, etc. These comments, although they were always half-meant as “jokes,” repeatedly made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. Luckily all my other male colleagues were true gentlemen. A few of them were aware of the issue and found it as unacceptable as I did, which helped me feel supported.
I can only think of one minor incident that happened last year following my presentation: one comment I received (from a man in the type industry whom I had never met before) was about how nice my voice sounded. He also tweeted during my presentation that he would pay good money to listen to me read out of the phone book. I know this was meant as a compliment, yet I couldn’t help but wonder: “Would he have made such a comment about a male speaker?” I wish he would have said something about the content of the talk, rather than about my voice.
I don’t like being touched by random people, and out of the blue, this guy hugged me. That was uncomfortable enough, but then I felt his erection. I was so shocked, I felt like a deer in headlights. I didn’t know how to react. Part of me wanted to pretend it never happened. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was afraid people wouldn’t believe me. When something that awful happens, no one can comprehend how anyone could be so abhorrent, so they ask: “Are you sure?”
I was once at WDCD and there was a female presenter who was wearing a miniskirt with high-heeled boots. I read a review afterward and the article started by saying that the skirt was a little short, but her talk was nice. Nobody asked the authors’ opinion about her outfit, and it influenced the readers interpretation of her project and research. Yes, it looked sexy, but it is her way to express herself, and to make her feel confident at that very moment.
“You must be really excited about this TDC salon wearing stockings like that.”
Guys at an industry holiday party were drunk and kept trying to kiss my cheeks, and were overly shoulder-touchy.
Once when my project finished, there was a party to celebrate. Me, my boss, and clients attended. I didn’t want to join the party, because I was the only woman in there. So I felt uncomfortable sitting together with the clients. A couple of hours later, one of the clients was drunk, and he was trying to dance with me. He was almost breathing down my neck. I was so freaked out. I had no idea how to cope with this scary situation. I just ran away. The weirdest part was that my boss didn’t do anything. He just watched it. I was so angry about it.
I’ve also had coy little remarks when I mention sharing a room with my friend; one time she countered: “What do you think is going on? That we’re wearing pink panties and having pillow fights? Is that what you’re implying?” Pretty funny actually, but I didn’t appreciate the original innuendo that was made.
I think attractive women tend to get a lot of attention at conferences. Men don’t always behave well. I’m not one of the female attendees that attracts the most attention, but there was one case in particular, where a very well-regarded speaker went out of his way to be my buddy, and I knew it was because I was female. I was flattered and in awe of his success, but also a little creeped out. I’ve definitely observed other women attracting a lot of attention for the wrong reasons.
I sometimes feel that some men are jealous for the fact that I did something that turned out to be successful. It can be an award in a competition or whatever project. I try not to care about it. I think that it happens when they are not self-confident.
A couple of years ago, I worked with a publisher in his sixties, who clearly saw the fact that I was a woman in her late twenties as a hindrance to our collaboration. He repeatedly called me “young lady” in front of other collaborators, and initially had a lot of trouble trusting my abilities, both as a writer and a designer, simply because I was a young woman. This man was clearly from the older generation of publishers and printers who were used to dealing essentially with men, so I am hopeful that this kind of behavior is on its way out.
I have had a man say to me, in front of a bunch of people I knew, that he was surprised I got a job working as a type designer. I often get surprised looks from industry people I just met when I tell them what I do for a living. It’s like people can’t believe that someone like myself can do what they do.
I have been at conferences with no female speakers, which did make me feel a bit out of place. I have also been talked down to by Important Men in annoying ways, but not knowing that they don’t do that with (junior) men too, I’m putting that into the “arrogant people” drawer rather than the “sexist men” one.
I’ve come across so many male colleagues (at work, in school) having very little regard for the sexism in their language. The number of times I’ve been told something to the effect of “make something your mom can understand” is just embarrassing. This has been my experience in every city where I have worked.
A male colleague asked me — a bit patronizing — if I had more clients than the one I was working on at that very moment. When I told him about my work and my clients (without telling him names), he asked me: “Don’t you need a bodyguard for that?” I’m sure this has to do with me being a woman since he didn’t say it in a nice or caring way.
The things I’ve been most offended by were instances where men I barely knew gave me unwanted criticism of my work, one in particular who, upon seeing my horrified face at his harsh criticism, said, “Don’t go and start crying on me now.”
There are cliquey little groups of men at TypeCon but you don’t see this with women, and if you do, they don’t have that feel of exclusivity that the boys’ groups do. When women hang out, it’s very open and inviting. But I, and other women, have tried to engage these male cliques without luck. And it has been noticed and talked about. Maybe they all just really want to hang out with each other and it has nothing to do with us ladies, but it doesn’t feel that way.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to join the panel curating the theme and talks for a conference. That experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The other panel members, all men, were all old friends/colleagues, and I found myself in the middle of the proverbial old boys’ club. They would discuss ideas and make decisions in social gatherings when I was not around, not respond to my well-researched emails or respond with a simple we-done-it-a-particular-way-so-far-and-it-was-perfect, and were not terribly respectful of my time, either. Halfway through, I could tell that I was basically the token woman!
In an article where both myself and a male colleague of equal professional experience and standing were being profiled, my profile image was about 50% of the size of my male colleague’s, and overall, the word count for my biography was shorter and improvised, instead of being requested or pulled from an online source, and included comments attributed to me that I did not make. My male colleague’s professional qualifications and experience were listed where mine were not. I believe it was more than likely an inexperienced student who showed bias in their approach rather than a professional colleague.
At least in some of the workplaces I have worked in, a male colleague wearing jeans and a tee shirt and sneakers has their brain take center stage. But a female colleague in the same exact outfit results in them being taken less seriously somehow. I have felt and observed pressure for women to demonstrate their professionalism beyond just being good at their job, where it seems to me, men do not have the same requirement. I’ve always struggled with wearing makeup or doing anything to draw attention to my physical features, and relied on my brain and being “good on paper” to achieve my goals in a workplace setting. When an emphasis is placed on appearance like this, in what seems to be an uneven way, I feel both frustrated and curtailed.
I was party to a disturbing conversation in which I heard a male designer talking about the logic of hiring a male over a female due to the fact that for part of the month women do not function at the same level as at other times, and that if a woman became pregnant then that would mean time out of the workplace, both of which made it seem reasonable to him that hiring a man made more sense.
Is subtle homophobia sexist?
When I draw scripts and people call it feminine. Which, to be clear, I do NOT think is a bad thing to be, but it has connotations of being weak and inconsequential, and there are more descriptive words to use. When Doyald Young drew a swashy script, it was called playful or elegant. When Ken Barber draws a swashy script, it’s called a historical study. When I draw a script it’s called feminine, and I don’t think anyone does it on purpose or as an insult, but I wonder why they use that word for me.
A lot of people on Twitter think it’s [my male partner] and not me. I have no idea why. I have a bio on there that says it’s me, so why do you assume it’s him? Do I just sound like a man? When you have experience after experience, you start to think maybe it’s not a coincidence.
Somebody sat next to me on a bus going to some event, and before he even said hello, said, “I don’t want to hear about how you want babies.” I was like, what a random way to greet someone. I was so confused, I didn’t know what to say. At that point in my life, I would have been horrified to be pregnant. Babies are still not at the top of my list. I don’t know what was worse, the condescending tone or the stereotyping. Not all women want babies, guy.
I’ve never had anyone say anything overt, so a lot of this is comparative. I’ve mentioned how I’ve had a few men ask me if I do my own programming and production and then seem surprised when I tell them that I do and I think to myself: I couldn’t imagine a guy asking another guy this same question — I doubt that would happen. So to me, it felt a bit sexist. Although, in all fairness, I’m sure some of those guys were just making conversation and/or truly curious, maybe they weren’t type designers and still trying to figure it out. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve had it asked enough that I felt there was an underlying sexist tone to it at times.
My negative experiences have been at the hands of other women. We like to think women are cheerleaders and partners for one another, but I’ve seen a lot of problems when one woman doesn’t live up to the feminist expectations of another. When I worked at [a famous magazine], I will never forget not feeling as if I belonged. Not feeling “girl” enough. Or “New York” enough. In the end I did something careless — and was bullied, I felt — into quitting. Another example of not being a part of the female group.
A man made a thinly veiled pass at me, and I was so shocked that I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to pretend it didn’t happen, so things wouldn’t be weird. I realize now, I should have done something then. Later he said something else, and I didn’t want him to keep making me uncomfortable. So I said something to his supervisor, and she blew it off, like I had misheard him.
I was asked by a fellow female colleague about whether I was married (I was wearing a ring on the finger usually reserved for a wedding ring), what my plans for marriage were, how old I was, etc. while working in the US, which I not only found extremely nosy, but it made me wonder if she would ask the same questions of a man.
I was particularly surprised when, at a job, long after I was hired, one of my female coworkers mentioned how as soon as I had left my interview, the first thing employers (a mixed group of men and women) mentioned was that I was “stunning.” Jokes about if men were going to be okay working with someone with my looks were made, and it was talked about overtly with others (employers and employees). This, of course, made my coworkers believe this was a big part of why I was hired, and were uncomfortable whenever I got a promotion or advance. It also made it a lot harder for me, because I needed to work ten times harder to prove that I was a hard worker and deserved everything I was getting.
Women’s Voices in Type:
- Women’s Voices in Type, On- and Offstage
- Women’s Voices in Type, On- and Offstage, Part Two
- Type Women Talk: Experiences with Sexism
- Type Women Talk: Positive Forces
Dyana Weissman is a typeface designer at Font Bureau. She has been a presenter at ATypI, TypeCon, and Type Camp. When not making fonts, she is hiking somewhere in the world and sharing her adventures.