Quick Hit – On “thick skin”

In an older post I just came across over at The Sexist, there’s a great discussion about the idea of “having a thick skin” in the context of male-dominated workplaces as well as street harassment.  We’ve talked about this stuff before; it relates to the dismissing tactic of calling women “over-sensitive.”  Sexist reader Chloe Angyal writes about her graduate research into women working on Wall Street trading floors.  I’m having a tough time not just copying her whole post over, it’s really great…. but here’s the final point, which really hit home for me:

The irony is that these women don’t need to call attention to the fact that they’re women — they’re being sexually harassed for that very reason. Women who accept sexual harassment, be it at work or on the street, have “thick skin” and are “reasonable.” Women who don’t are “victims” who “can’t hack it.” At work women are faced with two equally unpleasant choices: suffer harassment or discrimination in silence, or speak up and be branded a thin-skinned victim who makes all the other women look bad. On the street, speaking up comes with the added danger of a physical attack. It’s a no-win situation that we face on the way to work, on the way home, and every moment in between. “Thick skin,” as handy a survival method as it might be, is not a solution: the solution is to change the acceptability of harassment and discrimination.

In the comments, Occam makes a great point about how this relates to the policing of women’s boundaries:

This is a great point about how the choice is between “thick skinned” women or women who “make themselves the victim”. This cast actually punishes women who set and define their boundaries as “victims”, when in fact setting and defining boundaries is the opposite of victim behavior. In fact, those rewarded in a male dominated environment are the people who refuse to draw a line at objectionable behavior. It’s another case of rewarding women who allow themselves to be dominated, and punishing women who expect to be treated with respect.

9 thoughts on “Quick Hit – On “thick skin”

  1. Meems

    This is so true. There’s one thing I want to expand on, though. Having a thicker skin doesn’t necessarily mean being just taking harassment. I’ve dealt with online harassment/stalking for nearly two years, and was, at first, almost paralyzed by it. Developing a thicker skin, i.e. realizing that harassment is about the other person’s issues and doesn’t reflect negatively on me, allowed me to finally do something about it.

    Women are still definitely branded weak when we report harassment and often treated as though we either can’t take a joke or somehow brought it on ourselves (by just existing, no less!), but making noise is also the only way things will change.

    1. Leigh Honeywell Post author

      I’d say that’s not having a “thick skin”, though, that’s having a healthy sense of boundaries and a healthy sense of having an internal locus of control. Things which women are highly socialized against.

  2. Ingrid Jakobsen

    In other words, “don’t be a victim” actually means “don’t make us face up to the fact that we’re victimising you”. It’s all about the comfort of the victimisers to continue victimising without having to think about the pain they’re causing.

      1. Ingrid Jakobsen

        I do feel like this kind of analysis and summary is something I’m getting better at, as I get older and the pattern becomes more obvious to me.

  3. Katje

    Really good points here. Recently I’ve been dealing with something similar in my own life, which is the whole “Don’t let it bother you!” thing flung at me whenever I have a reaction to an abuse trigger. Because I’m sure it’s that simple, right. Just to grow a thicker skin. And, of course, my responsibility as a victim of abuse. Bleh.

  4. Amanda

    I’ve had a lot of trouble with deciding how to deal with people who seem intent on harassing me. To the point that I actually asked advice on reddit, after one guy had continually posted untrue things about me on his blog and then put up my photo with a poll asking readers to vote on my appearance. Most of the responses I got basically told me to suck it up.

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