‘I felt disposable’: Utah women recount experiences of sexism

Hundreds of women reported their experiences in a series of reports from the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

One woman said a man told her she was “getting a little fat” and suggested she run on her lunch break. Another was told by a man she managed that she wasn’t “a real executive. You’re just checking a box.’”

After she misplaced her breast pump at work, one woman said, “my manager said that I could go in the back with a lady coworker, and she could ‘milk me.’”

These were some of the responses that researchers with the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University collected from 839 women in the Beehive State, in an online survey between May and June 2020.

On Wednesday, researchers published the final reports in a series of five briefs examining Utah women’s experiences with sexism and how they responded.

The goal — according to the reports’ authors, Robbyn Scribner, April Townsend and Susan Madsen — is to educate people about the ways that sexism demeans and disempowers women, and “to equip women with the tools they need to better combat the sexism they experience from day to day.”

Overall, most of the sexist comments were made by men (84.6%) and in the workplace (58.2%). They were also more likely to come from someone who had authority or influence over the person (51.3%), and who was between the ages of 46 and 59 (35.5%), according to the report.

Researchers divided the responses into four general categories: inequity and bias; objectification; stereotypes; and undervaluing women.

The full reports can be found at usu.edu/uwlp/research/briefs. Here are quotes from some of the Utah women about how they have faced sexism in their lives.

Inequity and bias

“I was visibly pregnant when my husband and I applied for a construction loan. The loan officer told me he wasn’t comfortable including my income as part of consideration for our loan application, because given my condition he was positive I would be staying home and losing that income.”

“I once had a client tell me in no uncertain terms that they would really prefer to work with a man, ‘just because, you know, it’s accounting.’”

“A coworker stated, ‘The best news about the (new hire) is that he doesn’t have a uterus.’ I was days away from delivering and going on maternity leave.”

“My boss told me he will not hire women in their twenties who are married, or will possibly soon be married, because they will eventually take maternity leave. And even if they come back to work, it’s too disruptive.”


“When I held an executive director position in Utah state government, a male, married, elected official from a different branch of government asked me if I would go on a ride with him in his fancy sports car. He followed the invitation with the statement, ‘You know, anyone who rides in the passenger seat of my car goes topless.’”

“While at a speaking event where I was about to present, the host was having issues with the mic, and I went to help fix it and had to have my head down under the podium and he said, ‘While you’re down there....’”

“I was looking for a place to sit during a conference we were both attending. He and I were both members of a city council though for different cities. He patted his lap and told me I could sit there.”

“I had a coworker tell me that the reason I got a promotion was because of my breast size.”


“I overheard my supervisor tell the boss once that he wished they didn’t have to hire any women as women ‘just cause drama.’”

“I was assembling some furniture in our home and my son’s friend said, ‘You can’t do that; you’re a girl. You have to wait until your husband gets home.’”

“A male boss said, ‘If you become pregnant, you’ll be asked to resign. If you get married while employed here and don’t get pregnant after a certain amount of time, we’ll meet to determine if this job is stopping you from getting pregnant.’”

“He said, ‘Women have to be taught to think critically enough to be engineers; it’s against their nature.’”

Undervaluing women

“When I played basketball in college, men who had never played organized basketball would brag about how they could easily beat me just because they were male.”

“I was told that I could participate in a vendor meeting, but I should not comment. If I have information to share, I should talk to my male peer and have him provide my feedback.”

“My supervisor called my dad and told him how I was doing as an employee (I was about 25 years old at the time).”

“I was arguing a case before the Utah Court of Appeals when opposing counsel was trying to assert why my argument was incorrect (normal for lawyers) and kept referring to me as ‘little missy.’”

How women say they responded to sexist comments

“I was devastated and said nothing. The meeting ended with the male leader seeming pleased, but I felt disposable.”

“After our discussion, the bishop said he could see how a comment like that would be hurtful and vowed to be more aware of his bias.”

“My boss asked me to make cookies for an event. I asked which day he wanted me to take off to bake them. The others started to laugh and then he slowly caught onto what he had asked of me. I was the only woman in the room.”

“There’s a lot I would have liked to say, but I couldn’t, given our power dynamic. I just ended up feeling lesser-than and angry.”

“After a comment about me staying home with my kids, I replied, ‘How long do you think you’re going to do this before you retire to become a stay-at-home dad?’”


Based on the comments that researchers received, here is what the authors recommend for how women and male allies can prepare for, take action and call out sexist behavior.

“In the moment, it can be difficult to think quickly enough to respond,” the report states. “Having a go-to phrase such as, ‘What makes you say that?’ can give you time and shifts the focus to the person to explain their thinking.”

“When you hear offensive comments or jokes, push back (preferably within the first two to three seconds),” the authors wrote. “Possible retorts include saying, ‘Ouch,’ or, ‘We don’t do that here.’”

“When you observe a man repeatedly interrupting a woman, or when you see only women being asked to take on ‘office housework’ such as note taking, point it out and offer an alternative,” according to the report.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.