Unbelievably true stories from a woman in the workforce
Coming off the feminist high of Barbie-Beyonce-Taylor Swift-Summer, and the winter gloom starts to sit in, I decided to pick up a new TV series based on a book I'd recently read: Lessons in Chemistry.
This show and the book took me back in time ... as I read through Elizabeth Zott's career and life, I found her extremely inspiring and determined. She didn't let her life's trials and tragedies stop her from her true calling.
I was watching the first few episodes with my partner, and he said something to me that really struck me:
"This show really paints men in a terrible light."
The comment made me laugh ... because while I could respect that a dramatization of male dominance and the patriarchy can be comical — *cough* Ryan Gosling as Ken in Barbie *cough* — it is also deeply rooted in systemic issues.
When I stopped laughing, I started thinking ... and truly remembering points in my life when I'd felt objectified or lesser than.
- My first job, on my first day, the owner of the general store said to me, “you are a very beautiful girl so we'll have you at the counter”
- Later that day, I had a customer ask me if I was married, and if I would be interested in meeting up with him later. I was 16.
- At that same job, I had a repeat customer who refused to leave until he was able to give me a kiss on the cheek, in exchange for his cash for cigarettes.
- The first job at the university paper, I was mentored by the previous editor, only to learn later he had unrealistic expectations that I’d eventually date him with all the time he spent with me, and was let down when I rejected his advances.
- During my time in retail, I was told I have “big pretty lips” by a customer looking at phone cases. He came back multiple times, and I'd hide in the back until he left.
- Working an event where there was an allegation of inappropriate advances on a woman attendee.
- Being called "Little Lady" recently on a call by a man. I am a senior partner manager at a fortune 500 company, not a 'little lady' 🙄
When I stopped laughing, I started thinking. I started reflecting. I started connecting the dots on how so many of these experiences made me doubt my right to be where I am.
Upon that reflection, I realized there were a lot of things that I was processing while going through these experiences:
- Was I asked to participate just because I’m a woman to hit a diversity checkbox requirement?
- Do I deserve this or was I favored because someone subjectively finds me attractive?
- How can I speak up and say something if I'm uncomfortable? I'd just be a bother to 'complain' about this.
- There are no other women in this room … am I safe?
The emotional response from these micro-aggressions leaves me, and I'm sure many others, feeling smaller or lesser-than, but most of all, angry. So what can we do? How can we all work together moving past
Do not be afraid to give feedback in that moment. I am bad at this, because in the moment I find myself in a state of shock rather than being able to sit with it, process, and then correct someone's behavior before we all move on.
When you see something, say something — for example:
Please don't refer to that person as "good girl"*** on a call, she is not a dog nor is she in need of your condesending comment. She is taking feedback from this group and actioning on it as any stellar employee would do.
A simple "thank you for not overcommitting to this project, it helps keep everyone on track, appreciate you looking out for the larger team with that decision" instead of "good girl" would do.
***Yes, that really did happen.
Do not fight the feedback. When someone tells you something you said or did affected them in a certain way, sit with that. It may not have been your intention, and I hope it wasn't, but think about how it came off and don't immediately go to the defense "oh come on, it was funny, I didn't mean it like that" — instead "I'm sorry my words and actions had that impact on you, that wasn't my intention, and next time I'll be sure to avoid using such language or tone, thanks for sharing with me."
Check in with your friends. You are not me. You are not my experience. You may disagree with everything I say here, or live in an alternative reality where the patriarchy and women's issues don't exist — but the one thing I do ask of you reader, no matter who you are, is that you check in with your friends, ask them about their experiences, hold space for them, because no experience or unbelievably true story is too small.