My husband and I were eating dinner the other night and he was telling me about how one of his female students gave a speech about gender inequality that was incredibly thought provoking. He asked me, “How have you personally felt discriminated against as a woman?” I’ve been meditating on that in-depth conversation and felt I should share my experience as a woman in the workplace, in the home, and in the world. I won’t apologize for this article, although everything within me wants to. I feel like what I’m going to say will step on a lot of toes due to social norms, but I won’t apologize.
Do you ever feel stuck? This issue of gender inequality is a problem that at times, I feel, has no solution. I feel trapped in a worldview that has updated enough to allow me to work and vote, but I can’t be everything I want to be, or respected like I should be, or treated as an equal in the workplace or home. I am told I am equal, but my treatment does not always align with those words. These gender inequality ideologies run so deep that men and women alike often don’t even realize they ascribe to them. I think the best way to communicate my experience with gender inequality is to vulnerably share.
I continue to choose fields that are male driven- first, theology and now, business. I have a sharp mind, learn quickly, am incredibly efficient, creative, process savvy, a detailed researcher, and have an extreme work ethic. I’ve led teams of people and hosted countless events. I have been a speaker to groups of 100-500 people. But I am also kind, gentle, trustworthy, and a woman so I end up in support roles- the person who does all of the nitty gritty work, handles the details to create success, but gets paid 5 times less than those who I support even though we are creating together – a partnership, if you will.
I attended a meeting with high level male executives and two top players in a company- one male and one female. The male top player was the owner of the company and the female top player was his wife and highest producing salesperson- both accomplished and deserving of a seat at the table. Once leaving this meeting, they would discuss their options and make a decision together. What I noticed during this meeting is that the executives would make eye contact and talk to the male company leader, but they did not look at her or directly address her. It was as if she was a spectator at an event, watching everything unfold, even though her thoughts and opinions would have weight in the decision making.
I have a degree, have had 7 positions since being in my current industry- all a promotion with a pay raise except one lateral move, make 3 times the amount I started at 3.5 years ago, and was recently in a meeting with two men and one of the them asked me to grab him a water bottle. It could be because assistant is in my title although I support two executives whose territories expand over 8 states running 30+ branches (which means I’m very busy), or it could be because I’m a woman. I think it’s because I’m a woman. If that man would have felt thirsty while being amongst two other men, he would have waited until the meeting was over or gotten his own damn water bottle.
I am not very competitive. I am a perfectionist. So, this means, I mainly compete with myself. I am my own worst critic. If I mess up, you don’t have to punish me because I promise, I am punishing myself enough. In the workplace other women have become very competitive with me because I am good at what I do, and they feel threatened. But I don’t have that issue with men. Why? Because men don’t feel like they have to compete with me. They are already ahead. Men compete with other men in business and women compete with other women. We are not even on the same playing field. To jump in the arena with men and to be on their level, you have to lose feminine characteristics. You must become hard, unaffected, overly confident, and the absolute best at what you do. Even then, do you truly earn a seat at the table?
I read this article about an experiment that took place where two individuals, a man and a woman, were expected to respond to customers via email. They exchanged email signatures for a week. In essence, he pretended to be a woman and she pretended to be a man. For that week, he encountered more aggression, negativity and questioning from customers than he had before. He had a bad week. She had her best week ever. Everyone just took her responses at face value with no push back and respected her because they thought she was a man. Throughout my career, men have emailed me and responded to my messages negatively at times. But then when my male supervisor or counterparts email them or call them saying the exact same thing, they respond positively and have a “we will get it done” attitude. It’s not because their bedside manner is better than mine, but they are responded to differently because they are men.
I want to have children but realize the impact that will have on my career. I once watched a Ted talk where the very successful female speaker said when you are “trying” to get pregnant, don’t put the brakes on your career until you are actually pregnant. One of the points of her Ted Talk was that you can be a female CEO as she was and have a family too. I took a lot of what she said in that Ted talk to heart, but then followed her life after that and learned that she eventually divorced. So, perhaps, she was not the voice to follow? Additionally, I read an article titled “Why Woman Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne Marie Slaughter, the past Director of Policy Planning for the State Department in Washington, D.C. Initially, she believed that she could have an extremely successful career and have an in- tact, healthy family, but came to the revelation that women cannot fully have both. One or the other suffers. You are left with choices like putting off childbearing, guilt from not being home enough once they arrive, and even if you try changing industries so you work less overtime; it usually comes with a pay decrease. Even being a stay at home parent, which is rewarding, comes at a price. Many women have no choice but to work and raise a family, so they are constantly torn between the two worlds and plagued by guilt- trying to be the best at both but feeling like they are failing.
My husband is wonderful, helpful and supportive. He is the greatest blessing in my life beside my faith. We both work full time jobs and most of the time, I work longer hours than he does. Compared to other husbands, I have a supportive husband. Most of the time, I feel that we have a partnership and he does help often. So, it’s not that he doesn’t help because he does, but deep down, we both have that thought process- it’s my job that he is so kindly helping with. The cleaning of our home and cooking is considered “my job” and when he helps, he is helping with “my chores”. The truth of the matter is that since we both work and we both live in our house, they are “our chores” and the cooking for us is “our job”. If someone comes over and the house is a mess, they don’t consider that we were both slacking on household duties, but that I was slacking on household duties. I feel guilt when I have guests and the house is not clean.
There have been many a time that I’ve been cleaning for hours because it has to get done while my husband plays video games. That is the epitome of male privilege in the home. Woman don’t have that opportunity because if they take time off to play a game or watch a show or have an evening with friends, there is no one else who will consistently come behind them to clean up the mess. The truth is that the mess will be there waiting for us. So, we take time for ourselves while the chores build up around us. Most of male chores around the house happen once a month or once a week. The female chores are daily. There is an unequal balance of responsibilities that is so deeply engrained.
My friends who are stay at home moms carry incredible responsibilities. In some cases, their husbands don’t help with the house or dinner at all because they feel like since they work outside of the home, they don’t have to contribute inside of the home. The problem with that is that the woman doesn’t clock in and clock out. Her day begins earlier than her husband’s and ends later than her husband’s. The stress of that type of division of labor is unreal. The emotions associated with that are like a pendulum- swinging from pride in how she takes care of her family and home to feeling overwhelmed and feeling like a servant.
One male family member said to me, “I wouldn’t have married my wife if she couldn’t cook. That would be pointless”. She cooks the majority of the time even though he is a great cook too. They both have full time jobs and successful careers. With that kind of thought process, what is a role of a wife reduced to? What other responsibilities are expected?
At times, I feel women are the slaves of society. Women carry so many responsibilities at work and at home. I feel like the expectation is Wonderwoman. I rise to the challenge, but at times, meltdown. If my time at work becomes unbalanced, then I can’t fulfill my duties at home. There’s a constant push and pull. Most of the time, I don’t sit down until 9 pm or sometimes not until it’s time to go to bed. But then, I should be grateful that I’m now allowed to work and have the opportunity for a career, right? Women only earned the right to vote in 1920. That is fifty years after black men. Now, consider what it means to be a black woman. The other night, I searched Netflix for documentaries on Women’s Rights. All other marginalized groups were represented, even the transgender community, but not women. We are the lowest on the totem pole.
So many women have been sexually assaulted or abused. When I worked in the restaurant industry, there was no end to men, managers and counterparts alike, casually touching you or making obscene comments. In such a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to slide by someone and touch anywhere really. If you stick up for yourself, they get offended as if you are the one out of line. Like you are just supposed to take it. In other work environments, I’ve had a married man consistently stopping by my desk to talk. I’m not going to his desk or seeking him out. But it’s my problem to deal with. One women mentioned the situation as if I caused it, not because I actually did cause it, but because we are socialized to believe that if a man is messing with you, it’s your fault. If you were raped or abused, it’s your fault. When sharing a life changing story of something that happened to me to even the most compassionate people, the question that is often implied, but not directly stated is, “what did you do to cause what happened to you?” The responsibility is always a woman’s unless she goes through great lengths to prove that it wasn’t. Even then, people still wonder what she could have done differently to change what happened to her. No means no- period. If I stick up for myself, I read the situation wrong or am too sensitive. The truth is that I’ve heard other womens’ stories and asked myself the same questions- “what did they do to cause this?” We have been socialized so deeply to believe that it is always the woman’s fault. I immediately slap myself on the hand figuratively and say “stop thinking like that”.
I have to think about what red lipstick might be perceived as in the workplace even though red might be the perfect color for my outfit. I evaluate my clothing before going into each situation considering what message might be sent in each environment. I can’t be too attractive or too hot in certain environments, which cramps my style sometimes. I have to consider the consequences of my clothing choices. I have more real fears regarding my safety than males do regarding theirs. I try not to stay at work or go to the grocery by myself after dark. I constantly scan my surroundings for predators. I don’t feel comfortable answering the front door when I am home by myself. When walking on sidewalks, I keep my head down when passing men so as to not make eye contact with them because I don’t want them to get the wrong idea. I can’t joke too much or be too friendly or hold eye contact too long or be too pretty because I don’t want to lead anyone on.
I am a strong proponent for free will. I feel like having these patriarchal engrained roles steals from free will. I feel like I don’t have a choice in the matter. For instance, if I didn’t grab the water bottle, what would the consequences have been for that? A talking-to by my supervisor? The men looking down on me because I didn’t help out in a way that they felt I should? If I don’t clean the house, when relatives stop by, they think she is a bad wife and poor housekeeper. I have to weigh the pros and cons of my choices to assimilate or not, and many times choose to assimilate to the roles that others have assigned me to because it is too much work and too taxing to defy what is engrained and I care too much about what others think of me. I realize that this paragraph almost seems contradictory because I’m saying I don’t have a choice but then make statements like I am choosing. That is where being stuck comes in- I make the decision, but feel like I really have no choice at all.
Everyone’s experience is different. If you are a woman who has a more nurturing career with less men, you may not feel discriminated against in the workplace. If you and your spouse were both socialized to not have assigned gender roles, you may not relate to what I’ve written at all. Or perhaps, you are one of those women who were so hard core socialized to be “everything to everyone” that this article annoys you and you disagree. I’ve been mediating on my experiences since that conversation with my husband. He wanted me to write this article so he can share it with his classroom. We are trying to grow together. Having these conversations can produce change and are ones that we need to be having. Going back to my previous statement, I feel stuck often. I don’t see a real solution many times but am dealing with these constant reminders of the problem. So, how can I affect change? I am not sure. I wrote this article in hopes of bringing light to hidden places. I got vulnerable and shared real circumstances. A man with an argument will always sit at the feet of a man with an experience. Or in this case, a woman with an experience.