Something I hold very close to my heart is my belief in true equality between men and women, I could probably write whole books on my beliefs in this area (and hopefully someday will) but for now I’d like to focus on a question that I don’t actually have an answer to; how does one remain feminist AND professional whilst a dealing with a sexist prospect? I do not have an answer to this, nobody really does because the way women navigate sexism in the workplace is an incredibly personal thing and changes for each of us. Also if there’s any men reading this and thinking this post isn’t for them, don’t be a twat, keep reading.
I personally am quite lucky, in my work place banter is encouraged. I know some women reading this may have just internally cringed at the word banter but it’s okay in this context and I’ll explain why. I mentioned in a previous post that I told my boss to fuck off on my first day but I didn’t mention why. One of my female colleagues had acheived something beyond her targets that day and my boss said ‘Well done, it took balls to do what you did and you’ve proved you have them!’. Everybody congratulated her and clapped and it was lovely. A few moment’s later I was asked to comment on my first day and I did and I added ‘but (bosses name) can fuck off if he thinks doing badass things requires a set of balls’. All the women around the table laughed and my boss agreed that balls were not a requirement for badassness. This puts me in an incredibly lucky situation among my peers in the office. There is a jokey atmosphere and although I may come across as preachy or annoying, I know that I can challenge everyday sexist terms and still remain secure in my job. Not everybody has it so easy and to those people I am sorry, I would love to be able to give you a quick step by step but I can’t, I don’t have a magic social equality wand (no matter how many times I wish for one).
A big part of my job involves speaking with people high up in companies, sales and marketing directors, managing directors and sometimes CEOs, these are prospects or sometimes clients, it is a very different situation challenging them. The company I work for, although we sell software, the name sounds unusual and when asking to speak to somebody on the phone, at least once a week I get someone alluding to my work perhaps being of a sexual nature or laughing at me. At least once a day I get a man (it’s always a man) calling me ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or something along those lines in a condescending manner. Now this may not seem like a big deal but, like all of the parts of our society that undermine women, they add up to one big problem. Part of me wants to mention I sound young on the phone and this may have an impact but a bigger part of me wants to say that really, it shouldn’t. It is not my fault the way I sound, my voice is a part of me and no matter if I do sound young and I actually an adult woman who deserves to be spoken to in a respectful manner. And even if I was younger, a child certainly doesn’t deserve to be spoken to in that manner either.
If I was in a bar or on the street or even on the internet and I felt safe in doing so (which is a WHOLE different matter) I would have absolutely no problem telling a sexist man to fuck off and leave me alone, I don’t want him to impact my day and I certainly don’t want to continue to interact with him. But at work, when it’s somebody you’re trying to sell to, when this is someone who may become a client then I have to behave in a different manner. Telling a prospect to fuck off just isn’t something I can do, it will damage my career and damage the reputation of the company I represent. What I normally do is to remain as professional as possible, do not laugh, do not get flustered, simply continue to talk professionally and calmly with the knowledge that you know what you’re talking about. This is what I do but the question I’m stuck with is; is this enough?
Recently I have been going through some personal changes, I’ve been reading a lot of literature and I’ve been listening to some excellent feminist podcasts and I have come to some conclusions about myself that I’m not happy with. Whilst I have always been very comfortable in labelling myself a feminist and calling people out on some, quite frankly, bullshit behaviours, I’m not sure I’ve been doing enough for myself. If you know me then you know ‘sorry’ is the most common word I say. I apologise for taking up space, for being a person and this has to stop and it’s especially important as a woman in the workplace. A place that up until not very long ago was only for men. A place that is still so male dominated and male centric that ‘maleness’ is the norm. So what I’m trying to do is to challenge myself, stop apologising for who I am, do not let people get away with sexism. My answer to the previously posed question of ‘is this enough?’ is a vehement ‘no’.
BUT although it is not enough, there is still nothing I can do about it on my own. I can stand up to prospects, I can tell them they’re being sexist or tell them they’re making me uncomfortable but that will not change anything and will likely mean I do not hit my targets and then get fired. I will not let sexist men be the reason I don’t perform well at work. So it’s a catch 22, if I straight up call them out then I don’t do well thus proving the whole ‘women aren’t good at business’ stereotype, if I don’t do anything then they get away with it and nothing changes. So no, I do not have an answer for you really, this ‘how to’ was more of a ‘I don’t know’. But this I do know; if more men examined their behaviour towards women in the workplace then this wouldn’t be a problem.
Women need to examine themselves too though, stand up straight, do not laugh, do not become flustered. You have just as much right to speak, to succeed and to be badass as the men around you. You have that right but you also have a duty to yourself and other woman to stand up for that right. I know it sucks that we still have to fight for it, that it’s still harder for us, that we have to put up with stuff men don’t and that no matter how many times we explain to them, they will never actually understand what we mean but giving up is not an option I’m afraid.
I would apologise for the preachy nature of this post but I’m not sorry.