As We Age…
It is happening — I am on the side of the fence I would have never thought I would be. I am counting as part of the old school or old wave. Why am saying this? I watched Bill Maher the other day and listened to the interview with Gloria Steinem. Nothing really sparked me as a controversial … until I read the news the next day. Here. Here. Here. And here.
I am not offended, because I am not affected or meant by Gloria Steinem’s indirect criticism. I am not part of the young feminists voting for Bernie Sanders. That I am also not voting for Hillary Clinton is a different story primarily driven by the fact that I am not a US citizen and legally not allowed to vote. Nevertheless, I listened to Gloria. And I agreed.
Women are losing power as they get older.
Young women are more inclined to assume that whether you vote for a man or a woman is irrelevant if the candidate supports the appropriate feminist agenda. Not sure if they are naive, because they have not, yet, hit the glass ceiling, or if they are smarter than I ever was, because they understand a political agenda and vote out of conviction.
The experience I gained over the course of the years is very straightforward. Ambitious women are labeled as “trying too hard” and “cold”. If you experience this one too many times in a performance review you can only draw two conclusions:
First, you are indeed cold and trying too hard. Or second, you are measured by an unrealistic stereotype biased standard that is inevitably higher. When Sheryl Sandberg did a panel discussion at my work a few years ago, she asked the question “Who of you women was ever told that they are too aggressive in a performance review?” Most women raised their hands; at least 80%. She asked the same question to the men and hardly anyone raised their hands. Mind you, there were not a lot of men in the audience to begin with.
I later talked to a female executive who arrived late to the event and stood in the back. She told me how shocked she was by the amount of women who were told they need to tame down. She had always assumed that it was just her being told to soften up. She is very outspoken and determined in meetings not unlike all the male executives, but definitely more than the women.
Most ambitious women you talk to will tell you anecdotes of how they felt shortchanged for promotions and opportunities. Where with the apparent same behavior the male candidate was preferred, sometimes even with less experience. Most women will tell you that while men seem unaffected by frequent management changes, the female colleagues seem to have to start from scratch and prove their worth every time a new manager walks through the door. I myself have been told before “Your performance review from last two years is really great, you are top of the list for both years, and it states that you are looking for a promotion. Well, now you can prove to me that you actually deserve this rating.” A friend of mine had to go through extra training, because her experience in people management was questioned when she was promoted, while a male colleague with less experience and promoted that same year into the same team did not need to go through any additional training.
These examples are too numerous to be ignored. And unfortunately always considered one time incidents, exceptions, or rare cases. There is always a good explanation why someone else was chosen as the promotee. There are always good reasons why the experience or the behavior of a woman is being questioned.
The crux is though that men do not face these obstacles with the same frequency. If a man makes a mistake, he might get scolded, might get dinged, might see a penalty somewhere. If a woman makes a mistake, it seems very hard to erase it off her track record. And often enough a woman is perceived more negatively when displaying ambitious, straightforward, and outspoken traits.
Case in point. Trump is saying a lot of extremely stupid things. Yet, he still is in the running for president. Gloria Steinem is saying one unfortunate thing — just an opinion that you can agree with or not. And an entire generation of women is ready to throw her off the throne, question her legitimacy as a feminist icon, and putting all her achievements into a negative context. Do not “boomersplain to me”… well, maybe sometimes listening to experience will save you from experiencing pain yourself. Sometimes lessons can be learned without actually having to see for yourself.
Maybe just sometimes when you cast your vote you may want to think why you choose Bernie over Hillary. If it is because of personality traits like “authenticity, passion, down-to-earthness, easy-going-ness, gets-my-generation-ness” maybe it is time to wonder why you believe that Hillary is trying too hard, too outspoken, too fake… Are you really voting based on the political agenda? Can you claim that you are free of the gender stereotyping bias?
I for one am hoping that this is not telling me I am approaching middle age. After all I am siding with Gloria who is twice my age.