Things that have been said directly to me at work:
Just smile more. You need to say Hi to the other managers more. Something is off with your personality. You should not sound so confident when talking about a plan. Let your work speak for you, no need to tell others about your accomplishments. You need to listen more. You have long legs for your body. You have a really great ass. Would you please send out the meeting notes? The cookie jar is empty, could you refill it? Are you here on an internship? Could I speak to the engineer? Big boobs won’t solve everything. You are difficult to work with. Well, my dick is on the larger side. You are a small person, you do not need more space. I have never seen a woman drink beer. When are you planning to have kids? This is not about showing cleavage.Your smile is so nice. It is not like you need the promotion with your husband’s salary. You are not a single Mom, why do you need more money? You work too late, who is taking care of the kids? You are high strung. This guy always leaves his desk after you have been here to jerk off. You cannot go abroad, because women are not respected there. You are too aggressive. You are too results driven. My wife and I decided it is best for kids if the mother stays home. You have to learn to take feedback and listen more. I was actually expecting a man. You are the token woman. One day you will get kids and leave. You cannot work in that department, they do not want woman there. You were made the team lead, because you write the best meeting notes. I do not want to be your friend if there are no benefits. I am sorry for the naked women pictures, I will remove them by tomorrow. You look great in Jeans. You need to talk less.Be patient.
The skills you need to leave the working poor are not the same skills you need to succeed in the middle class.
Working class children that have successfully made something out of themselves often have some common traits. They are intelligent, rebellious, do not mind working against the grain, and often have a very cynical outlook on life. They learn early that in order to go to college they need to be prepared to lose family, friends, and home. Many kids from a working class are in a constant fight to explain to their family and peers why they think they are better than them, why they are betraying their upbringing, why they are so ambitious, and why they are so egoistic.
In order to succeed without the support from your surrounding you have to fend for yourself, are often lonely, and require a lot of persistence and also stubbornness. Most kids at one point or the other have to fight against the authority usually in form of their parents.
When you then have it made and are leaving college with best grades and best intentions, you often are less successful than you thought you would be.
Being a rebel, being different than others, being a loner, and cynical might have worked in your favor to leave the old life behind, but those character traits will not help you succeed in business when you are working for the man.
All over sudden you will have to learn to listen, to follow, to network, to make friends, how to be well liked with a proper set of manners following an etiquette that no one ever taught you. People might call you quirky or rude, or they simply know you do not belong. Your rough edges might get ignored initially, however, when it comes to promotions you easily get overlooked and traded in for someone with a more smooth upbringing. You are competing against those kids who have been introduced to the higher society at an early age. Who learned to say yes and thank you. Who have benefited from their parents connections and tested the waters in some cool internships. Who have been tutored, mentored, and received support all their life. You need to play catch up and that is rough.
Essentially you will learn that all your intelligence and persistence counts for nothing if you do not know how to connect with people.
Catching up with privilege is not easy.
Some days it feels that all that is left for us, the women of Generation X in our 40s and 50s is to get a bunch of cats and become the crazy cat women.We can sadly call one of the cats “Hillary” and also “Bernie” makes a good cat name. However, it feels like this is it. It is less of a wake up call, but more a DNF (did not finish), a dropping out of a race, because the raced was rigged to begin with. Finding a better, a more comfortable chair, to see the men of our generation finish the race.
As so many other women of my generation I grew up in the 70s and 80s of the last century. Believing to the fullest that equality was within reach. I seriously believed for the most of my teenage years that the few remaining misogynist men would die out. In the 90s I experienced the last naked women pictures to be taken down in the manufacturing halls of the two companies I worked for, we all participated in sexual harassment work shops, and I was never led to believe I would not be able to become what I wanted. Neither were other women that I met throughout the years. We received best grades, collected experiences in other countries, worked hard, did volunteer jobs, and internships. Our resumes are reflections of our passion, energy, and ambition.
Yet, most of these women have since stepped back or received the one or other cold water splash. Too few are now in leadership positions or with any significant career progression. It is different for the men. The men just slowly bypassed us. Mediocre grades, less inclined to seek skills, no extracurricular activities. They were promoted, because they fit the mold, because the male management team could relate, because they would not get pregnant, they could laugh about jokes, they could go and drink a beer after hours… whatever the reason, we were told it was performance and skill. They just carried themselves as leaders. While we were too aggressive, too bitchy, too bossy, our personality too off-putting, … Everything we are has been just a little to “too”. We just never really fit in.
The Generation X Women are now painfully aware that the openly displayed misogyny has morphed into something creepy that only lurks in the shadows. Something that is displayed in code words. The job requirements are just assessed differently when it comes to men and women.
- He is coachable vs. She has just not proven she has the skills.
- He has leadership skills vs. She is bossy or aggressive.
- He is passionate vs. She is too high strung
- He is bringing a new perspective to the table vs. She is not listening enough to what others think
- He really is committed to the company sacrificing a lot of his personal time vs. She works too much
- He is such a great father vs. She will need more time off to care for the kids
Twenty years ago, we bought career advice books just to learn that the given advice typically backfires for women. When we speak in “I”terms of our accomplishments, we are told that we need to become better team players and use the word “we”. When we go and have that social beer with our colleagues, we are subjected to being felt like an invader, accused of affairs, or constantly having to justify who is now caring for the kids.
When we, the Gen X women entered the workforce, there were one or two female managers typically around making us believe that a successful career was just a question of wanting it enough and putting in all the work. So we did. We worked harder and made sacrifices.
We are the generation that was told we had it made, because of that did not learn to watch our backs. We were betrayed by the successes of the generation before us. The open display of sexism was gone. We had to fight their lingering ghosts. Haunted by every mistake we may have made screeching our careers to a halt, while men’s mistakes were far too easily forgiven or considered learning opportunities. Every mistake we made proved we were not good enough, we did not work hard enough, we do not have what it takes.
Stereotyping and bias is not easily overcome. We are still too far away from real equality.
And now that wrinkles appear or grey hair, we seem to even further invite scrutiny. Like our female brains age faster and more disastrous than male. Like the experience we gain gets overcompensated by menopausal craziness.
Let’s fight back. Let’s not hoard cats. Let’s not give up.
We are stronger and more accomplished than we have ever been. Let’s show them that we are just getting started.
Women over 40 — Unite!
Let’s make this career marathon an ultra! Trust me we can go longer, we can go further, and we will leave those misogynist breathless behind.
I have been wondering whether to speak up or to just stay quiet… yet, again. And after a long period of thinking I decided speak out.
On Sunday I went for a jog in the local woods. Nothing unusual. I like running, so I do so frequently. I was just on my way home running down a smaller hill, when a male cyclist climbed his way up. All I heard when he passed me was “Geile Titten” which roughly translates into something like “awesome tits” a little more vulgar and a little bit more obscene.
The sad part is that this is not unusual. Men over the age of 50, teenage boys, people with a very patriarchal cultural upbringing are the worst. I think most of my body parts have been commented upon, some have touched me, grabbed my breast, blocked my way, slapped my ass… It is sickening how so many people think they can invade my space, do not feel remorse, and act on instinct.
On Sunday I was particularly frustrated by the incident and tried to find out how other runners deal with this type of harassment. I did not talk to my girlfriends here in Germany as the last time one told me “I needed to focus on real problems, stop complaining about luxury issues, and should learn to take a compliment”. I do not really need to explain that I lost all interest in talking to her about anything again… ever. My personal well being is not secondary to any other issue in the world. Who is ranking issues anyways and has the ultimate power on deciding what issues are worthwhile our attention?
I went on an internet search and found the German Runner’s World magazine with the discussion board section where many other women described similar frustrating experiences. I was shocked by the advice given by a majority of men and women:
- Do not dress that sexy in sport clothes
- If you wear makeup you are asking for it
- Watch how you act, you might unintentionally invite this type of behavior by smiling, looking in someone’s eyes, running near a school…
- Always smile at men, so they do not think you are an arrogant bitch… (not kidding, actual advice given)
- Do not run like you are a victim; men will sense that and bully the weak
- Take a compliment
- I never experienced this myself, so you must be oversensitive or misjudging a situation
It was sickening to read this victim blaming.
it is 2017 and still women have no right to their own personal space and being safe from male demands. And no, these things happen way too often to call this the exception that you can shake off. There are so many men out there who feel it is their right to invade a woman’s space. Who like the power rush when they insult a woman. They need to boost their superiority.
I wish there were more decent men on those running trails or anywhere else who would speak up against this behavior. We do not only appreciate your good behavior and how you respect women, we need your active support and your outspoken solidarity.
And to all women in a similar boat: Do not let yourself be told it is your fault. You do not have to smile at anyone when you do not feel like it. The way you dress does not make the actions any more or less okay. I have been wearing anything from winter clothes to tights and a tank top. The amount of commentary remained the exact same. It does not matter.
And to the men who feel they need to comment on women they do not know: Shut the fuck up!