The X Women – A Betrayed Generation
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.