I don’t know if you’ve been keeping your ears to the interwebz of late but there’s a helluvalot of harassment going on and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Roughly a week ago, all hell broke loose when writer Danielle Lee was called an urban whore for requesting payment when she was solicited for a guest blog post. Just prior to that, Writer Monica Byrne publicly named Scientific American Editor and Science Writers Online Conference Founder Bora Zivkovoc for sexual harassment. And this week, a woman attending a tech conference was publicly ridiculed for wearing heels, although the poster, startup entrepreneur Jorge Cortell, shielded his actions by claiming to be concerned for her foot health.
These examples are simply the tip of the iceberg. For years, I have watched as female colleagues trying to excel in the tech or science worlds come up against one barrier after another. They are ridiculed, harassed, disrespected and sometimes, downright hated by their male peers. In science conferences, women are often marginalized and excluded from speaker lists, not because they lack talent but because they are women. For example a recent Report in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology shows that only 16% of invited speakers at the European Society for Evolutionary Biology Congress between 2001 and 2011 were women. And we wonder why girls often choose liberal over science arts or math or tech.
When I posted the Atlantic article referenced above (heels and tech) on my Facebook page, an interesting conversation ensued; a friend challenged me to think outside my own box and asked where my bar is, that is the bar beyond which what is acceptable becomes downright wrong. The example he used was a woman posing provocatively in a short skintight, low cut dress and heels, which he asked me to comment on. And I did so, albeit privately.
My argument to him and to you is simple:
Choice and consequence.
I believe that it’s time for the double standard that is so pervasive in tech and science and in other disciplines to disappear. I believe that as women, we have choices to make and we have to live with the consequences of those choices. Rather than asking me to define what I mean by provocative and accuse me of being judgmental, understand that as a woman, I know the choices that women make to fit in, to stand out and to achieve. Sometimes, those choices are less than palatable to some and misread by others. And then the name calling and bad behavior starts, you know, the slut shaming.
Choice and consequence. It’s pretty simple.
If a woman makes a choice to wear heels to a conference, then it stands that the consequences are hers’ and hers’ alone. Will she lose her job if her heels are deemed inappropriate? Perhaps yes and perhaps no. Personally, I love nice shoes and boots and over time, I’ve come to appreciate heels more than ever. Is it foot forward (or back) healthy? Heck no. But I make a choice that I have to live with, whether or not that choice results in blisters, sore feet or heaven’s forbid, a cat call. I know why I am making that choice and to me, the interpretation that follows lies solely in the mind and eye of the beholder.
Perhaps I am lucky. In my work, much of which is male dominated, I’ve never been called out for my choice of footwear. The men I work with are much more interested in what I am saying and contributing to the conversation. I’ve never been accused of being a whore because I requested payment for access to my skills. And the cat calls as I walk down the street? Fortunately for me, those days are mostly over because I am pretty invisible; that’s what happens when you cross the magical line of 50 years of age. However, when they did occur, more often than not I thought that the issue lay with the person doing to cat calling; not with me.
I am concerned. I fear that we live in a time when sexual harassment is akin to milquetoast; it’s so common it’s not that interesting any longer. That is, until someone speaks up. And that someone, more oft than not, is then further accused of ruining a man’s [life, marriage, career, fill in the blank]. We have grown to expect that there will be weekly reports of a teenaged girl being gang raped and bullied, where a young celebrity will be ridiculed for behaving provocatively in a culture that has come to expect that provocation while the man can dance idly by and accept the affectations, we have become mute and dumb in ways unimaginable.
Choice. And consequence. It’s in our hands and our hands alone to do right by our young girls so that they grow up in a world where achievement is not frowned upon but celebrated for the sake of achievement, where she can feel comfortable in heels because they make her feel taller or more powerful or simply, pretty, or where tech geeks or scientists don’t assume that the ‘do not enter’ sign on the club door can be inadvertently applied at will.
What do you think?
Today’s bubble features an oldie but goodie. The more things change, the more they haven’t.
Isn’t it time that we women start to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room???
In 1980, I worked as an intern on the municipal bonds floor of a well-known brokerage/financial institution. Although it was certainly not my “thang,” I learned a tremendous amount about how the business world operated, and most importantly, about the games that people play.
One thing that struck me in particular at that time was the role of women in this business and how they dressed and behaved. Women were not abundant in positions of power, and those who were, well, in some respects, they emulated men; they were aggressive, competitive and not particularly kind to one another.
Clearly, things have changed drastically in the almost three decades that have followed. But one thing that hasn’t changed much is how sisters act in the workplace.
A line from this wonderful article that appeared in the New York Times several years ago made me realize that certain stereotypes continue to perpetuate bad behavior. And, that as Author Peggy Klaus so aptly writes, “the pink elephant is lurking in the room and we pretend it’s not there.”
The pink elephant is lurking in the room.
Klaus’ point is that rather than help build each others career, women often work to derail each other, engaging instead in “verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority and destroying of relationships.” She cites data suggesting that this type of behavior is directed from women to women >70% of the time, while the men who are “bullies in the workplace,” direct their aggression equally to both genders.
Klaus offers numerous reasons why women become aggressors in the workplace: scarcity of positions, bootstrap (I pulled myself up, why should I help you?) and hyperemotionality that leads to an overinvestment in workplace occurrences that cause them to hold grudges.
Her point, however, is not to determine the why but rather, engage one another to put an end to this type of behavior.
I’ve written previously that as we grow older, friendships and support of one another are essential to our overall wellbeing. Regardless of whether its in the workplace or in our personal lives, supportive relationships allow the soul to flourish and grow. Personal resources as they pertain to social support also help see us through the rougher aspects of menopause.
Should women give preferential treatment to one another? No, absolutely not. But as Klaus says, perhaps we should start treating one another as we want our “nieces, daughters, granddaughters an sisters to be treated.” We should simply… acknowledge the pink elephant in the room. And show it the door.Read More
What do you do when you put out an open call for life stories and an angel answers? That’s Beth Collins, co-creator of Elizabeth’s House, a resource center for women who want to rethink, renew, and reinvent their lives. Truly, I could not have found a more ideal person for a series about reinvention.
Who is Beth Collins? Beth is a personal and creative coach and her story of reinvention is focused on beginnings. To Beth, reinvention starts “from where you are to all that you know. It’s saying yes to something more and then creating the space in your life to find out what that more looks like.”
She explains that her calling to create on behalf of other women came during a time in her life when she had reluctantly left a dream job in college administration to become a working and then full-time, stay-at-home mom. However, answering her ultimate calling has been anything but easy; in fact, her ever-shifting path has been wrought with roadblocks and detours. When she left the corporate world for a world of play dates, room mothering, volunteer committees and booster clubs, she still had an urge to serve women in transition, an itch to scratch that would take more than six years to realize as she followed and supported her husband through multiple relocations. At the age of 46, just as she was finally hitting her stride and passion, she was sidelined again: “I got hit by a truck, literally.”
Through a ‘jaws of life’ rescue and time in the neuro-ICU, Beth faced yet another tough decision: rest or keep going?
In the mid 1980s, Austrian Monk Bhanke Dhammika wrote the Dhammavadaka, a poem designed to present inspiring aspects of a Buddhist’s life. One line in particular resonates:
None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you and you will be denied the joy that comes from labour’s end.
Like Dhammika, Beth realized the value in rest and so, she resigned from yet another job that she had grown to love to allow her body proper time to heal. Not surprisingly, in this quiet she heard yet another calling and in 2006, began a mentoring and coaching business for women who were ready to reinvent their lives. “I had clients in five states and was curious when I realized that these women were all asking for the same things,” Beth explains. “They longed for a community that would support their journey of change. Inspired by their requests, I began envisioning what a place like that would look like and in 2007, opened the doors to Elizabeth’s House, a gathering place for women who want to reinvent their lives.”
Elizabeth’s House embodies a lifetime of dreams combined with a unique passion to help women. Beth’s personal story? It’s one of “pure belief in a dream, letting go of the outcome and saying yes to what showed up.” And while she says that some would characterize that attitude as courageous while others may call it crazy, the women who’ve landed at the door of Elizabeth’s House call it a gift. “Together we rally when a woman quits the job she hates to create something new and when returns to that job after realizing that it wasn’t the job she hates. We rally around trying new things, getting it wrong, marriage, divorce, cancer and even suicide. It’s been life -changing for the women who find us and for me.”
It’s not surprising that women helping women lies at the core of Beth’s story of reinvention. She says that unquestionably, “What I’ve learned, what I know beyond any doubt,” is that self-help books, online support and endless “coaching” programs are not enough for women who long to reinvent. They are going to need other women who are willing to tell the truth about their lives. They need to know that they are not alone in their desire for change.”
Say yes and let go of the outcome(s). You may take a beating to get your wings but eventually, like Beth’s they’ll grow into something beautiful.
The National Women’s Law Center recently reported that women continue to lag behind men in terms of job recovery, regaining less than a quarter (24%) of jobs lost during the country’s recession compared to their male peers (who’ve regained 39%). A large part of the problem driving the slower recovery among women has been the loss of public sector jobs. The lesson? While this news may appear dismal at face value, it supports Social Media/Social Technology Consultant Karen Rogers-Robinson contention that today’s financial and work economy truly is “a perfect time to reinvent yourself,” pointing out that “the playing field has been wiped clean for most.
In 2009, Karen was forced out of 21 years of service at AT&T, losing an essential foothold of income and perhaps the dream that many like herself had bought into. She says that during her tenure, she was “in touch with her inner Boomer” and hadn’t believed that they would force her out, particularly because she had been a top revenue producer and a top performer in her department. Yet, the job had its plusses and minuses; “While I loved the techie geek that I had evolved into over the previous 20 years,” she explains, “I HATED what I was doing! So, I decided that since my children were grown and I had only me to take care of, I should try something new.”
For Karen, this meant taking decades of basic customer service skills, dynamic telephone strategies and web page development she acquired at AT&T and diving into the social marketing and tech landscape. In fact, that transition (which took place immediately following her job loss) landed her initially as founder of Onyx Mobile Marketing, a firm connecting small business owners to their clients via text message marketing and mobile apps and now, principal of a burgeoning and evolving social media marketing and branding consultancy, SMMMDiva.. Her reinvention? A self-described “a new and improved version [of Karen] with more bells and whistles.”
Karen says that while she has felt good about the choices she’s made, the change has been drastic and has affected her lifestyle immensely. These choices have also affected her relationship with family members who long relied on her as a financial lifeline. Moreover, while she was undergoing her transition from AT&T employee to social media diva, her significant other also left.
Fortunately, despite the challenges, Karen has a good financial and emotional network in place to provide footing when the ground has been shaky. She says that this an essential in the reinvention process, as is having a strategic plan. However, she notes that she had only been three years away from having a fully vested retirement, adding “had I been smart when the first cuts [at AT&T] started, I would have started my reinvention plan [then].”
Hindsight may always be 20-20 but the time for reinvention might be now. “Why be unhappy and stressed trying to keep a high paying job when it could be taken away at the blink of any eye and not because of how you performed? Life is short; do what makes you happy.”
Did you catch Monday’s post about Hessie Jones and the path she’s taking to reinvention? If not, you don’t want to miss it!
I’m introducing a new series on Flashfree — Reinventing Women — and I want to talk to you! I want to hear about the career changes you’ve made in midlife, the ‘why,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ as well as any other nugget of wisdom that you might impart to others considering a similar reawakening.
Consider this Wednesday Bubble yours’ to burst; this is an open call.
If you are a woman, age 44 or older and want to share your story of your work transition (or transitions), drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me a little about you, your age and what you used to do (and what you are doing now). I am hoping to find at least 10 more women willing to share their stories, their triumphs, their failures and their lessons.
Reinventing Women. It’s a new movement and it’s all about you!