I attended a lecture about negotiating today. Specifically about how women do or don’t negotiate and why. None of this was news to me but I always like to know about the latest research and hear the kinds of questions that get asked by the audience.
What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of time the speaker would spend on how our culture imparts gender norms, reinforces gender stereotypes and operates from a deep, pervasive, if usually unconscious, bias. I don’t know why I wasn’t prepared to hear these things yet again but they really cut into me today.
The speaker described the kind of woman who gets punished and stigmatized for her behavior – strong personality, direct communication, hard-driving – and showed a picture of a female dog. As everyone around me laughed at this poor, bitchy woman my heart started racing. She was describing my personality, my habits, my passions as if they were unfortunate choices made to imitate a man and get ahead.
She went on to talk about the ways that women punish other women for not being “nice” and my head started to throb. Over the years I have been alternately accused of being unemotional and too emotional for the same behaviors. Always by women.
Nine out of ten days it rolls off my back, I flex my style, and carry on. Today all I could think was “when do I get to be in a room full of people like me for a change?”
Where being direct and decisive is an asset not an attack, where crying is a sign of deep feeling not weakness or manipulation, where we can stop trying to fix ourselves and fix the system. Where bringing your whole self to your work is expected, acknowledged and appreciated.
Sugar and Spice & Everything Nice is clearly not a big enough container for me. Or maybe anyone if the truth were told. Unfortunately, at this very moment I can’t imagine a time when “being nice” isn’t how a woman is judged.