‘Don’t cry.. Don’t cry.. Just, keep it together…’
These words, I share with a close friend of mine. We have each sat across from our respective bosses and thought, ‘Don’t Cry’. Of course, in a professional setting, those words should be easily contained and dealt with because people – women in particular- shouldn’t cry in the workplace where emotion is tightly controlled and regulated.
But there we were, trying not to cry when our bosses revealed emotion invoking information. It’s not that our work wasn’t good enough, or that we didn’t achieve our goals with excellence that caused us to sit in front of men who were in charge of our professional lives. It was because (at least partly) we were aggressive and determined, because we speak our mind, because we were women.
Let’s hold on a minute here. How can I possibly know it is because I am a woman? What objective evidence do I have to support this claim? Is there clear and concise examples of being treated unfairly because of my gender? No of course there isn’t. Gender discrimination in the workplace is nothing as clear cut as that, and it won’t ever be. However, the *need* for evidence is in fact an argument in itself.
Is it not true that my perception tends to be my reality? But what a tricky track to jog alongside. Are my experiences of being treated unfairly how I am perceiving my world, or is it objectively true that I am being discriminated against. Perhaps, I actually am quite terrible at my job. Perhaps, I’ve gotten this far by sheer luck of the draw and I don’t know how to do my job at all. Maybe I am just really pretty and that’s why I make a lot of money… My mind will come up with any answer other than the one that leaves me mostly powerless.
Let’s say that I am quite competent at product management (hardly an overstatement when I’ve tripled my salary in four years). Then why in the past few companies I’ve worked, they have refused to promote me into that title? Is it because I am ‘too aggressive’ or determined? Is it because I am honest regardless of who’s feelings are in jeopardy? And finally, is it because I am a woman? Having to ask these questions is one of the pillars of feminism and it leaves the women all over the world effectively powerless.
What am I supposed to do if my professional hindrances are because of my gender? I can’t change how I present, I am -if anything- a woman and I wouldn’t want to hide that or disguise it in any capacity. While on the other hand, I *could* be less aggressive. Ah yes – let’s sit quietly in the corner and do what the men in charge tell me to (I can’t even roll my eyes hard enough). And I get it, I’m an employee; I should be aligning my goals to my bosses goals and the organization but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up in meetings with a conflicting opinion or bring my experience to the start-up table where seasoning is hard to find. But also – why change how I move through the world just because my current employer possesses an aversion to it and therefore me?
This question, at the root bearing the professional lives of young women everywhere is: Am I being treated unfairly because of my gender or am I actually incompetent? This is at the heart of today’s American feminism. Patriarchy and the suppression of women in the workplace is a very tangible experience for many of us and the doubts/struggles induced by the constant cultural gaslighting makes our perception of it even more skewed (because how real can those experiences actually be – it’s 2017, women have rights!).
So – I cry in the bathroom with the water running over my face, within the cocoon I call home where my emotions can hide until the next work day which will forever begin with: Am I being discriminated against because of my gender or do I actually just suck at my job?