“Good morning beautiful Jerry!” I quipped as usual to this frequently offered greeting.
Throwing his torso back in laughter with his hands on his round stomach, Jerry stuttered between chuckles, “Oh Joni, you are just too much fun!”
It puzzles me why he says this. How is my exact returned greeting funny? He’s not the ugliest guy on earth?
Alright fine, I know exactly why it’s funny. It’s acceptable to tie the first words uttered to me to my appearance, but not to his. What a comedienne I am to suggest this. If only this principle could apply to everyone else in the office…”Hey spikey hair George!” or “Good afternoon handsome Sam!”
I realize this seems small or even trivial to some people, but words really do matter, as they reflect our beliefs and attitudes. In fact it’s an ongoing joke with our corporate partners that my motto is “Words Matter,” as one time we had a big discussion regarding the power of word choices. Joke all you want – it’s good being known as someone who cares about words and doesn’t settle for the bullshit everyone thinks they can call them.
Ah the funny world being the lady in a very male dominated industry. Me, for example, I work in Internet Marketing. My programmers are literally all men, and our main clientele are companies in the service industry…ergo 90% men. Trust me I love me my men, but I always have to make sure the “boys clubs” don’t form by forcing my presence in uninvited situations whenever I can. I’m not going to get cut out of a meeting or opportunity if I can help it just because I’m the chick. For example, I knew damn straight I didn’t go to Vegas with 4 of my male colleagues last week because I was the woman, and my suspicions were confirmed when 2 of them mentioned to me how fun it was to have a trip with “just the boys.” Thanks.
So what can I do? I fight back is what I do, an uphill battle that is seemingly getting worse, at least in my little office. We just hired a new sales manager and HOORAY, so far he is the worst of them all. For example, our offices share a wall that is a window. Yesterday morning the first thing he did was call my extension and ordered me to turn around so “our eyes can meet.” I hesitantly turned around accepting his creepy demand. I stared at him, both of us holding our phones to our ears. “Woah, you look like you could use some more sleep darling!”
It took everything I had not to simply say, “fuck off,” and instead found a way to end the conversation quickly.
Seriously, why does everything have to do with how I look? Yes, I’m tired some days, but I know for damn sure you aren’t telling our 45-year-old salesman that his eyes look slightly puffy…because no one cares how he looks.
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe they are being condescending because I’m younger. I don’t know, I’m almost 30 and have a ton of experience, so that card is getting a little worn. But I keep using it so I don’t get too bent out of shape realizing the horrific uphill battle I may have to fight for the rest of my life.
One of my favorite instances was when we were in Florida. The show had just wrapped up and we were in the giant resort hotel trying to figure out where to eat. We do our best to find the restaurant/bar where the greatest quantity of potential clients are. Walking by the Italian restaurant, we heard a short, sharp whistle.
“Hey! [My company name]! Over here!” The three of us, myself and my two 40-something male colleagues turned in unison to see who it was. Just the person I had been avoiding all day at the show…and of course we immediately made our way over.
Long, boring, sad, annoying story short, I was the center of attention throughout dinner, the only woman and a solid 15 years younger than the other diners. “Hey, there aren’t any more chairs, but you can sit on my lap!” was the first thing the man who called us over said to me. Later one of my colleagues was trying to invite himself to visit their office in another state when one guy said, “Well, I don’t know about you…but if you bring her,” nodding his head at me with a wink, “you can come anytime…and even stay at my place!” Jokes about the stripper pole in his friend’s living room followed.
Not all of the trips or conversations are that bad, but what’s a girl to do? I can allow the natural frustration to boil over, tell them what I really think and firmly kiss my career goodbye. Or I can smile, be a jackass right back and get a cheap laugh for somewhat playing along.
Every now and then I find a smarter guy in the mix and we’ll get into the pickle I have professionally. So far, every time these guys will tell me that I have an upper hand. That a woman’s looks are powerful and can help me professionally. “One of our best salespeople was a woman! She knew she was hot, would get a potential client interested in her and then, BAM! Close the sale and he didn’t even know what hit him!”
Am I the only one who sees how crazy that is? You do understand that the moment she gets her first wrinkle or a wedding band on her finger that her tactic is all over, right? And she will be washed up with all the other 40-year-old women, and the new 20-year-old “great saleswomen” will be up to bat among the other, still successful, 40-year-old men.
What is worse to me is that I have very few women to talk to about this issue with. Many women I know abuse the shit out of how they look, and tell me I need to lighten up. “You’re hot, enjoy the advantage!” OK, well what if I wasn’t? Don’t you dare tell me that I am where I am because of how I look. I studied very hard in school, busted my ass through a grueling interview process, and made it here climbing with everything I have to improve further. Only to be told that I’m here based on how I look? Please.
Yes I would probably get pushed around as the young 29-year-old guy among a leadership team of 40-50 year old men. I get that – but it’s an extra wrench having a pair of boobs and long hair I like to wear down. I would like to say I have all the energy in the world to always fight the good fight of equality. But I’m so tired of fighting today. Feeling depleted, discouraged, and a bit listless, frankly. I am literally the only woman in my office besides the data entry girl and a couple consultants that are there a few hours a week – and most of the time it is a lonely place.
But, fuck it. What can I do? Give up? That is never an option, so I am going to fight again today anyway. And if that punk-ass in the office next to me wants to make another stupid comment about how I look, let him. At the end of the day, I know that I’m smarter than he is, and a better person for not reducing others to how they look as their professional merit.
It’s important to see through the bullshit, and that alone is a leg up on the other morons in the professional world. Women who think they can abuse their looks to get ahead are only kidding themselves. Men who think they can reduce me to my looks are sorely mistaken, and I won’t forget the animals who treat me badly.
Because boys and girls, our daughters need us to fight back – and so do our sons. I say I’m tired because I wish for one day I could rest enjoying things as an equal, considered first for my thoughts and not my looks or breasts. But that day will never come unless I fight with everything I have, every day. Therefore I cannot become tired, and cannot give up.
Women are powerful and successful because we have brains and ambition, not because of smooth skin or beauty. We need to believe that, and start acting like it. I’m begging you to help me, as I can’t win this fight alone. We need others, men and women, to fight too in order for there to be a more level professional playing field.
I don’t know about you, but I deeply believe that everything I do affects the next generation directly. So onwards, I fight. Here’s to another day in the pursuit of equality, for my children, and yours.