I have a friend I’ll call Thalia who’s fierce and fun, charming, respectful, gorgeous, a European citizen with perfect English and a doctorate from the best university in England. She’s had 46 serious job interviews this year and was offered only one job, for a company that offered her an unpaid internship. She’s at her wit’s end. I have another friend who’s a guy, with a background in engineering and an impressive work history at one of the nation’s largest multinational corporations who left it all to become a now quite-successful performer.
We were out drinking, the three of us. And he was dumbfounded by Thalia’s update. I had empathy for her – she’s trying to work in an exciting but still definition-defying innovative field and there are elements of that struggle I can certainly relate to here in creative land – but he, our male friend, was just lost.
How is that POSSIBLE? I remember he asked.
Do any of us have a good answer to that question? In the wake of the horror show of male entitlement and rape culture-bred killings in Santa Barbara last month, we’ve probably all thought about how we’ve personally felt misogyny — and I know I’m lucky. I’ve experienced nothing as horrific as the worst atrocities visited upon thousands of the women who added their names to the #YesAllWomen ledger and the millions more who didn’t. But I’ve certainly experienced the less worse, the misogyny-lite. And beyond the cityscape of catcalls and the misadventures in dating back when I was still on the market, one thing stands out: the sense that I have to prove myself beyond a shadow of a doubt – that my credentials aren’t enough, my hard-earned competency isn’t enough, my ideas aren’t enough, because I’ve committed the cardinal sin. I’m a girl who’s bubbly. And honest and nurturing and quite silly. And though we like those traits in friends, we worry about them in business.
In grand, sweeping ways this is changing. A mentor of mine is a thought leader in the business world – and teaches MBA students and professionals to honor the connection between the head and the heart. To be more authentic. That the future of business isn’t in being more cunning but in being more human. I very much want to believe that, but in the same way that brusqueness in women is a detriment in the business arena, so too is bubbliness (is this the professional world’s version of the reductionistic whore/madonna dichotomy? Bitch/ditz?). And, to avoid being sorted into either category and roundly dismissed, we twist ourselves up and slink further and further from authenticity trying to seem unintimidating but authoritative! Accommodating but no push-over! Smiley but not too smiley. And sometimes, heaven forfend, we get the balance off and when it comes time to spin 46 interviews into at least one real job, we find we haven’t proven ourselves well enough.
Or at least, perhaps, in arenas where male is still the baseline and female is a deviation from the norm. There are surely other factors at play in Thalia’s job hunt busts – of course there must be other factors – but is this one of them? Is this how it’s possible?
You know, I got to thinking about all this because I just got an adorable rescue dog, Moxie. I mean, LOOK AT THIS FACE!
And in addition to the cuddly awesomeness and tear-inducing laughter this little one’s wrought, she’s also ushered me into the wide world of neighborly canine chitchat. It’s great and they’re great and she’s great. But what’s not so great is the massively frequent mistake these kindly strangers make in assuming Moxie’s a boy. Like, every time. And more than once when I gently but firmly correct – because at this point it’s the principle of the thing, dammit! – that same kindly stranger unwittingly becomes another subject in my little social norms experiment: his or her tone switches in an instant and what was a moment ago “Hey buddy! Such a big boy you are! Such a tough pup!” now jumps an octave, “ooh! What a sweet girl you are! Pretty PRETTY girl!” (I can only imagine the conversations if you’re rearing a little girl in gender-neutral clothing.)
It’s a daily reminder that male is the go-to. That our instinct is to treat even animals differently depending on their sex. And, while we’re at it, a reminder too that females are encouraged to be pretty, not tough. Even ones named Moxie.
If misogyny’s actual definition is “hatred of women,” which Merriam-Webster assures me it is, then this isn’t that. (A more interesting definition is here.) But it is life for many of us, and what can we do but write about it, talk about it, and accumulatively, one day, change it? Which also takes a bit of moxie.