Like many, many people out there, and perhaps, especially women, I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to make sense of the outlandish result of the U.S. election.
Trying to get my head around the unavoidable truth that we don’t have a female POTUS, and in fact, have the complete antithesis of that.
Turning off the radio about eight times a day because I simply can’t stomach the slew of appointments that verify we will be living under a near-Fascist government.
Doing my best to calm the fears of my child.
Listening to bad pop music instead.
Gulping in the gorgeous beauty of a Californian fall, because he can’t take that away, can he?
But most of all, I have been thinking about what it means to be a woman in the USA towards the end of 2016. Pantsuit Nations. Nasty Women. Binders Full of Women. Crooked Hillary. Accused of playing the woman card – whatever that means.
In the face of despicable, unbelievably vile behavior and language, many of the women of this country have banded together, owned the slurs, made them their own, and Hillary herself handled it all with grace and equanimity. Rarely getting riled up or losing her composure.
There is now no hiding from a fact that so many of us have known and experienced in our day-to-day personal and professional lives. America is barely keeping a lid on its big dirty secret that misogyny, sexism, a fear of women in power or leadership, runs rife up and down our society. The covers have been pulled off. All has been revealed.
So what next?
I completely understand women wanting to take and fling back the poisonous darts. By calling themselves ‘nasty women‘ they aim to de-power the abusers. By making donations to Planned Parenthood in Pence’s name, they hope to shame him. But I fear that these are reactive and short-term gestures.
Where is our thrust for equal rights? How do we become viewed as an equal voice, talent, brain, and team member in the workplace – without threatening the often-male boss? How do we raise the next generation of boys to become men who want to fight for equality for any colleague or friend, regardless of gender, sexual persuasion, creed and color?
It’s that last question that I have thought about the most. As a female executive, the mother of a teen son and a quiet (unless provoked) feminist, I have never viewed myself as different from my male counterparts, whether at college or in the workplace. And I can’t count the ways that this has definitely not served me. The jobs it has cost me. But I wouldn’t want to change anything I’ve done or said.
As I think back to my childhood, I am deeply grateful for having two parents who never treated me differently from my two brothers, in fact, I would say that my Dad pushed me way harder to attain academic and musical excellence, than he ever pushed my male siblings.
I come from a long line of powerful matriarchs – especially on my father’s side. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t treat me differently. And my mum did her part too. No embroidered undershirts for me. Being pecuniary and practical, with two brothers behind me, she’d buy me unisex clothes so my brothers could wear my hand-me-downs. Something I hated, of course. No kid wants to be different.
She told me stories of my maternal grandmother, great aunts and great grandmothers, who broke down barriers of their time. My great aunt, Caroline Mackinlay, was the first woman editor of a Sunday newspaper’s magazine in the U.K.
There was never any discussion that I should ‘act like a lady’, tone down my career aspirations, or focus on getting married and raising a family. My Dad hoped I would take after him and go to Cambridge (I didn’t), but was perfectly proud and happy to take credit when I graduated from college at the top of my class. My family turned out in force to watch me speak on behalf of my fellow students at my graduation ceremony.
I’m not sharing this to be immodest, just to say, it really never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have an equal run at things in the workplace. And I have to say, that for the most part, spending the first 7-8 years of my career in the U.K., while, yes, there was an old boys’ network, it felt yesteryear, and my generation of women had chances and opportunities to seize.
And I arrived on the West coast of the U.S. in the late 90’s expecting much the same thing. And the thing is, that corporate sexism is so well buried, hidden, insidious, unconsciously biased, that you don’t really realize that it’s got you by the throat until the first time a male in power squeezes your ribs in the hallway, or asks you out after a meeting, because surely you were flirting with him non-stop while marching through the agenda?
I have found myself time and again thinking “they’d never say that to a male colleague“, and counting how many women are in executive positions at companies I work with. I have used to humor to deflect the inevitable questions that come from male counterparts about who is taking care of my son when I’m traveling for work. I mean, really? I’ve never asked a man who is home with his kids when he’s traveling. And continued to speak up for strategies I believe in, vs. agreeing with the most senior man in the room.
Alas, I am sadly not hopeful of things changing in the next decade. It seems that the country simply is not ready to handover the reins to a woman. I do however, believe that those of us who are parents, or working and interacting with children, can make a real difference to the future.
My son has sworn that he will be a different kind of boss— should he become one—and that he thinks most of the girls in his grade are smarter than him (who knows?). In the meantime, I will continue to raise him to treat everyone equally regardless of sex, and to fight for what is right. We have to nurture and invest in the next generation to effect real change. It is our only hope.