There are times when issues are swirling around me, leaving me disquieted, confused, and I can’t quite put my finger on the source. I find myself tucking words, sentences and articles in the Notes function of my phone, hoping it will all make sense at some point.
But, some things don’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense that women are using their voices to out their abusers, marching in solidarity, hash tagging our support and love, and then finding ways to also hate or shame one another. I revel in all of this stripping away of silence, adore the cultural move from one of shame to one of insolence and action. I hoped it would bring us closer to one another, but was smacked by the reminder we don’t all feel the same. This week I have been, over and over again, reminded of how far we have to go.
I walked into a meeting and another powerful woman refused to look at me when I spoke. Over the course of the following four hours we spent in one another’s company she refused to acknowledge me, and then belittled me to another when I was in earshot.
I introduced myself to a woman who then gave me the once over, head to toe and back up again, shaming me for wearing a dress that shows, God forbid, I have a body. A body that was fully covered, neck to knee. I felt my shoulders collapse into one another, becoming insecure. My only sin was that I had a dress altered to fit me.
Another woman called me a curse word because she didn’t like the way I showed up in conversation.
My daughter’s step mom showed me a group text in which she was completely obliterated by a long-term friend, called unfortunate descriptors, and reminded that everyone has had a baby so she’s not that special.
None of this makes sense and for a very good reason. It is much harder to unravel cultural and social bias than it is to play along, continuing the story that sits within our bones. This is about power and the unconscious bias against women, and more specifically, powerful women. We hate women. All of us. Even those of us who believe we are die-hard feminists. We have been programmed to compete with one another for jobs, men and security and, my loves, we have to get this part right. It is easy to say you want women to succeed, but then hate the woman next to you who is vying for the same job, man or social status. It is a static within us, deeply enmeshed into the folklore of our lives. It’s time to untangle ourselves from it.
Another very large issue that has come to light is the way women choose to dress with all these claims of sexual harassment and abuse. Both men and women have asked, “If she doesn’t want to be harassed, why is she trying to be seen?”
First, and most importantly, we all want to be seen. But, what does “seen” mean to each of us in a world rife with competition? Competition led by cultural and social belief systems and served up in a neat (and devastatingly cutting) advertising bow. This hits very close to home for me and I have remained quiet while I’ve tried to wrap my head around my thoughts.
Growing up I was taught that my body was shameful. That it made men do things. So I hid it. I am a curvy woman and have been since I was sixteen. I have worn extremely loose clothes to make sure I didn’t bring about unwanted attention. As I got older and wanted a partner, I was told that I had to look sexier, wear more makeup, never let my roots show, flaunt those curves so they knew what was under those “rags.” I found a way to hint at a body, while still remaining covered up. Then I began to rise up the ranks of Corporate America. I learned that the men at the table have their own opinions of women in the room. If you are too sexy they don’t take you seriously. If you are simply attractive they don’t take you seriously. If you are anything other than a big old bookish nerd covered from head to toe, they don’t take you seriously. Then you are just brainy, but, girl, you will never get a man, you need to try harder.
What man has ever walked around with such bullshit in his head about who he has to be and how he shows up in every aspect of his life?
Dear Men, here is a little known secret: Women have to figure out who we are going to be for you every single day.
We have been told that we have to figure out how to dress so as not to get raped, sexually harassed or be considered “dumb” and unworthy of your attention. But, we also have to figure out how to be beautiful to get or keep our partner’s attention, feel confident and seen. But, not be too seen, because then we are “extra.” We’ve been told that if we don’t keep up the maintenance there is another woman in the wings waiting to take our place. We have to figure out how to express our opinions without being considered bitchy. We have to figure out how to be heard without coming across as arrogant, full of ourselves or bossy.
Men can be assertive and aggressive, bless.
Women have to be chameleons to survive.
Unraveling patriarchal and unconscious bias will not happen easily. It was created by men, but ladies we are complicit in its toxicity. It will require us to be more aware of our internal talk as we find ourselves put off by one another. It will require self awareness of not only how we view other women, but how we raise our daughters to believe they have to show up for men and for one another. Big idea? Let’s start by refusing to call one another “bitch” and talking to our girls about their power, healthy friendships and their voices.
I will not be a mean girl. I will not raise a mean girl. Say it with me.
We have so much work to do, but I have such hope. I see the glimmers of change, the conversation shifting. I just ask that we don’t let it end in the headlines and instead do the internal work to unwind the patriarchal belief that we are in competition with one another.
This woman is tired.