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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's not men keeping women back in the workforce

When women speak up in the workplace, they are viewed in a negative light, that is, when they're not interrupted by men first, according to a new piece in the New York Times. Women who contribute new ideas and expand upon business management information are viewed as aggressive and suspicious, whereas men doing the same thing are considered driven and 'take charge'.

Women are considered incompetent until they prove otherwise, which they do by working 2.5 times as hard as men, while men are considered competent until proven otherwise. This is the way of the world, and more and more studies on leadership and business are backing it up.

I posted this piece on my Facebook the other day, and immediately a nice guy (a real nice guy, not a Nice Guy) I went to high school with started hemming and hawwing about semantics and scientific methods and research. All in the name of 'finding the root of the problem.'

That root, for so long, has been considered to be a problem with women themselves. They're not as committed as men. They're forced to make life choices that don't suit the business world (have a family), they can't be as available as men, etc. Or, sometimes, it's blamed on the system. The glass ceiling, the relatively new phenomenon of women in management needing to rid itself of the training wheels, certain overtly sexist individuals throwing up barriers to woman success, and etc.

In each of these scenarios, there is an implication that it is mostly men who are concerned with holding women back, whether consciously or not. That we are on one team, and men are on the other. That men can support us or not, but that all women wish for and are fighting for the right to be viewed as just as competent as men in their field, should they deserve it.

Because of this misconception, we get men from all walks of life rallying up in defense of their kind, either partaking in one of the two scenarios above: ("if you look at it on an individual level, there are hundreds, nay, thousands of women, who can't commit to the job, who choose to raise families in lieu of their careers; this is not men's faults!") or ("I fight for women in my work place! I know their value and try to help whenever I can. These messages are no longer valid. So many men have come around! We're fighting with you! Stop stabbing us in the back!")

My friend summed it up nicely with his comment on the article

: "What struck me is how often the phrase "...and women" comes up. It seems men and women alike are guilty of the same thing. I wonder if there's any industry where this is less of a problem? I doubt there's any place it isn't... But why is this becoming 'worse' of a problem? Is it a particular generation of manager that is the problem? Is this a problem in other similar countries? IE: is it just America?"

Here's the thing that nearly everyone forgets: Women can be and often are guilty of sexism and misogyny. Because they hate other women? No. Just like most men don't engage in sexism because they hate women.

Feminism is frequently attacked because men feel defensive, as if by wanting equal rights, we are somehow implying that they personally are stopping that from happening. Women will defend men who feel this way, too, and the whole thing goes off the rails because suddenly we're not even talking about feminism. We're talking about a section of society getting their feelings hurt over something they're not guilty of, over something feminists never said they were guilty of.

So if it's not men, and it's not women, and it's not the newness of the system, then, my friend rightly wonders, what the heck is it? Why do both women and men view an ambitious, talkative, creative woman as a threat, where they view the same kind of man as a boon to their organization?

This intensely interesting piece, which shines light on the change of treatment due to gender in transgender people, shows clearly that throughout life, throughout careers, throughout industries, this different framing thrives. Men are simply treated better. By everyone.


Because we are not fighting the conscious thoughts and desires of men determined to keep women off their turf. Those days are gone, and most feminists know that. We don't need to defend the fact that "not all men" treat women as less-than in the workforce.

We are fighting a finely tuned and deeply ingrained notion of gender roles and gender traits in society. We are up against an institutionalized problem of unconscious or subconscious ideas about what women should be and what women are. We have ingested since birth the tenets that women are more scatterbrained than men, that they don't have forward-thinking ideas, that they are catty and vindictive, that they simply don't do the same caliber work.

No one thinks this. I know you don't think this.

It doesn't matter. You've eaten the pie. You had no choice. I had no choice.

It's not us against them. It's not women versus men. It's not men holding women back in the work place. It's not women holding themselves back. It's not managers holding them back.

It is the patriarchy. And the patriarchy, I repeat, is not men. It's not you. The patriarchy is the basest organizational structure our society and cultural has depended on for centuries that has etched a pattern in our brains as to how things should be, so powerful that our conscious and acute efforts to counteract that pattern only skim the surface.

Women are held back in the work place because we haven't yet broken out of the mental pattern that tells us that's how it should be. Writings like this aren't meant as complaints, or whining, or to pit one gender against another, or blame any one sect of people for our problems. Writings like this are meant to shift the conversation from the surface of the issue to the deeply ingrained underbelly where the problem really sits. It's a call to action, not because we are guilty of sexism, but because we have control over how this dialogue continues, and we can work together, men and women, managers and employees, to make it better over the generations.

It's not our fault we are where we are, but it is our duty to do better.

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