I work in a largely male dominated field. As a working professional in the construction industry I cross paths with a lot of male contractors. Plumbers, electricians, tilers, painters, you name it...all male. Most of the time I have a pleasant working relationship with them and only a fraction of the time do I encounter someone that I perceive to be condescending me or making assumptions about my knowledge or experience based on my gender.
I have always known there to be a double standard as far as communication styles go between men and women but for the longest time I had a hard time putting my finger on exactly what that double standard was.
What I’ve determined has left me with a lot to think about. Now that I know what the most common double standard I experience is, how do I take steps to change it or to have an impact on my daughter not having to be the same way? This is the most common source of workplace sexism I experience: I am never able to simply be a messenger of information whether it’s good or bad. No matter who I’m talking to...clients, employees, subcontractors, regardless if it’s news I know they don’t want to hear or they do….I’d better do it in the sweetest voice I can conjure or the person on the other end of the line is going to get defensive.
Men as I’ve observed and admired, are able to simply state the facts or the situation without having to put on an inflection of any kind to ‘soften’ the information being presented. Yes, I realize this is perhaps a generalization but get over it. Many of my mentors and influencers career wise are men and one thing is consistent, they say what they want, state the facts and make demands when necessary and that’s the end of it. I’ve never heard any of them called ‘rude’ or a ‘bitch’ as a result. On the other hand, I have.
I always have to make sure I’m not only being polite, but friendly and sweet, lest I be called ‘rude’ because I didn’t make small talk or chat about nonsense before I jump into doing my job. Every fibre of my being resents this. The oddest part is, it’s not even men who have called me out.
My husband has, as many do, the gender equivalent of white privilege. He can’t understand why if something isn’t right, I don’t just call and explain what I’m unhappy about, say my peace, no frills and fight for what’s right. Seems so easy right? For women, largely, it isn’t. I often have to take a very long period of time to think before having any type of conversation, especially what may be a tense one so that I am sure to be over it enough to not come across as ‘bitchy’. A word that if I never hear again will be too soon. Men are never at risk of this. They can get on the horn immediately when something is amiss and deal with it as forcefully and bluntly as is necessary and I love it. I overhear conversations on occasion and I’m so jealous of how completely confident the men in my life are when discussing something that isn’t working. It’s the tone of a person who has never had to worry about being shamed for having a strong opinion and sticking to it.
I want this for my daughter. I want her to grow up in a society that never judges her strength or opinions or her ability to call someone out on their bullshit as ‘bitchy’. I wish for it to be seen as nothing more than how it would be seen if it came from a man. I don’t want her to stifle her passion or her sense of justice because someone might feel threatened. I don’t want her to have to be ‘sweet’.
Can we please all wish for the same thing?? Let’s make this happen!
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