As the conversation about equality in the workplace continues to unfold, I’ve been particularly interested in the examples of behavior that’s deemed acceptable (or praiseworthy) in men but not in women. What’s curious to me isn’t just that this is happening. It’s that often women, as well as men, are perpetuating this.
I was blind to this for a long time—probably because I didn’t want to believe it. When one of my grandparents was relieved upon hearing that mostly men worked at my first job after college, I was inwardly dismissive. It was 1996. Women were now supportive of each other, weren’t they? They weren’t the backstabbing and catty caricatures I’d seen in 1940s movies, were they?
Recently, as I reflected on my twenty years in the workforce, I realized that not all my female coworkers had been helpful or fair to other women. I remembered example after example of women applying a double standard when reviewing the performance of other women. While male coworkers were applauded for their conviction, passion and dedication in stating their opinions—especially in the face of opposing viewpoints—these women complained that their female coworkers who did the same things as the men were defensive, emotional and inflexible.
Men were allowed to disagree and stir up debate. Women were not.
Perhaps because there’s still an unwritten rule that women are still expected to be compliant and accommodating, pleasing and amiable. Even Gen X girls grew up learning that rule to some extent. Many of us continue to follow it and perpetuate it. We think we have to be the nurturers and the caretakers women have always been—above all else.
There’s nothing wrong with being nurturing and caring, of course. But shouldn’t we allow ourselves and each other to be more than that (and, by the way, encourage men to share in the responsibilities of caring and nurturing)?
Shouldn’t the freedom to speak one’s mind without fear of reproach, be extended to both genders?
We should all be in this together, right?
I certainly hope so. And I believe that continuing to discuss the subtle ways gender inequality still exists brings us one major step closer to living in that kind of world.
P.S. You probably know what the title of this blog is riffing off of, but if you don’t, go here.
Opinions shared here are my own. They should not be seen as a representation of my employer's views.