I know, I know. I should have kept scrolling. But really…how can you NOT comment when someone you know posts favorably on facebook about a doctor who discusses demon dreams and alien DNA within the scope of her medical practice? At some point in our tempestuous exchange she remarked, “You were always a kind person but now you’re not being so kind.”
This statement is on par with telling a woman she would look prettier if she smiled. My keyboard sparring partner was trying to do the same thing that men (and many women) do that stop women from claiming what they’ve earned, or standing up for themselves, or stating their opinions. Lobbing put-downs such as ‘unkind’ or ‘unpleasant’ or ‘shrill’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘bitchy’ is code for “you are here to make me comfortable, but now you’re making me uncomfortable”. It’s how women are told (in not so many words) to not ask for that raise or promotion, or not to speak up during an important meeting. It’s a way to make women doubt themselves, and ultimately change themselves to fit with the expectations of others. In my case, this other person expected me to question myself. “Wait…am I being unkind? I should fix that.” Too bad for her that I have been calling out and brushing off this kind of gaslighting for the past 30 years. I am not writing this post for me. I’m writing this for women who have been taught, since a very early age, to prioritize pleasantness over self-expression; to demure instead of speaking up.
In the past 10 years there have been numerous studies, polls, white papers, articles, and round-tables discussing the impact of keeping women in their ‘feminine lane’, mostly written and generated by corporate leaders and sociologists. Celebrities have also weighed in with their personal experiences. In 2015, actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay where she states, “All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive. I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likable! F– that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard.” Here is the entire essay, if you’re interested.
Now, I must apologize for this next part. I wish I were addressing the people who do this to others, but it’s not likely they’re seeking out this kind of information. What can women do to stop this from happening to them? A few things. 1) Find an ally at work. Team up with other employees who experience this. Stick up for each other in meetings and call out bad behavior when it happens. 2) Find your voice at a pace (and volume) that works for you. At home, practice how you would want to respond in those past situations. When they do happen again, remain calm and professional (which requires home practice). Practice, rinse, repeat. Why is this important? Because again, I’ve been dealing with crap like this for 30 years. The person doing this to you now will not be the last. The sooner you learn to shut it down, the better. But you know what? You got this.