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Posts Tagged ‘emotion

Response #3: “It’s an interesting choice.”

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This is a response not directly to but rather inspired by both Kate and Erika. Kate reminded me how much I’ve missed childhood lately, and Erika talked about her run-in with Oscar de la Renta complete with this gem of a quotation: “Never in history has there been a time when a woman has as much control over her destiny as she does today.” Thanks to their posts the wheels in my head went round and round, and now I have something to say on a topic not nearly discussed enough: women in the workplace.

Over Thanksgiving break I asked my mother to tell me stories of my childhood days. She retold what is arguably her favorite, likely because it speaks to my personality today. I was three and my mother had just been informed by the head nun at my Catholic preschool that I’d not be able to return due to behavioral issues. What was my cardinal sin? “Well, Mrs. Young, Tara had not eaten her lunch during the designated time because she was talking. When it came time to clean up and go to recess, we tried to throw out her lunch, and she responded by screaming, crying, and refusing to leave the table until she had finished eating.” Within a minute’s time my mother learned a) her only daughter could not go without a meal, and b) she was a loudmouth brat. Needless to say, Momma was mortified.

If I had the chance to go back and do it over again, I would change one thing. I’d have scrawled “FOOD” with a bright red crayon on the back of a paper plate, then stood on top of the lunch table, holding my sign high for all to see. I may have really gotten the boot then, but at least Norma Rae would have been proud.

I stand by my protest not because I’m hungry at present (I am) nor because I think an unjustified tantrum is how to win the day (I do). I stand by it because a fan of double standards I am not. Had I been a boy acting in such a fashion, I’m positive the nuns would have written it off as “boys will be boys” syndrome. But because I was a girl, my behavior was an issue, and it needed to be dealt with.

Fast forward two decades, and I find echoes of this behavioral double standard in the workplace. In my experience, albeit limited, a woman who goes against the grain is more often than not seen as a troublemaker, as emotional, as an issue. A man who fights this same battle is seen as someone with a valid concern. A woman who goes with the flow is not seen at all. Today women have more high-paying jobs and management positions than ever before. Yet at the same time, the roles of secretary and administrative assistant are still the most prevalent occupations for women. Puzzling, no? Perhaps it is because these positions allow for more time to be spent at home with the family (reasonable answer). Or perhaps it is because in these roles women find the most positive reinforcement, validation, and support in the workplace (uncomfortable answer).

In my opinion, and I’m sure to offend someone with this, women in the workplace fall into two categories: the secretaries and the ball-busters. Secretaries (a group that includes more than those in secretarial roles) are those women who play nice, defer to their bosses without hesitation, and prefer harmony over getting the job done in the most effective manner. Ball-busters (again, not in the literal sense) speak up at the risk of causing conflict, defer to reason over authority, and care about earning respect for their work vs. their kindness.

In my less than three years in the workplace, it seems I’m still that three-year-old. I stand up for myself, but oftentimes my arguments get mixed with my emotions. I’ve become a hybrid of the two categories, and it’s plain uncomfortable. My thinking tends to be black and white, and I’d rather fit into one category. I give you one guess as to which I prefer. Plus, as it turns out, if I subtract emotion from the equation, I come closer to being seen similarly to the man with a valid concern. But giving up my inner secretary and going full ball-buster is a move I’m not quite prepared for. After all, I was trained by nuns to be a kind-hearted, harmony-seeking lady. And not to use my experience as hard evidence, but I’ve seen grown men throw emotion-laden tantrums in the workplace, get their way, and still be viewed as professional. I repeatedly told my father growing up, and say again now, “If the boys get to do it, then so do I.”

Of course, feminist politics and gender relations in the workplace are much more complicated than my ramblings, and there are numerous categories of working women beyond the two I’ve concocted.

Thus, I’m crowdsourcing your wisdom, because I can’t wrap my brain around this issue. I’ve barely scratched the surface of it, and I know there are people out there who know more and come with better informed opinions than I. Here are the questions I need answered: Why is it that women who command money, power, and respect are regarded as bitchy, robotic, or masculine? Can’t they just be viewed as smart, hard-working people, much like their male counterparts? Isn’t there a way to balance harmony and ambition? Can’t women be emotional and successful?