Female Brave, Not Female Blind
Women and men must be full and equal participants in the world, sharing its power, privileges and responsibilities. That means they need to occupy the same workplaces. And that means sex will come into the workplace. But it does not, and cannot, mean that women must allow themselves to be either attacked or neutered as the price of participation.
When we started working, the expectation was that we would blend into, not disrupt, the male culture. We were expected to wear female versions of men’s suits, keep our heads down, get coffee, do superb work behind the scenes, and let our male superiors take the credit.
As we all began to come out as women, we started to behave differently. We exchanged suits that camouflaged our sex for clothes revealing us as women. We weren’t asking for anything based on our sex; we were demonstrating that women could be excellent professionals and still be women. We never wanted to be evaluated differently than men. We just didn't want to be devalued just because we were women. As Notorious RBG put it: we just wanted men to take their feet off our necks.
We developed strategies to compete and to be acknowledged for our contributions. We used our female sensibilities and perspectives to add value. We were not always linear in our thinking, sometimes noticing things that men missed, or reading a room differently. Our perspectives were not better, just often different. And over time we were accepted as equal, and different.
So, where are we now? If we want to continue to be full and equal participants in the workplace, we need to accept that sometimes we will be subjected to unwanted overtures. The current debate about where the lines should be drawn, especially when a power imbalance exists, is important. So too is ensuring that everyone is empowered to say “no.” But the risk--indeed, the likelihood--that unwanted behavior will occur should not make us retreat from being women at work. And equally should not make men feel that they are either entitled to anything or that they have to treat us with kid gloves. The workplace is pretty rough and tumble. That's why we wear neon suits and high heeled shoes. To show we can take it.
We want to be there, and we want to be there as women. As Mellody Hobson might put it, we want the workplace to be female brave, not female blind.