I am female. For 30 years I worked in a male dominated industry. By most accounts I did okay. Every once in a while someone would ask me “Is it harder being a woman than a man in this industry?” (or words to that effect).
That was a hard question to answer because I have never had the opportunity to be a man in the industry, so I have no real basis of comparison. I could observe others, but never knew if their successes (and my failures) were because of gender bias or because the other person (male) was simply better at what they did than I was. (Sales is a very competitive industry. You win some, you lose some. I did my share of both.)
In my working life, I only had one boss who would actually admit that he would not hire a woman for a specific job at his company. It was a very obvious ceiling to advancement for women. Nothing ‘glass’ about it. It was all rebar & concrete! All the women who wanted that job left his employment. I lasted 5 years there, advancing from file clerk to geophysical data technician and office manager. It was an excellent learning environment, but when I wanted to advance into becoming a data broker (the equivalent of a ‘sales’ position), I was told in no uncertain terms that this was a job for a man. So I watched men, no more (and usually less) qualified than myself, be hired, and then I would be tasked with training them. They also got paid more. Oh the seventies! (We’ve come a long way, baby?)
So I know all about gender bias against women. I get it. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
But one advantage women have is that it is okay for women to want to be ‘more like men’ and can remain ‘women’, whereas the opposite is not necessarily the case.
So let’s talk about ‘gender’. I don’t go around thinking of myself as a specific gender. I am just ‘me’. I wish everyone had that freedom. If I want to wear jeans, I wear jeans. If I want to wear a skirt, I wear a skirt. Do I like the feel of soft silk on my skin? Yes! Can I use a hammer? Yes! Are the two mutually exclusive? No!
I have a friend who has transitioned from being male to female. She now is able to wear all the clothes that females traditionally wear. The expression of who she is to society is tied up in the clothes she wears, the way she styles her hair, the way she walks, the way she talks. But … she is in a relationship with another woman. Before she transitioned she was not gay. She liked being in relationships with women then, and she still likes being in relationships with women now. So what has really changed? What has changed is the way she presents herself to society. Inside, she is still the same ‘person’, but prior to transitioning she didn’t have the freedom to express herself.
In order for women to really advance and become ‘equal’, it is not simply a case of women becoming ‘more like men’. It has to become ‘okay to be a woman’, or in the case of men, to have what are currently considered to be ‘feminine’ traits.
(Personally, I would like to get rid of the definition of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits, and just have everyone have ‘human’ traits.)
A couple of years ago I was at a forum comprised mainly of women. A women I had never met before started complaining to me about her husband. “All he does is take care of the kids and the house,” she said “I need him to go out and get a job.”
I was momentarily speechless. Then I composed myself and said “Imagine if a man said exactly the same thing about his wife.” We talked a bit more, and I pointed out that her husband ‘taking care of the kids’ had freed her from that responsibility and enabled her to devote more time to her business. She was able to attend the forum and advance her business. Maybe by ‘taking care of the kids’ he was contributing in the best way to their mutual success, far more so than he would do if he ‘got a job’.
And that is the other gender bias. Until it is okay for a man to stay home and take care of the kids and the house, women will not be equal.
Until it is okay for a man to like soft fabrics, cry, and show emotion, women will not be equal. (Perhaps the reader can go away and research ‘toxic masculinity’ now.)
We can talk all we want about empowering women, but as long as empowering women means to make them ‘more like men’, women will never be equal.
In life we sometimes form a life partnership with another person. In true partnerships, each person supports the other to be the best that they can be. It is a win/win situation. The best of each is used, and they both benefit. Traditionally women have been the background support – the people who make sure the kids are fed and the clothes get washed and all those other things that have to be done. But what if the woman has a head for business and the man is the support? Does that make him any less of a ‘man’?
Studies have shown that women can succeed in business, if they have the same supports as men. Eliminating the other gender bias means that we have to accept that men are just as capable of doing the things that women have traditionally done. Men can cook. Men can clean. Men are individuals, just as women are, and all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and we need to accept them as individuals in their own right.
Women can succeed in business, if they have the same supports as men. Women will never be equal to men as long as we let that other bias stop men from doing what they’re good at, and what is for the mutual good. Women can achieve equality, but we also need to allow men to achieve the same equality of choice.
We need to get rid of that other gender bias.