The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton happened yesterday. And I’d summarise the debate as an unprepared man interrupting and shouting over a calm and intelligent woman.
But guess what – snap polls indicate that Donald Trump is perceived to have won the face off.
It was painful watching the debate. Not just because I generally have an allergy to stupidity, but also because Donald Trump was the typical sexist man who doesn’t realise how sexist he was. Saying Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the look and stamina to be president? REALLY?
But am I surprised? Not entirely. I have my share of mansplainers and being belittled, which I’m pretty sure it’s because of my gender, and I’ll share some of them with you:
- My first encounter with sexism was in primary school. I was among one of the most high profile students. Besides being among the top students in school, I also was constantly put in leadership positions and won awards for performing arts, public speaking, essay-writing… you name it. I was honestly rather disappointed when I was passed over for the position of head prefect in school. The position was given to a boy. My discipline master told me after: “You were the obvious choice. But I decided to pick a boy who is also tall because a head prefect should be look authoritative.”My lack of height and my gender were what disadvantaged me.Later, the discipline master assigned me to share the responsibilities of the head prefect, which was mainly to lead the entire school in taking the pledge and singing the national anthem during assembly. Of course, I had to do the work without the proper recognition.
- I went with my male subordinate to an event. He was wearing a shirt and dark-coloured jeans, and I was in a work dress. The boss of the coordinating organisers only knew the company we were representing but didn’t know our designations. As they were hosting us, I couldn’t help but notice she focused a lot more attention on him right from the start – addressing him more, asking for his opinion more. And then, she mentioned about how she was looking for someone to fill a position in her company, and was looking for someone with more than five years of work experience in the media space. She asked my subordinate if he’d be keen to consider it. My subordinate laughed and told her: “I don’t have so many years of experience yet. Maybe you should ask my boss,” pointing to me. This was when I knew for sure she assumed he was the boss right from the first moment we met, hence somewhat ignoring me throughout the session. Her face spelt out “oops, what have I done” without actually saying it. For the rest of the event, she focused her attention on me instead of my colleague.It got me wondering – what could have made her make this assumption right from the start? I was pretty sure I was just as well-dressed and carried myself as well as my colleague right. Ah, was it because a man looks more like a boss?
- Speaking of mansplaining, I have a number of experiences but the most vivid one happened very recently – by my ex-boss. I’ve shared this on Facebook before, but I’d love to share it again. With no rhyme or reason, my ex-boss asked me “Are you not interested in politics at all?”This was a totally out-of-the-blue comment. I’ve never once told him I wasn’t interested and if anything, it could only be because I never had the opportunity to share with him my thoughts on politics because he never stopped sharing his own opinions in our conversations, nor interrupting me whenever I shared mine.”Why did you think so? I am interested in politics,” I replied.He then condescendingly asked, “Really? So why are you interested in politics?””I am a political science graduate. I actually studied these stuff,” I replied.
I know it wasn’t the best comeback, because I was fuming by then and couldn’t keep my cool as well as Hillary Clinton did yesterday. And this came out from me because I’m so upset! I literally spent a couple of years in university writing several 5000-word essays analysing political issues. And this man, for no rhyme nor reason, assumed I wasn’t interested in politics. Why? Because I’m wearing lipstick?
- And it’s not even always with people who don’t know me well. Some of you may know that I own a business with my husband. In a recent conversation with a friend, she made this reference: (She was talking about something related to my business and then made this remark) …because you’re sort of the boss also right?”I was honestly offended. “What do you mean by ‘sort of’ the boss. You know I own the business too, right?””I know you own the business but Keith is the boss, and you’re sort of the boss because you’re his wife, right?”It was exasperating. I hate that I had to actually defensively tell her that I own an equal part of the business and has an equal, if not a bigger say, over many parts of the business. And I really hated doing something like this, because I don’t like that I had to validate myself, especially not against my own husband.
By the way, you know how sometimes people call women “lady bosses” or “girl bosses” (while men simply get called “boss”)? I hate these terms. What’s wrong with sticking with just “boss”? These terms make it sound like a woman who’s a boss is an outlier, an anomaly.
- I haven’t been in a job that does actual writing in a while. My previous job is more of a business development role in the field of content. My job mainly involves negotiation with content publishers to form strategic partnerships, and it’s more a business role without any content production element. Even the job I was in five years ago, where I was heading a five-man team, was more of a business role than a content production role.In other words, I’ve been spending a large part of my career devising how to increase revenue or creating other value (e.g. traffic that can be monetised, increasing mindshare, etc.) using content.
While speaking to someone today, I mentioned about a client I worked with in my previous role, and he asked me if my team created the content. When it comes to client work, my team provided advice on the best ways to present the content on our platform, and the direction for editorial. We don’t do any of the content production. So I told him “my role involves more strategy than actual production, actually.” He let out an audible sneer. I caught it. And I didn’t intend to let it go. “What was the laugh about?” I asked.”A lot of people say they work on strategies, but actually their work is not strategic at all.” (Bear in mind that he’s fully aware I’m actually making business decisions at work now.)I explained exactly what I did in my previous job. (I really hate having to validate myself like this.) “Does this sound strategic enough to you?”
I don’t know if he really was happy with my answer and agreed, or was it because I sounded a bit caustic. But he looked like he was convinced.
Having known how he speaks about my husband and how he speaks to him, I am pretty sure if the same words have been said by him, it wouldn’t have triggered the same response. With all due respect to my husband, whom I have very high regards for, it’s really odd to me why I get a different treatment when I am just as qualified as he is.
You can brush me off as a sensitive bitch, because that’s how women are like, right?
If you thought so, this post is actually meant for you, although you may not appreciate it.
I’m not mad at these people. I’m exasperated and disappointed. They’re likely to have made these remarks without realising the stereotypes they have formed in their minds, and I’m sure if I had the chance to talk to them face to face about it, they’re bound to tell me “Oh, I didn’t belittle you because you’re a woman.”
It’s tough to be a woman in a leadership position. Be firm and assertive, and you’re a bitch. But if you listen to what people say and make decisions based on feedback, you’re soft and easily swayed. Throw a fit, and you’re PMS-ing. Stay calm, and you’re a pushover. Have a no-nonsense attitude, and they say you “haven’t had any”. Laugh and smile more, they assume you flirt your way up the ranks.
It’s a tough game to play. And I’m tired of having to verbalise my CV to people all the time.
I don’t have a solution to sexism in the workplace, unfortunately, except to share my stories so hopefully people will become more aware about the issues.
As for women who are facing or have faced similar situations as I did, I’d like to share these with you:
- There are also women who bash other women for their gender. Don’t be one of them. (E.g. “It’s hard for her to work hard now that she has a child.” Do we say that about men??! “Female boss?! Must be very difficult to work with her!” Really? Did you know all wars were started by men?)
- You have to work doubly hard. There’s no way around it. Because when you put in 100%, you’ll probably be seen as merely an equal to a man who has put in 50%. So make sure you put in 200% to stand out without any question.
- Call out sexism. Whenever there’s a chance, speak up. Call it out. Even if they call you a bitch.