#MeToo: Advice to 20 Somethings on Sexism
Today. I am 29.
The last year of my 20s. I keep wondering what would I wish I would have known during the beginning of this decade? A decade of exploration and naivety? The decade in which I finished a graduate degree, worked at a startup, then start and grow my own company with no capital and all hard work.
Recently, I sat on a panel discussing my industry and something stuck with me. Walking to the event, I felt nothing but nerves. I tried to clear my mind but was disrupted by catcalls at 8am from construction workers. When I arrived, I was the only women on the panel. In the crowd a very powerful man in Detroit began asking specific questions about features he should have in his work spaces, what he could take from mine. This happens all the time but the boldness of it bothered me that morning. This man never remembers from meetings, but always remembers my male partner. In the last meeting, it ended with a: “What do you do again?” and a “Give me a hug sweetie.” (I am the CEO and Co-founder, not the secretary or assistant or sweetie hug giver).
After, the panel I called him out for what his questions were. He seemed to see me for a moment. Until a beautiful blonde woman said hello to me, and all focus dissipated. I felt better that at least I was bold, at least I saw it clearly now.
What stuck with me was anger, anger at myself. Why was I quiet and smiling in past meetings? Why was I not surprised that no matter how long I do the work of entrepreneurship, I may not be taken seriously by some people? I started writing this article prior to the #MeToo posts, which focus more on sexual harassment and assault, but I believe the foundation, the normalization of sexism and objectification, is what often leads down a more dangerous route.
So 20 somethings with bold ideas and filled with blind naivety like myself: Just expect it. I’m not sure I know how to deal with it yet but I certainly learned to expect the following:
1. People won’t take you seriously in business because you are a women. Those who pretend to support you will tell others you just want to run a “nonprofit” and aren’t capable of “building a business”. Despite that your resume shows you have the most startup experience. Despite that you will take over and grow a business and quadrupal revenue in the following year. Despite any facts. They will still cover their tracks with disbelief that you are capable of doing business well. You have to out perform. You have to ignore. I also prefer not do business with those who don’t believe in me or my work.
2. Men won’t remember you at meetings they invite you to. They will ignore what you say at the table. You will have to repeat yourself. You will get used to repeating yourself a lot. You might say exactly the same sentence as a male counterpart. He will be heard and respected, and you will be ignored. He will not realize it in the moment, but you will. You will not be recognized for your ideas and contributions. He will.
3. Men will walk into your place of business and doubt your ownership. One day a man will come in unannounced for a sales call, asking who the decision maker is. When you kindly respond that you are, and ask why they are here at your office? They will ask you again: Who is the decision maker here? You will repeat yourself again. Like I said, you will get used to repeating yourself again.
4. When you win awards and news features, you will get emails and comments asking if you're single. My boyfriend won a local honor, and told me it opened so many doors and meetings for him. I remember receiving the same local honor earlier this year. I received many emails and comments, asking if I was single or available, inside the emails complimenting my work. It was not the same experience. It was not the same recognition at all.
5. Men who state frequently they are feminists, are sometimes the overcompensating sexists. There was one man I did business with who would often state: I’m a feminist. He would then go on to spread rumors, to debase me as a woman who didn’t know anything about business. He would take credit for my work and continue to take what he could anywhere. He would overly compensate for his sexism and distrust of women with the phrase: I’m a feminist. I’m a big feminist. He said it all the time. Just remember that actions speak louder than words. A real male feminist doesn’t need to you remind you all the time that he cares. He will show it.
6. Men who support you will be often be blindly unaware of sexism, at first. Even the ones who love you. They won’t realize what’s happening. They don’t have to experience it themselves. My boyfriend in particular is always surprised. His response is to always immediately shrug it off.
Until last week in the car after the anger that stuck with me from that day. I told him: No. I’m not ignoring it this time. I just want you to listen. That’s all.
We want you to listen. We want to be heard. Not told to ignore it again and again and again. Do you know how much energy it takes to ignore others who are ignoring you? Listening is the first step to learning, to taking the right action to stop this behavior around you.
I do know that to some degree that my boyfriend is right. That to overcome sexism you might face on a daily, weekly, or however often.... you just have to keep going forward. It’s easier to ignore it, until it’s just not easier anymore.
I hope my thirties are filled with more awareness and strength to just keep going.