In Which My Feminist Card Is Revoked

A friend sent me an article last week that said women undermine themselves by using the word “just” — that it is a “permission word” and makes one look weak. Hoo, boy.

This is one in a long series of “empowering” things women have been told to start or stop doing. Stop saying sorry. Don’t use qualifiers. Don’t ask “does that make sense.” Be sure to shoulder-check men walking toward you, because stepping aside shows weakness and they’re jerks if they don’t move.  But don’t let them open the door for you, because that means they think you’re weak and can’t do it yourself.

Let me get this straight. According to the zeitgeist or whoever is calling the shots out there, I—as a woman—am entitled to wear whatever I want, walk in any violent area I please, and drink myself into a stupor in any situation without any consequences or repercussions whatsoever, but I’m simply Asking For It if I am not hyperconscious about policing my words and actions to be more aggressive and abrasive in the workplace?

Frankly, all this reminds me of the convo I overheard in a ladies room a few years ago, wherein two women were laughing about a third (absent) woman who peed so loudly that it was impossible to converse over. Really? Of all the things I’m screwing up in life, now I have to worry about that, too? Jeezopete.  I’ll be too paralyzed and bewildered to speak or move at all.

I’ve read that women are culturally conditioned to be sympathetic and empathetic, like that’s a bad thing. I’ve read that women in management must worry about being perceived as a bitch or a nag if they tell employees what to do.  I’ve read that women can’t get into management because men don’t listen to them and steal their ideas.

Well, I know women make it into management.  Maybe not enough, but they are there. Every job I ever had, there was at least one woman in position as publisher, executive editor, vice president, board member. Women are CEOs, politicians, doctors, you name it. A woman is front-runner for president.

I really don’t think it’s possible that all these women got where they are because they lucked out and didn’t get their ideas stolen or because they all made conscious decisions to Stop Apologizing. I know for a fact that the women I knew in management were not considered bitches or nags because they expected people to do their jobs.

Now, they might have been considered bitches or nags because they were—surprise!—bitchy or naggy.  The same way a man would be called a dick if he pulls a dick move. There’s a difference between the woman who calls you into her office and tells you, “Look. You’re not stupid. Don’t do stupid shit, and you’ll be fine,”   and the woman who stomps out into the middle of the office and screeches at top volume, “I can’t believe this happened! WHO DID THIS?”  and stands there tapping her foot waiting for someone to step up (when nobody else even knows what “this” might be.) What would you call the person who took the latter approach?  There’s a difference between the man who takes you aside and tells you “you really fucked up,” and the guy who kicks a chair across the room demanding to know “who let this happen” (because, you know, we all LET mistakes happen.)

I have been witness to all four of those scenarios.  Guess who I thought the bitch and the dick were. Here’s a hint: It wasn’t the ones who swore. Language was not the problem.

And I think that’s really the issue, here. Language isn’t women’s problem, either. Behavior is.

Look, if you have a boss who steals your ideas, or who appears not to listen and then hijacks your comments, the problem is not that your boss is a misogynist or a woman who keeps other women down. The problem is that your boss is a jerk, gender-neutral.

And if your boss steals your idea more than once?  SORRY, but your problem is not that you’re a woman, it’s that you’re a doormat, gender-neutral. JUST to let you know, changing your vocabulary won’t fix that.

Deeds, not words. Someone who steals your idea isn’t going to care if you started that idea with “sorry” or qualified it with “just.” Working the problem is what solves the problem.

If you have ideas worth stealing, you’re obviously not stupid. Use that brain power to your advantage. Don’t do stupid shit, and you’ll be fine. Keep those ideas to yourself until you figure out how to get credit for them. Confront your boss. Confront his or her boss. Find another chain of command to advance your ideas. Go to HR. Find a new job. Start your own business.

Ever heard the phrase “talk is cheap?” That’s because it is. Being hyperconscious about trying to talk like a badass will not make you a badass. If  a badass is what you really want to be, then work on actually BEING a badass, and you will naturally talk like one. Amelia Earhart learned to fly.  Hatshepsut grabbed that crown for her own.

But why do we all have to be aggressive badasses?  I suspect Mother Teresa spent great gobs of her time saying she was sorry. Does that diminish her work? (Although now she’s being demonized for being canonized, so maybe that’s a poor example.)  Katherine Hepburn probably never yelled at anyone for opening a door for her, does that make her a sellout? How about we all start trying a little harder to operate in a way that benefits everyone?

I just don’t buy the idea that women need to “be more like men” to make it in business. Bashing into someone in the hallway because he didn’t move first doesn’t make you management material. And despite the fact that we seem to be training men to act more like women, I think that’s an equally poor choice.  I tend to agree with Almina Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon: “In the dark ages, which are not very far behind us, we used to be call the weaker sex … we are neither inferior nor superior, but only very different, and I am convinced that we shall do most good to our country and her cause if instead of imitating men we endeavour to widen and perhaps enrich the spirit of public life by simply being ourselves.”

There’s nothing wrong with saying “sorry” if you truly regret having to upset people by telling them to improve their performance.

There’s nothing wrong with saying “just” if you are merely conveying information or imparting a warning.

If the person you’re talking to has a inch-thick glaze on both eyes, PLEASE ask them “does that make sense,” —and maybe ask them to say everything back to you—because heaven knows what result you’re likely to get otherwise.

There’s nothing wrong with letting a man hold the door if your hands are full or he happened to get to the door first, and there’s nothing wrong with stepping aside and saving yourself a bruise if the guy coming toward you is more intent on his phone screen than the traffic in front of him. If he’s looking right at you and doesn’t move — again, he’s a jerk, and probably not just to women. That’s when you be a badass, chuckle, and warn him, “I’ll turn sideways if you do!”

But one can’t really control jerks, much as one might wish to; one can only control one’s self. So how about we all try being a little more human? That might even solve problems beyond one’s own personal advancement.


About arwenbicknell

Editor by day, author by night.
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