I always hated my other half for criticizing my feminist views such as getting more women seated at the table. For instance, he argued that it makes no sense getting more women seats based on gender alone. One should be getting a seat only because they are capable and equipped for the job. Moreover, he judged my defensiveness toward him. He felt I was wrongfully accusing him of not backing me and all of the women in the world for giving us a fair chance. I got really angry and frustrated and started questioning if I really liked this guy who is soon to be my baby’s daddy. – before you start questioning our relationship, read on, it’s called a build-up to a story with a turn of events, in case you are a millennial scan reader with a short attention span.
I strongly believed that for women to get better chances and to be heard, the first order of business would be to actually be able to be heard. Meaning: we need to be given more opportunities; equal opportunities. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in my head I somehow made it the responsibility of men to give us a voice. Like they were the ones getting in our way and failing us. But men aren’t failing us (most of the time, only when not picking up on obvious hints). My partner is not failing me. It is mostly me who is failing. We are failing our generation of women. And it is not really our fault.
Before I dive into how we are getting that seat at the table, let me show you a typical example of letting my emotions cloud my judgment. It is some time after dinner and I’ve started scrolling through my Facebook timeline. A video auto-plays titled: ‘LADIES, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS GUY?!’ and it instantly ignites my recently refueled feminist battle heart. #metoo – the war is on! Completely biased I unlock the audio button and start to listen in on this interview between a calm and confident researcher guy I don’t know and an interview lady who quickly turns out to be just as biased as I am and is visibly ready for a fight of words. The discussion regarded the wage gap between women and men. Now, I won’t put all of the details in here, but in short, he stated that we – women – are the main reason for the existing gap, we are not capable and equipped and it does have everything to do with our gender.
I’ll quickly pause here – I’m sure you can imagine our interviewer’s face catching fire, ears spewing hot steam, fists tightening. To be honest, I caught myself looking at the screen eyes wide, jaw-dropping, not believing what I’ve just heard. And this, dear readers, this is where 21st-century ‘news’ on social media channels has such a dangerous way a fooling us. Because we just get that 20-second excerpt of a guy calling us women unfit and incompetent. What we don’t get is context. Because if we did, we would learn 1) he is right, and 2) he is providing us the correct framework for understanding the problem and therefore he is well on his way of providing a solution.
Alright. One more story before I really take off. Hang in there millennial, nearly there, don’t scroll down yet. And please promise me you will not hate me just because I’m calling out on our weakest generational behavioral trait that is: getting what we want now. A quick fix. This situation and subject is not a quick fix kinda thang.
Let’s picture a table in a room somewhere. Seated at the table are men. They all look very knowledgeable (as far as that is something visible, but just go with it) and serious. Now picture me, a 28-year-old ambitious woman wanting a seat at that table. I’ve got enough knowledge and experience to be in my rightful place at that table. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am and feel confident. However, I will still patiently wait for a seat to be given to me. And once that seat opens up and I am invited, I will hesitate, doubt and make sure I am not taking the seat instead of someone else more knowledgeable than me. And when I finally sit down I wait for my turn to speak. When I do get to speak my words are chosen carefully as to please my audience and not to offend. And when someone questions my arguments I take a step back and reconsider. When I’m invited to speak again I now sometimes decline when I’m not feeling totally confident, avoiding another possible attack on my opinion or unnecessary arguments. And when there is a knock on the door and a fine looking tall gentlemen with a serious facial expression walks in and demands a seat at the table, I stand up and politely offer him my seat.
Not getting that seat or giving up my seat has nothing to do with the men at that table (what I always assumed) and has everything to do with the fact that I am a woman (what I painfully denied). Because there is not a single man at that table who minds me or any other woman to join them at the table by a form of principle – assuming we are indeed past an age of men feeling superior to women. They are not unwilling. What they do fear, however, is losing their own seat. And so they are protective of it, by all means, if necessary.
Now, one of the stronger traits men possess is self-confidence, not taking things too personal or at least not minding too much of the fact that other men don’t like them. Especially when they have an agenda or specific goal in mind. I, on the other hand, as a woman, do take stuff personally. Which in a positive light enables empathy and a nurturing role but also make me more prone to wanting to ‘solve’ the bottleneck rather than pursuing my own agenda. I will get that stinger out. And to quickly resolve that situation is to identify me as the stinger and get me out of the situation.
I am very aware of the fact that I am generalizing here, and while that feels wrong it is exactly what you should do. For the simple fact that there is no denying biology and history as culprits here. Women have come a long way in a very short amount of time in terms of getting a voice and a seat at the table. But women’s suffrage dates back only a century ago, just over 100 years. We are blessed to live in an age where governments and corporates are voluntarily and forcibly doing their part in creating space and opportunities for women. But in truth – and this is going to sound awful – us women have been gaining headway more quickly than women ánd men can handle.
Men have been fighting for seats and maintaining seats for centuries. They have led army’s, corporations, businesses for more than 1000 years. Sure there are exceptions, great women who went down in history for being on the front lines and men not suited for the job. But lets for a moment focus on the traits needed for such a role. Unlike caring for children, scheduling the many family activities, keeping a clean house, entertaining guests and supporting the other half in his endeavors, women have not been trained nor naturally evolved to the same male command and control traits. When talking with women who worked their way up and have taken up a seat, these biological differences are exactly why women tend to stop trying or drop out eventually. Vice versa men have dealt with men for centuries and are used to other men actively branding themselves, letting others know their strengths and accomplishments and fighting for seats. Put a woman in a room where men had a male way of dealing with stuff for centuries and you get communication errors.
That doesn’t, however, solve my initial argument with my partner. Understanding the fundamental origin of our challenge doesn’t provide a quick and easy answer on how to solve or change this imbalance and misunderstanding. Do women really need to take on a ‘male-attitude’ to be able to land a seat or thrive in such a job? Doesn’t that make us lose any traits that are beneficiary and complementary to the male approach? In that light, isn’t it fair to say that women do need to be given a seat at the table based on gender alone, in order to maintain these traits and put them to good use? But how fair would that be to competent and experienced men who are denied a seat simply because they were not born with a vulva? Which by the way is the official and correct word for what we somehow have started calling a vagina. Wait, I’m sorry, that’s a discussion for another time and place.
Let me end with this: We know what makes us different and unique. That makes us gifted in many ways and enables us to do great things. But how can we be great together?