Thursday, September 22, 2016

Speaking as a Woman

Recently a male colleague became quite animated and raised his voice in a discussion...and he was thanked for his "passion" on the topic by our male peers.

A few weeks later, in a meeting, I was stressing a voice was not raised, but after being talked over by two of the men I work with, I held my ground and there was no doubt that I was serious.  And, rather than being thanked for my concerns, I was told to "calm down, calm down," by one of my male peers. He meant no harm, he is a great guy. But, he did not realize he was treating me differently than our male colleague had been treated.

Of course I have experience with this reaction, as I have had an identical situation with every management team meeting, board meeting, and family dinner with my brothers for over 60 years.

Let's face it, it is just not the same for women.  When we become animated, men do not hear "passion" they hear "reprimand."  So, as women, we must try at all times to keep our emotions and voice in check; limit our hand gestures; don't sound "shrill." Be careful about how you phrase your arguments.  As my mother would say, "Don't scare the boys."

So, I adapted.

And, therefore, like Hillary Clinton, I too can be perceived as cold. I have been accused of not having any feelings. I have been accused of callousness and horrible motivations because I have to control my emotions with such vigilance.

The truth is that it is exhausting to be so constrained when my male counter-parts never have to consider such things. If you are a female it makes your workday so much more taxing when you cannot "come out" as women in the workplace, but instead must keep these boundaries in mind in every conversation or be subjected to the "tsk-tsk" of judgment about your reflexive responses, when men are praised for their commitment.

I have controlled my emotions for so long that appropriate displays of emotion, those others expect and accept in themselves, have become moments of fear and humiliation for me.  I am always worried that if I show any feelings I will be perceived as weak, puny, unreliable, girly, lacking in gravitas.

The suppression has fulfilled the prophesy.  I struggle to access when I do, you best believe it is serious...that I am serious.  I am not indulging something trivial when I am adamant and animated; no, I am massively moved. And that alone, given my level of experience, should be reason to stop and listen. But, I know that I will have to lower my voice, speak slowly, wait for the men to stop speaking and sometimes wait for one of them to repeat my idea before it will be heard.  I know I cannot speak loudly, I cannot use energy and conviction, I cannot show my hand.  I cannot scare the boys.

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