April 05, 2006

It's a Woman-Eat-Woman World

After reading a couple of blog posts about the world from the female perspective, I've been thinking about this topic. It wasn't until I got married and tried to tell my husband some of this stuff that he even had a clue some of it existed.

In college, I had to cross a bridge with few streetlights to get back to my dorm. Whenever there was a male behind me - individual or a group of them - I automatically felt for my pepper spray. A guy friend was floored by this response; he didn't like the thought of other women reaching for pepper spray if he was the one walking behind them. I tried explaining that I simply couldn't take a chance that he wasn't a good guy, but I don't think he understood.

In college classrooms, I wore jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt to classes. No make-up, rarely did my hair, and dragged the same ratty backpack for 4 1/2 years. When a girl walked into a lecture wearing stylish attire, I knew she wouldn't be taken as seriously by most of the engineering professors. If you're there to be noticed rather than to learn, you won't stay in an engineering major for long.

When traveling for work, I made a point of approaching my rental car carefully in the parking garage, splaying keys between my fingers so I would have a weapon if I got grabbed from behind. Understand that I'm not paranoid about this; it was just a pragmatic step to take for my safety.

If male clients had sexist attitudes, I couldn't call them on it, but had to soldier through. I was actually told that in order to get along with one person in particular, I should "kiss up to him until he likes you and starts to trust you; then he'll be willing to work with you."

I learned to flirt appropriately and hold my head, my body, my facial expression just so to convey the right amount of professionalism with femininity. There is a "keep your distance from me" tone, a "you're the only big, strong man who can solve my problem" tone, and "I'm so much better at this job than you are that you should be licking my shoes" tone - with a variety of facial expressions of every degree to match. No one taught me this. I had to figure it out and handle things on my own. For all the hassles of dealing with men in this world, I would still take them almost any day instead of other women.

Aided and abetted by the media and entertainment industries, we women are cruel to each other. Even close girlfriends (to whom the good women are fiercely loyal) aren't immune to a calculating appraisal of looks and outfit. When it's a stranger, the thought "Wow, are those earrings bad with that outfit" get voiced to whoever the woman is with. When it's a good friend, she keeps the thought to herself - unless they're really, really good friends and someplace private. In that case, she may tell her friend, causing the earrings to be exchanged for another pair.

I know incredibly talented women in the corporate world: intelligent, savvy, professional, capable leagues beyond many of their peers. Some were helpful by their example. Many - and even most - of them were hard as nails. The aura I got around them was that it was harder than hard for them to scale the ladder to where they were; they would make sure I had to work as hard to get where I wanted to go.

No lie: I do not recall a single female in a superior role from 4 1/2 years of college and 5 years of corporate experience who offered mentor-like advice or took me under a wing.

Horrible? Sexist? Sure. Whining that it shouldn't be this way for women doesn't actually change anything in my world, though. Learn to play the hand you were dealt. There are no bad hands in poker, just bad players.

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