I’ve recently begun my first stint as an elected (I think? The process was murky) part of local government. Our council held a meeting and the meeting began with “Jill, take notes, my handwriting is bad.” Goddamn! Is it because I’m new? Because I’m a chick? Argh. So I took the notes (my handwriting pretty crap as well), but drew the line when asked to “draft them up.” To borrow from Whoopi Goldberg, I ain’t no damn secretary! Someone else (the chair’s actual secretary) got stuck with drafting up the notes.
At mountain rescue training the other day, one of the few other women in the group mentioned to me how draining it was, being friendly to all the new people. “It’s not that I don’t like them,” she said, “It’s just that, why is it always MY job? Why won’t the guys do it?” The guys, while fun in real life, are stodgily obstinate about being friendly to newbies. Myself, I fall all over the place being nice to new women on the team, but am just generally friendly to dudes. Overcompensating for the extra chilly shoulder women get when they show up.
I remember my “orientation” as a “recruit” when I switched SAR teams. I’d been a mountain rescue volunteer in many locations for many years and with other local teams but there’s always some level of hoop jumping when you join a new team or switch to another team. This time it was attending a series of blow-your-brains-out-boring classes. There was a guy in my newbie class whom the old guard was completely in love with, evidently because he’d said he’d climbed some stuff or something. That’s all good, but I’ve climbed some stuff AND they all already knew me, so why was this guy getting the red carpet treatment? I did have some fun in helo class when the new guy pontificated about how to protect oneself in a heli crash, because he was utterly wrong and I was able to “help” prove it. Hee! No hard feelings, guy in my class. You’re all right.
But it all illustrates how we women have to work extra hard to earn our spot. Get elected to government? Great! Hey, take notes while you’re there, and draft ‘em up for us bad-handwriting men (do their wrists hurt too much to write? I wonder why…). Join mountain rescue? Awesome! You’re on the greeting committee, and by the way your male counterpart there is a super excellent addition to the team. We’re glad to have him! And we’ll tolerate you!
OK, so I’m flirting with the line of being too mean to mountain rescue buddies. So I’ll stop there (see what I did there?? See? I backed off because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I didn’t realize it until I read my own draft). But don’t forget the woman I referred to in a past post, the head of that national SAR organization, telling me in furtive tones she was sick of the “good old boys’ club.” It’s there. Take our word for it.
“The Role” for women is still pervasive. Our role is to be helpful and cheery, the happy friendly face on everything. The ones not allowed to be contrary or express a strong opinion. Don’t believe me? Express a strong opinion with a female pseudonym, then use a male name to express the same opinion. Online forums are great for this, and it never fails. I’ve done a few experiments. Which makes me wonder – are those forums REALLY comprised of all dudes (except for the “Ladies’ Corner” or whatever), or are people faking it? Gods, I hope they are faking it. That would be outstanding.
While you’re trying out male names, pay attention to the way tasks are distributed. I always wonder how a group of dudes gets things done without a woman in their midst to dump the grunt work on. Who takes notes in a meeting of guys? How is THAT decided? I would love to hear how this happens; be a virtual fly on the wall. Who gets the lame note-taking task? (I’m willing to bet it’s not the handsomest, most assertive and confident guy there. Any dude willing to give us an insight on this?) To get a good assignment as a woman in a male-dominated arena, you’ve got to fight for it, pretty much insist on it. In other words: assert yourself. However, even Stanford equates assertiveness and confidence with being “masculine traits.” Assertiveness and confidence can hardly be thought of as bad things – unless you’re female. THEN they are undesirable. Huh?
If you read that Stanford Business article, you’ll find that women who can mask such “masculine” traits are more successful. Do men have to mask their masculine traits? We all know the answer to that. When I think of an assertive, confident guy I think “ooh, sexy.” When I think of an assertive, confident woman, I think I’d better stop looking in the mirror so much or I’ll never leave the house again. Kidding! But I do agree with that article when it says “there’s no evidence that ‘acting like a lady’ does anything other than make [a woman] more well-liked.”
It’s interesting, isn’t it. Being “masculine” makes a man well liked AND successful. Being “feminine” just makes a woman more well-liked. If she wants to be successful, she has to be masculine, but only some of the time. If a woman is masculine at the wrong time, she loses because she’s then neither successful nor well-liked. However, being “well liked” is something that all girls are taught they should aspire to be. Wow, complex indeed!
It may be complicated, but it’s clear that taking those notes and babying the newbies isn’t doing anything for us women other than making people like us. Which should never be number one on our life lists. Not even top ten. Hell, not even ON the list. Who cares if people like you? If you like yourself and like your life, that’s all that matters.