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Letter to my daughter: hidden sexism is real and surprising

In a letter to my daughter, I would like to prepare her for the real world scenarios of the workplace and the increasing levels of unfairness, but it isn’t always women that are judged based on gender…

sexism

Dear daughter,

You’re about to start your junior year in high school and you’re starting to express a stronger interest in your future career – you’re smart, witty, and so easy for people to be around and I know you’re going to nail it in any industry you choose. That said, there are life lessons that many women don’t learn until very far down the road, so if I can impart any of this learned wisdom to you, perhaps you can skip some of the obstacles and missteps many of us experience along the way.

We’ve talked a lot about sexism, about standing up for yourself, and about not letting your gender define you or hold you back. We’ve talked about shattering the glass ceiling and about being brave, but I realize that along the way, I may have misguided you. Let me explain…

When we talk about sexism or even sexual harassment in the workplace, what do we usually warn you about? Old white guys. Instructional videos warn you of the dangers of the creepy guy who is going to touch your shoulders for too long or wink at you while he asks you for coffee or imply that you have to do him “favors” to get a promotion.

This is a wild disservice to you for two reasons: first, it teaches you to be sexist against men, and it makes you blind to the fact that people of all ages, races, and genders can discriminate against you and vice versa.

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This new world that is teaching women to be strong and powerful in the workforce is also teaching you to discriminate against established white men – it is completely unfair because who is one of the most beloved people in your life? Your white man dad.

The hidden sexism against men in the workplace is real and surprising, and we want you to be above all of that, so remember that every time you automatically assume that a man is going to ignore your smarts and value your looks, you’re being the sexist. Every time you assume that by flirting with male bosses you’ll get ahead, you’re being the sexist. When you act like a man is too stupid and hopelessly incapable of minding details that he can’t file something on his own or make his own calls, you’re being the sexist.

The bigger crime us women (and inadvertently men) have committed in trying to teach you how to be an independent thinker is that by warning you against the dangers of old white men, we failed to tell you that everyone is capable of discriminating against you, especially women. When you and another woman are up for the same promotion, do you think they are going to hold hands with you, burn bras and talk about women’s lib? No, she’ll make sure the boss knows she’s better than you and that she deserves the job. When you’re in a meeting, a female counterpart may talk over you just the same as a man might, and so on.

Additionally, by this new wave of empowered women warning you of old white men, it is through the ridiculous lens of a 1950s nuclear family model wherein only a male boss would hit on you, but guess what? Your woman boss may linger too long and hit on you too, or they may perceive you as hitting on them and be uncomfortable because you were just trying to get on her good side.

Gender equality is so complicated, honey, and most of the books or papers you’ll read will simply warn you about people that look like your dad and you’ll be confused, so if you take one thing away from this is that you can be above it all.

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If equality is truly equal, you must recognize that old white men are not the only sexists in the workplace – in fact, the world assuming that they are is more sexist than any wink or dirty joke could possibly be.

This is an unpopular stance and I’ll get hate mail for this letter to you, but I want you to know the truth and pray that you focus on making yourself a better person, because old white men aren’t the problem – everyone is the problem. Don’t be part of the problem, treat people equally and lead by example.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    July 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Mom was in the thick of the 50s and 60s women entering the ‘man’s world of business’. She taught me, and I’ve taught my daughter the following. 1) Stop using your ‘wiles’ at work. And while you’re at it, stop with the double standard of the bad intentioned man, and the always innocent woman. It’s not true, and the woman knows it better than the guy does. 2) Understand that as a female you’re fighting a few generations coming before you who took the company’s money, and valuable training, only to succeed in their real goal, which was to find a husband, get married, and quit. Mom fought that empirical axiomatic truth ’til she was over 40. It trained the ‘C’ suite guys to avoid investing in women as future execs. 3) Produce superior results, and count on those to move up the ladder. Company’s are for profit, and results are what keep those profits coming. 4) Though it’s very unfair, stop with the whining about gender discrimination. Yeah, it still exists, but as Mom said, “I paid the price, so you wouldn’t hafta whine like a girl yourself.” Move to another firm, but stop the whining. 5) Do NOT, under any circumstances use your so-called ‘minority’ status to improve your professional life. You’ll likely never get rid of that label, and most will assume that’s how you always move up. You want to move up due to what you’ve produced and bring to the table, not cuz you wear a bra.

    • Lani Rosales

      July 9, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      Brilliant. Thank you, Jeff.

  2. jeffreypjacobs

    July 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    No hate mail from here, Lani. As you suggest, Gender Equality IS complicated…and the rules are changing every day. When it comes to women in the workplace, what if I repeated something I have heard for years- “women can’t have more than one true friend, all the rest is just competition!”? WAY over-generalized, many examples of how that’s just not true would appear, etc., etc. But my point is to agree with your suggestion of simply focusing on making oneself better, and staying away from any, and all, of these generalizations on gender.

  3. bobledrew

    July 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Let me take a different tack on the issue you raise. And as a proviso, I have no children, so I may not have the same closeness to this issue as you do, Lani. You write, “by warning you against the dangers of old white men, we failed to tell you that everyone is capable of discriminating against you, especially women.”

    Confusing individual actions with collective groups is a dangerous thing. I would argue that INDIVIDUALS discriminate against INDIVIDUALS. While “everyone” may be “capable of discriminating”, that it is INDIVIDUALS who actually do the discriminating. If your daughter is harassed in the workplace, it’s not “old white guys” who are doing it. It’s an individual (who may be AN old white guy). I guess my advice would be: “people are capable of great things, and heinous things. Judge the people you work with by their actions and treat them accordingly.”

    • AmyVernon

      July 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Well-said, @bobledrew:disqus. I think the one exception I take to this is that legal discrimination comes from who has the power. It’s important to be cognizant of what your legal rights are, no matter what gender your boss is.

      • Lani Rosales

        July 9, 2013 at 2:34 pm

        Legal yes, but sometimes coworkers can go out of their way to step on you because of your gender/race/education/whatever. That said, your point is super important because many young people don’t know that they have rights or that they can stand up to a boss based on legal merit.

        • AmyVernon

          July 9, 2013 at 2:59 pm

          Absolutely. That’s why I specified *legal* because there can be a lot of power from having the law on your side – even just knowing what the law is.

        • doodlebug2222

          August 4, 2013 at 3:07 am

          Most of all, they need to see it coming and begin documenting what they can.
          Standing up to a boss based on legal merit is one thing – but not having enough proof to back up the claim is another.

    • Lani Rosales

      July 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      You hit the nail on the head and put into words part of the sentiment that was very difficult for me to convey! That’s what I meant when I was stating that “everyone is the problem,” aka, individuals are the problem, and you’re right, that’s a very important distinction.

  4. JoeLoomer

    August 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Find a culture in a workplace that you love, and you won’t deal with this because it won’t be tolerated. Also – what bobledrew said.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride.

  5. Pingback: The sexualization of Canada's Prime Minister is appalling, hypocritical - The American Genius

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