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.
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.
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.