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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…

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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.

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.

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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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Opinion Editorials

Study says women need to be seen as “warm” to be considered confident

(EDITORIAL) A new study reveals that despite progress, women are still successful when they fall into a stereotype. Let’s discuss.

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About 15 years ago, I took a part-time job in a mental health clinic handling bookkeeping and billing. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I attacked the job with what I felt was confidence. For the first few days, I simply felt as if I was an imposter. I kept asking questions and pushing forward, even though I didn’t make much progress. Within just a few days, I felt the hostility of the office manager.

It got progressively worse, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d done to make her so confrontational with me. I thought I was pleasant and respectful of her position, and I was getting along with the other employees. When I talked to our boss, I was told that I intimidated the office manager. HUH? Me? Intimidating? I was a complete mess at the time. I could barely put together a business casual wardrobe. My emotional health was so fragile that I rarely went anywhere new. And she found me intimidating?

Researchers have been studying how people judge others. Susan Fiske, researcher out of Princeton, found that competence and warmth are two of the dimensions used to judge others. Based on that research, Laura Guillén, Margarita Mayo, and Natalia Karelaia studied the competence and warmth at a software company with 236 engineers.  Guillén and her team collected data at two separate times about these engineers and their confidence and influence within the organization.

They found that “men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.

Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”

We encourage women to be confident, but based on current research, it may not be enough to close the gender gap in the workplace. A woman must be seen as helpful and dedicated to others to have the same influence as a man. As a woman, it’s easy to be seen as the #bossbitch when you have to make tough decisions. Those same decisions, when made by a man might be considered just “business as normal.”

I guess the lesson is that women still have to work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals. I know that I have to work on empathy when I’m in an office environment. That office manager isn’t the only person who has thought I’m intimidating. I’ve heard it from it others, but you know what?  As a self-employed writer, I’d rather be seen as undeterred and daunting than submissive and meek.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

This story was first published here in October of 2017.

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