When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. ~Audrey Lorde
I am going to return to recent events in a few days, but I need to finish this post first. Nothing is sweeter is to my ears than the Baltimore accent calling me “Hon”–male or female. You should read about the Bali Nine. Thank you in advance for reading my thoughts when there are far greater things to think about today.
Up until recently, I thought my husband had taught me the marketing phrase “shrink it and pink it.” When I mentioned it to him, he said, “No, I learned that from you. Remember when you got kind of pissy at a bike shop when everything was pink and pretty? Don’t you remember going off about the ways they shrink and pink things for women?”
I don’t remember. Too many times to count I’ve been pissy about this very thing. Now I have no idea where I learned the phrase–quite possibly when I worked for REI for a short ill-fated couple of months. Or from a friend who works in marketing. Don’t get me wrong. I love pink. I love pretty. I’m small in stature. Shrinking and pinking gear does not offend me so much that I won’t buy it. I just would like more choices. Nonetheless, “Shrink it and Pink it” is marketing term for athletic gear made specifically for women. If you just make it smaller, then women will buy it. If you make something pink, then it’s instantly for women. Viola!
Since I’ve become a lady in leadership (such as it is). Below are comments that have been said to me within the last three years. I’ve italicized the things I wish I had said or things I thought but didn’t say.
Clearly you haven’t dealt with your gray hair yet, but you will.
I like my gray hair. Dying my hair at this point in my life feels pathetic and not very late-in-life punk rock. Roots look like too much maintenance. Wait. What?
You can only get that much accomplished because you don’t have kids. Let me guess, you’re a “child-free” person who isn’t “childless.”
Maybe that’s true, but then why are some of my most successful colleagues mothers? Why is my choice to not have children any of your business? Clearly I’d rather be asshole-free in life but there isn’t any “control” for that.
If your husband does all of the cooking then what the hell do you do?
I am the breadwinner in my household and my husband’s a better cook than me. What is this 1950? We could switch at any time and that wouldn’t make him more of a person to me. It just is the way the shitty cards have landed for us. Our situation sucks for humanity and education–especially my adjunct husband. Every time we go out to eat and I pay, the waitresses and waiters always give him the card to sign the bill. Clearly he looks more like an Alyson than I do.
Who is his dissertation advisor? I might know him.
It’s a goddamn HER. A HER. SHE. Here’s a shocker, he sought HER out because she’s a genius. SHE was his first choice as an advisor, and I love her work. HE applied to that school because of her scholarship. SHE selected him because she respects his work. Wait. What?
Don’t you think that outfit is kind of wild for this meeting?
I’ve never once heard this type of comment about a male’s outfit. But thank you.
You need to not be so nice. People will just walk all over you.
True, I’m willing to deal with that. I like myself less when I’m mean.
Being charming doesn’t hide the fact that you think you’re smarter than the rest of us. You can be such a snob. Nobody likes a smartass.
Sigh. I didn’t realize I was charming and if you’d ask me, I’d say I have a lot to learn from the people in the room. Always. And for the record, I love smart-asses.
It’s not rocket science, sweetheart.
True, but I don’t think very quickly when it comes to numbers. I need more time; that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Hearing you call me sweetheart made me blind with rage for about ten seconds. It wasn’t the complexity of the numbers.
When you’re older and jaded like the rest of us, then you’ll see it’s not worth it to work that hard. You’re a bit too bossy for my taste.
If I ever become like you, I hope I retire and get out of the way. Saucy Bossy: A Memoir of Retirement.
People might take you more seriously if you wore more make-up and dealt with your nails.
I also feel like look like Dee Snyder when I wear more make-up. It’s expensive and I think I look like harlot. Every man I’ve ever loved has always preferred me with less make-up. They look at my face more than me so I took the hint that less is more circa 1991. Fake nails? For fuck’s sake.
All of those comments have been said to me by women. Not men. By women. Not men.
So I write these responses not just to get it off my chest or to take back the night, but to point out that Lady Leadership never gets away from the “Shrink It & Pink It” labels in the workplace and in reality. These comments are tailored made for women. By women. The more exposed you are as a “Leader” the more people feel the need to express their advice it seems. I’ve done a fair amount of research on mentoring and when I talk to some people about these ideas, there usually creeps in some advice that maybe I can use. Those comments listed above are some of the main ideas I’ve been told in the last couple of years.
And here’s the most dangerous that I have to express: The people who have been the worst to me as a “leader” have been women. They’ve given me dirty looks, said nasty things, written gross insults, said horrible things behind my back–and I’ve had very few men mistreat me. In fact, my greatest advocates have been male. So what do I do with that?
Maybe men have been rude to me but I’m so not-shocked by that kind of behavior from them. In fact, I can laugh it off or I can insult them back. Or I can destroy them in my mind. It’s business as usual.
I expect more from women, and I think that’s wrong of me. I expect that if you are part of the sisterhood and that you should support me. When you don’t, I get very confused. I think you’re ice-queen asshole. It makes me sad. It makes me want to run from leadership.
And here’s another thing that’s dangerous to express: My biggest advocates who are female are either widely-loved or widely-hated. There is no middle-ground with these women, and I dig it. They’ve made unpopular decisions and they are articulate. If I am their “Mini-Me” then you’ve already judged me before I even open my mouth. Thank you for your feminism. (That’s sarcastic, I know how unbecoming it is).
I’m writing all of this because there were a lot of amazing posts via Twitter last week because of #et4online. There was a panel about being a woman in educational technology. There were lovely photos of Lady Leaders looking happy. Thoughtful men wrote words of encouragement. Here’s the thing; I’m relatively new to this gig, and I honestly didn’t know that the lack of women in this field was an issue. Most of my ed. tech friends are male. All of my male colleagues in the WA State system are truly cool. Like BFF material cool. I’m lucky to work in the system that I do. We have strong Lady Leaders that I’ve looked up to for years.
I don’t even think about being one of the few women (that’s dangerous to admit too). It’s just like the cycling scene. Being a snowboarder. Being a hiker. Being sporty.
I’m usually out-numbered by men. And here’s the thing–the guys that I think are assholes are usually thought of in the same way by my male friends. Being an asshole has very little to do with the penis, the vagina, or gender identification–it just comes naturally for some folks.
And it makes me very sad to think this is not the case for many women in this field. It makes me sad we have to have a panel about this very issue in 20-fucking-15. It makes me sad that Audrey Watters gets harassed so I can’t comment on her blog because she removed that feature. It makes me very sad for my male and female friends and colleagues who have daughters and they want a very different world for them. I’d like to say things will be different for them. I’d like to invite them over to Aunt Alyson’s house for stories about feminist success. My husband would cook us dinner. He reads more feminist theory than I do these days, so we could listen and learn while he stirs the sauce.
So let’s pause for one story that I think can give you hope about generational differences that shows some progress. This is a story I need to remind myself.
My great-grandmother was a high-school dropout who had 12 children (poor, not Catholic). Of the 10 who survived, one child was a female. That’s my grandmother. She too is a high-school drop-out who had my father at 16. He likes to brag he’s the product of the 1950 sock-hop dance and a big backseat. My mother graduated from high-school and shared with me that marrying my father at 20 helped her move out of her mother’s house. They are still together, so I know that love was also a factor. Going to college was never an option for her. She did very well on the corporate ladder until she needed a college degree to advance. At that time in her life, she was worried about how she was going to pay for me to go to college. I later learned the phrase “glass-ceiling” in a Women in Literature class and I knew exactly what it meant without looking it up. I had seen my mother hit the glass ceiling. I got a B+ in that class, by the way, because I was working two jobs and I didn’t own a computer. I always got hit by the red pen because of errors on my papers that I knew I would have caught if I had more time with my typed work. If I had owned my own computer.
I got lucky. My parents moved to an area where I had access to friends who were way above my class status. Their older siblings were worldly, interesting, and college-bound. I learned the value of reading and writing from people I thought were smart. Cool. I travelled a bit and realized how stupid I was and tried to fix that the best that I could. I didn’t get married until my late 30s. I’ve chosen to not have kids. I’ve done a lot things that the three generation of women who spawned me could have never, ever done. I got lucky in the life lottery. My struggles are nothing compared to theirs. My great-grandmother washed diapers by hand for almost two decades. My grandmother packed boxes to move from rental to rental her entire life. My mother trained college graduates who were younger than her daughter to do the job she should have been promoted to do. And I feel guilty complaining about what I’ve got. What I don’t have. What I wish my life was like.
So here’s the thing: I care a great deal about educational technology. About education. About technology and how it’s used to teach. About learning. About teachers. About your daughters. About your sons. About students who don’t have computers. About students who have the same or worse class background than I do.
So I’m writing today to not add my voice to that hashtag but to maybe connect with somebody who feels a bit outside of that conversation. Pull up a seat. None of those ladies in leadership are going to say the crap that I’ve listed above–they won’t. Trust me. If you want to comment on their blogs, you should. Write what you would say to Audrey Watters if you could comment on her blog. I do.
I had a lovely conversation with Amy Collier and I shared with her this phrase: Shrink It and Pink It. And I got to share with her that one of her posts really helped me at a time when I was feeling a bit down about the judgmental sisterhood. About events for Ladies in Leadership. About the direction I was taking in life. She asked me good questions in turn.
So seeing all of the smiling faces involved in this panel really got me thinking. I have to work harder on being more inclusive with women. I want to make sure they have a voice with me whether they have fake nails or not. Whether they dye their hair or not. Whether they have children or not. Whether their husbands have gotten a raw deal in their careers or not. Whether their clothes are wild or not. That’s their call. Rock on your own sense of fashion, just give me your ideas. That’s all I care about really. Just give me your ideas. That’s what feminism taught me. That’s the sisterhood I want for your daughters.
If you could shrink and pink that feeling, I’d buy it.
If I could shrink and pink that feeling, I’d make it open source and I’d share it with everyone.