I recently had my authority questioned by a man that has never met me. To be more specific, he wanted to know why I believed I had the right to speak on a topic that I’ve dedicated my entire career to. He questioned it first by ringing the company I work for directly. He asked who I was and why I was sharing my thoughts publicly, blatantly ignoring that what I had wrote had been published from my personal LinkedIn profile. After calling the company, he proceeded to published a thinly veiled critic of my work to his own followers but didn’t reference me by name. The comment thread that ensued for the next week left me stewing, but hardly surprised. Why? Because this kind of sexism is simply part of my everyday life experience of being an outspoken professional woman.
Let me start by saying that I come from a Southern family. I wasn’t raised in the South, but I was shipped off to Kentucky every summer of my childhood. To this day, driving the backroads of Tennessee still feels more like home to me than I can ever recall feeling in the Pacific Northwest. Coming from these Southern roots means that I was raised with a certain sense of hospitality that you can only find coming from this part of the country. It means that I know better to tell someone to go fuck themselves publicly. In the South, we’ll say “Bless your heart”, and be on our way. Growing up and having a career in the era of social media has taught me to that the best approach is put this same sentiment to use when interacting with folks online.
So, at first, I took the more gentile approach to this whole experience. I messaged back the critiquing “thought leader” and asked for him to engage in a conversation with me. By the second back and forth, it was immensely evident he neither read my piece in full, nor did he seem to have the capacity to justify his reasoning for lambasting me on Linkedin. In short, it became clear that he did not want to or did not feel a need to justify his actions.
Again, I was hardly surprised.
The whole experience hung over me for a few weeks. I wrote an initial blog post, read it aloud to my mother, ranted on to several close about it half a dozen times to close friends, and in the end decided to hold off on publishing a post about it for the time being. As much as I didn’t want the whole experience to affect me or silence me, it still stung deeply. After all the work I’ve done over my career, how was it that not only my thoughts but even my very right to have them still being questioned within my industry?
Instead of publishing my own piece on the experience, I shared someone else’s work on Facebook with a brief comment of my own. I wrote about how it hit home because of having had some similar experiences of late in my work life. I half expected it to go unnoticed in the sea of other articles and posts filling up my friends news feeds. It did not. Instead it was met by an outpouring of female friends responding that they all were or had a similar experience to mine quite recently. I knew that my experience hadn’t happened in a vacuum. I know that is sexism is still very much alive and well. However, being a 'woman in tech', I guess I thought these things were more vastly more prevalent in my industry. Friends from every career path in my network confirmed for me that simply isn’t the case.
This all unfolded in the weeks prior to Weinstein, and the subsequent stream of never ending “#metoo”s that filled up my timeline. Suddenly what we had all been experiencing wasn’t happening behind closed doors. We weren’t misreading the signs or situations. The message was loud and clear: women are still constantly being harassed in the workplace and just about every other damn place on an epic scale.
So I’ve decided to try and do something about it. I’m not certain it will change the world, but it might just change one little corner of it. After realizing that misogyny and sexism is such a part of the universal experience of working women: I decided I needed to help share their stories. So I am starting a podcast to share them on a much wider scale. It isn’t just all going to be tales of workplace harassment, because frankly that would get a little depressed pretty quickly. We’ll also be talking about how these women have found incredible success in spite of the obstacles they’ve faced, and sharing their strategies for addressing and pushing back against a world that is complacently accepting and allowing sexism to feel normal. Together, we can continue to spread the word and fight to change our culture into something better.
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