The workplace is a relatively new place for women. It may not seem that way since it has become more common and more accepted to hire women for various roles this day and age. And why not? We’re good at almost anything! It’s a wonder why there aren’t more competent women in plain view, whether in government or as senior executives and the like. (One thing I’ve always wondered is why the world of food and cooking is so dominated by men – women have been particularly practiced in this area for a while no?) Women only entered the workforce in a big way during WWII, just over 75 years ago, and haven’t left since.
So being the new guy (er, woman) has its challenges and one which continually perplexes me is that little problem called attitude. Or maybe anger. I’ve found that anger and attitude seldom have space in the workplace for a woman, and anyone in the workforce can attest to the multitude of situations that can lead to such feelings. In a man, these qualities might be cherished as long as they don’t get out of control. It might even be a promotable quality, but never ever in a woman. In fact, the women I have seen in positions of power are stoic. They seem almost to have lost their femininity and have replaced it with a thin layer of meanness. Well, I use the word lost because it’s my opinion that all women are inherently feminine, even while adopting masculine traits.
The truth is male dominance in the world has given rise to a peculiar duality in women of our generation. Gone are the stockings and requisite red lipstick. You can wear a three-piece suit and still look like an attractive woman – in fact, it’s preferred! But in order for anyone to take a woman seriously, in order for a woman to go really far, she has to keep her cool.
I’ve never been a good example of calm in the face of adversity. How I feel shows up transparently on my face in any given circumstance. I have been known to have shouting matches with mostly male colleagues at the office. I just don’t particularly enjoy being patronized or enduring the kind of arrogance that’s so prevalent everywhere. So I marvel at women who have found a way to manage their cool – they are imposing in an ever so slight a way. They can be exacting without being an all out bitch, and they garner respect not just for their title but for their aptitude and intelligence.
Women are unfairly characterized as over-emotional and irrational. When the story is written by men, of course the woman is silly. But I counter this with the number of highly insensible decisions and actions that have been made just in recent weeks: take for instance, the rogue traders of the world taking on much too much risk for the glimmer of a hope of extreme profit. Seems pretty nonsensical to me. Or as another example, the recent decision by Congress that the tomato sauce on pizza can be considered a vegetable is a hilarious one. (For the record I know Congress is a mix of the sexes, but majority rules in this case.) Now, that’s silly.
Managing your cool, then, is not simply an act of breathing deeply and being zen. In order to get to the top, a woman has to continually toe the line between being a woman and acting like a man – and that is an art.