Double standards for women are everywhere, including in the professional world. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. I’m sure you can name a couple off the top of your head, but I won’t be talking about makeup or fashion here. I want to dive into the less obvious double standards because they’re more important than we realize.
If you’re a man reading this and thinking, “Oh, this isn’t for me,” you’re wrong. Acknowledging the double standards in your workplace, virtual or in-person, and working with your female-identifying colleagues to address them is an essential step toward tearing them down.
I’ve read countless distressing articles on how women are constantly proven to be less confident than men, like the Forbes article “The Confidence Gap In Men And Women: Why It Matters And How To Overcome It.” When it comes to their suggestions on closing the gap, the sentiment is nice. Women should work on their posture, walking with their shoulders back and head held high; they should say positive affirmations in the mirror every morning. They should smile. That may work for some women, maybe for a day or two. The problem is, we’re not looked at through the same lens as men. We can say the same words, in the same tone and the same setting, but they will be perceived entirely differently. It reminds me of the Piaget experiment where the little kids can’t fathom how the exact same amount of water could be in the almost-full tall cup and the half-full short cup.
Women have been trained to live in a different stratum than men. We’re expected to communicate differently, take up less space and be grateful just to have a seat at the table. When we step out of this zone that’s been marked off for us and attempt to behave like our successful male counterparts, we’re called “bossy,” “bitches” and “control freaks.” We can say those affirmations in the mirror as loud as we want and stretch our smiles out past each ear, but it won’t block out the sound of the insults echoing in our heads.
The way to move beyond these excruciatingly irritating double standards is through action and allyship. By action, I don’t exactly mean taking to the streets to protest or boycotting. I mean saying “F-ck you!” to the rules regulating how we women simply exist. We were force-fed this crap so young that we didn’t even know to question it, let alone how to question it. The politics of politeness are suffocating.
For example, over the last two years, I have tried to go back through my emails and messages before sending them to proof for “The Woman Script.” It’s a thing, whether you realize it or not. We, women, write more politely as not to come off too aggressive. I’ve been working on removing all the phrases like “I think that” and “I feel like” to put some power back into my voice. Men aren’t expected to qualify their sentences with words that undercut the core purpose of their message — women shouldn’t be expected to do so, either. Look:
“I think that I already provided the team with the copy for this project.”
“I feel like I deserve a raise.”
It really makes a difference, doesn’t it? (Rhetorical questions, however? That’s for another post).
How we communicate with words is equally important to how we communicate with actions. Here’s another way I’ve been un-writing the script, but this script is internal because your internal script is usually the one that decides how you carry yourself. Covid has paused this particular example, but the mindset is the important part. Take up space.
When I started paying attention, I noticed how often I moved out of people’s way when we came face-to-face on a sidewalk or in a hallway. More often than not, those people were men. I moved. I stepped out of the way. Paying closer attention, I spotted other women and even young girls doing it, too. So — again, before it was super dangerous to get close to people — I decided that I was going to take up the space I deserved. And I would do it intentionally. I stopped moving over and just kept walking. Sure, sometimes it created awkward moments of shoulder collision, but it made it clear to whoever was coming my way that their existence in this world wasn’t more important than mine. Most of the time, I needed a reminder too.
These sorts of small, intentional changes to our thinking and behavior are crucial for closing the “confidence gap” and terminating double standards. However, unless we have the allies to help us rewrite the narrative, we’ll remain just a bunch of “bossy” “bitches” instead of the boss bitches we really are.
So, women, ladies, girls, and all those who identify as female, be straightforward; take up space. You deserve to be seen, heard and understood. Men, speak up and reject the negative narratives about the strong women in your lives. Speak up when we can’t speak for ourselves. When it’s just you and the guys, and there are no women to hear it—that’s when you need to speak up the loudest.