I don’t think it’s limited to being a woman entrepreneur- it’s any time your gender is the minority. The hardest part about being a woman in a male dominated field is when people attribute your success to your physical appearance. It’s probably not the first thing you’d expect, but out of all the hardships that women face, to me, that’s been the most detrimental.
Think about it this way. What makes you succeed? Besides hard work, it’s when you believe in yourself and you know you have what it takes to make it to the top. Now how do you build that confidence? Ideally, everything would come from within, and you would need nothing from the outside world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly work that way. You gain confidence from the little things, right? When you do something well, you get a promotion, you win a contract, or accomplish something in general, you feel good about yourself, and you gain confidence in your abilities. Now, what if, every time you did something well, or got a promotion, or won a contract, you’d wonder why you got it? What if, at the back of your mind, you wonder if you got it because you were really that good, or it was because of your gender? Do you realize how detrimental that is?
Why does that thought even register in my head? Because it’s been put there through the years. Every time someone says, “Oh yeah, of course he helped you with your engineering homework”, or “Yeah, I let you win because you’re a girl”, or “of course you got that approval signed by that guy”, it makes you wonder if there is some truth to that statement. And the more people say it, the more you think about it. Because you see evidence of it all the time in the workplace, you know? People getting promotions that don’t deserve it, people winning things they have no business winning, etc etc.. I’m sure you’ve all thought it at some point. You’ve probably told people that, maybe jokingly. I’ve definitely thought that a few times.
The ultimate result is that any time a woman does something, you have an institutionalized way to tell her, actually, you’re not that good. There’s no proof either way really, but it’s an easy way for people to belittle a woman’s abilities. And it happens so often. It makes me sick.
Now, why don’t males face the same problem? Well, unless most of the worlds decision makers become a) homosexual males or b) heterosexual females, guys will never feel a thing.
So what is the result of this “out” society has established for never really recognizing a woman’s abilities? The Female Chauvanist Pig. In essence, since society has decided that the only reason women get ahead is because of their woman bits, women have adapted by worshiping the raunch. In order to gain respect, women are trying to be one of the guys. As Ariel Levy puts it,
“Raunch provides a special opportunity for women who wants to prove her mettle. It’s in fashion, and it is something that has traditionally appealed exclusively to men and actively offended women, so producing it or participating in it is a way both to flaunt your coolness and to mark yourself as different, tougher, looser, funnier- a new sort of loophole woman who is “not like other women,” who is instead “like a man.” Or , more precisely, like a Female Chauvinist Pig…Women who’ve wanted to be perceived as powerful have long found it more efficient to identify with men than to try and elevate the entire female sex to their level.”
I can vouch for the truth in this concept, because I’ve lived through it. To a great extent, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I WAS that person (and by was I mean still am because I just finished reading the book and I couldn’t believe how true it was).
Why is this so terrible? Because you are no longer true to yourself. I remember a while ago (and by a while ago I mean last year), I was running on the treadmill at the gym, and I was cursing God that I wasn’t born a man. I almost cried I was so pissed. I hated the fact I was a woman, because deep down, I felt that in order to do the things I wanted to do in life, I had to be a (stereotypical) man. And I had been adapting by…trying to do just that. I started my first blog because life was getting frustrating: looking back, many of those entries have to do with me trying to fit into a male dominated world.
That’s a great story Anu, but where do we go from here? That’s a good question. Honestly, I’m not really sure. I think first of all, I need to let it sink in that I can be myself (whatever that is). Now that I know this thing exists, I am not going to perpetuate it. I hope that I’m doing my part by writing about my experience, and letting people know that if they feel this way, they are not alone.
Also, hopefully if you’ve read this, you’ll try not to perpetuate it as well. A lot of times things happen due to ignorance. Now that you know, try not to attribute female success to things other than accomplishments (unless you really and truly think it’s a problem- then maybe tell her about it).
And cliche as it sounds, I really do think there are a lack of role models in this space. One of NextDrop’s mentors (and a personal mentor of my own), Catherine Berman, is amazing and always makes me realize that I shouldn’t place limits on myself. She runs an organization called Astia.org, which mentors women entrepreneurs. I can now truly appreciate how needed this organization is. I didn’t realize how important it was to have a female entrepreneur as a mentor, but it is huge.
Finally, as a personal promise, I pledge to help any woman, struggling with similar issues, in any way I can. Not just in the entrepreneurship space, but in any space where you have gender imbalance.
And after that? I’m not really sure. But I’m definitely going to keep thinking about it, because it’s something that I really and truly care about, and something I want to see change.
Because at the end of the day, no woman should have to feel like she can’t be what God made her to be.