As I listened to a motivational speaker share some really great words of wisdom around leadership, culture, and productivity, I couldn’t help but get really focused on something he said that amounts to what I call “subtle sexism.”
Now, this won’t be the last blog I write about subtle sexism. Holy moly have I experienced it more than a few times. So far, I’ve been really lucky to avoid experiencing really overt sexism. Like, no one’s ever said to my face, “You’re a woman, and therefore, less than.” But, truthfully, I think subtle sexism is the most dangerous type of sexism because it’s brush-off-able. I mean, if you say to my face that you think I’m “less-than” because I’m a woman, I’m likely to say, “That’s stupid.” I mean, maybe I’d say something more eloquent and helpful, but at least, I would respond.
But, when my while male boss’ office is right next to mine and you (white male) come up to his door (while basically also in my door) and ask him about something specifically related to things that are under my purview (like, obviously, as there was a proper name in my title – ROYALS CHARITIES), I get stuck thinking, “Should I be calling this person out right now? Is this sexism? Am I overthinking this? Is he asking my male boss for some other reason I’m not understanding right now?”
Or, the time when I suggested that a very special piece of hardware (World Series trophy) not just be available for trips to any nonprofit in Kansas City. I suggested that Royals Charities, the charitable foundation of the Kansas City Royals with its own fundraising goals, basically get the first right of refusal if there was a request from a nonprofit for the trophy at its event. Like, the trophy was an asset to which Royals Charities had access, and frankly, if we allowed it to go to any nonprofit for a fundraising purpose, we were minimizing our ability to fundraise through it. (Yes, I was that person. I very much protected the assets to which Royals Charities had access. Frankly, that was sometimes to the detriment of other local nonprofits. But, it allowed us to raise money which allowed us to make more grants to those requesting organizations).
I interjected with this concern, request, suggestion because, well, the nonprofit thing was my area, and really, not a lot of other people at the organization would have thought about how giving other nonprofit organizations access to the trophy could have impacted Royals Charities. It just wasn’t their concern because their jobs weren’t to worry about charitable income. But, my job was. So, I said something. Then, a white man, responded by telling me that suggesting that the trophy could only be used by Royals Charities and not shared with Royals’ corporate partners was absurd and would never happen.
I was furious. First, he didn’t read my email carefully because I suggested nothing like his assumption. That suggests he didn’t really value what I had to say anyway because he gave it no time. Second, because he didn’t read my email carefully, he leapt to the conclusion that I had suggested something absurd. He thought I said something that would indicate I had absolutely no idea that corporate partners and the income they provide are valuable to a baseball team. He assumed that. And, the first and most pervasive thought I had (besides does he think I’m a complete idiot?!) was, “He would have never leapt to his assumption if I were a man.”
So, guess what? I now watch for subtle sexism like I’m the hawk of watching for subtle sexism.
During this earlier mentioned motivational speech, the white, male speaker was setting-up a story. He was setting the scene because he was at a fundraiser that was spearheaded by the founder of Spanx, a woman, Sara Blakely, and her husband, Jesse Itzler. And, he explained that Sara was like the most amazing businesswoman ever, and then, he slipped in, “and, her husband is successful in his own right.”
So, that’s a truthful statement. Jesse Itzler is successful in his own right. But, the comment hit me wrong. Like, the speaker had just raved about how Sara Blakely was a special kind of businesswoman. Like, one of the best ever, in the world, forever and ever. And, then, he slipped in, “and, her husband is successful in his own right.”
I’m just trying to remember the last time someone said, “Bill Gates is the best, and his wife is successful in her own right.” Maybe it’s happened, but it’s not as likely. In my darkest moment of analyzing this situation, I wonder if this is actually a microaggression. Microaggressions don’t have to be intentional as far as I know, but they do have to be something indicating that were trying to maintain the status quo. So, if the status quo is that men are the successful ones, then, we can’t mention a successful woman without tossing in her successful husband. Because a successful woman with an unsuccessful (whatever that means) man just doesn’t quite fit the normal narrative of our traditionally patriarchal society, a microaggression towards women has to be snuck into a white man’s speech to make sure that the power and control he’s had as a white man remains stable.
At best, it’s just something that really didn’t need to be said to communicate the point of the speaker’s story. But, there I sat, in a room full of mostly men who likely didn’t even hear it as something for analysis. And, in that moment, the narrative expanded in my head, “My battle to be a respected leader will always be more challenging than that of a white man because I’m a white woman.” And, lordy, if I were a white man, I bet that privilege would be hard to give-up.
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