A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.


The following is a guest post from a friend (we’ll call him M) who contacted me the other day and asked whether I’d like to publish an anonymous rant about sexism in the workplace. I expected something of a slightly grayer shade (as my experiences have nearly always been), but this story strikes me as a straightforward illustration of the damaging attitudes some professional men maintain toward their female counterparts in 21st-century America (and the very reassuring fact that men like M exist as well and are fighting these battles alongside women).

Let me open by saying that I am a guy. I have been married for 11 years. I work in an industry (marketing) where males have traditionally dominated, but despite what you might see on Mad Men it has become one of the more egalitarian industries over the last couple of decades. Of my last five managers, three have been women. Even in my ten years in this industry, I’ve watched as women have taken c-level roles not just in consumer practices, but in technology and digital practice as well–traditionally the most male of the male camps in marketing and PR.

So it was quite a surprise when, after I asked a female client to please change how she communicates to myself and our team so that we can remain constructive (that’s a nice way of saying I asked her to stop being mean in her emails–what agencies call “pushing back on the client”), I received a frantic message from an executive VP in our agency who happened to be CC’d on the email. I prepared for the hand-slap that mid-senior-level agency people get when we do something that might potentially anger the client deities. What I got was far, far worse.

It’s just how we roll. Deal with it.

Anonymous, this guy told me, “You have to understand that this is how women communicate.”

In the words of my other anonymous pals from the internet: Lolwut?

It stunned me because statements like this are almost unheard-of in my industry, which has kept me insulated from the fact that this is still a very real phenomenon in the larger working world.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is a bullshit book, and the belief that genders communicate in different ways is ultimately harmful to workplace equality (and relationship equality, and gender equality, and so on). Statements like the above seem born from that early-1990s crucible of pseudo-equality, but only serve to reinforce stereotypes–and ultimately provide excuses to reinforce gender inequality in the workplace.

To be clear, neither men nor women should give up their senses of identity, whether gender-based or otherwise, in the office. But equality in pay, treatment, and company roles and titles can never be achieved if we cannot move beyond statements like the above. It is limiting and degrading to the women, but it also illustrates the short-sightedness of the men: if this person believes women cannot communicate without being mean when under pressure, then there is a fundamental and underlying inequality in that person’s perception of the other gender.

I would say the same thing about any other sweeping generalization about human behavior: “that’s just how he communicates, he’s black.” “She’s just like that. She’s a Virgo.” “Yeah, that’s just how he talks to others, he’s a Mormon.” None of these are acceptable statements to make in the workplace (or frankly anywhere), and remove responsibility for socially unacceptable behavior as well as defining an atmosphere of underlying prejudice.

If we ever want to remove that glass ceiling once and for all, we (guys and gals alike) will need to excise statements like this from our consciousness. Men aren’t from Mars, we don’t go caving, women aren’t from Venus. These are excuses, not definitions. We’re people, plain and simple. Let’s treat each other as such.

7 responses

  1. Baba

    While I agree that there is no way that all women are bitchy in email, I have to say that if you look at studies in physiology, discourse, psychology, and a bunch of other fields, that men and women DO, by default, communicate differently, especially under stress.
    I just came out of a great workshop by John Gottman on communication, and the physiological and evolutionary reasons underlying this were incredibly cool to know!

    July 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    • Interesting. There are definitely tendencies toward certain communication styles we learn from our parents and society based on gender roles (if anything, women are taught to be less aggressive and confrontational). But I think the point to take away is that sweeping generalizations just don’t work no matter what group you apply them to. (Also, there are some misogynist creeps in high positions in corporate America. Yuck.)

      July 18, 2012 at 4:35 am

  2. Sometimes, gender can play a role in how we tackle a situation, or what we prioritize–but the key word is SOMETIMES. And in a business setting, most if not all of that goes out the window straight away. There are clearly defined rules for what is and isn’t professional. Good on M both for calling the lady on her poor behavior, and calling his co-worker on his.

    I really want to live in a world where people judge each other on a case-by-case basis, instead of making sweeping generalizations and then actually defending them whenever they’re challenged or proven wrong. I think that’s the thing that shocks and horrifies me the most about a lot of people when it comes to gender…I am living proof that not every woman wants to find her One True Luv, pop out kids and be a Good Wife. And yet when people meet me, they’ll often try and degrade or dismiss the things that make me different. My question these days is always “Why? What does it hurt you if I’m different?” It hurts them because they have to make an effort to think differently, that’s why. And that’s sad.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:01 am

    • Great points, as usual. One thing that I encountered a lot in corporate America is that the same behaviors are treated differently depending on gender, and that’s BS. I share your wish for a world where we’re judged on our merits and character leaving all else aside. But I’m not holding my breath. I think we’re doing what we can do, and that’s raising awareness and talking about this stuff. Outing this behavior where we see it and countering it rather than blowing it off as just one guy being an asshole.

      And yeah, I think we also need to get people out of their comfort zones so they can accept us for who we are and get out of the judging business. And you’re doing that by being who you are and telling them to deal. You can lead a person to knowledge, but you can’t make them think. But maybe we can push them in and let them splash around a bit. ;)

      July 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      • And, if they get uppity, we can also trip them into said pool and ruin their hair-do! =D Politely, of course.

        Sorry. I may have giggled a bit more than I should have the idea of knowledge being a pool, and as such run away with the idea at top speed.

        July 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

  3. Yay for you, M., for not accepting this. And lolwut is right. Gender doesn’t come into play with how we communicate. I get equally asshatty emails from both genders, and equally well-written emails from both genders. What a weird statement.

    I get the feeling that this executive VP would also refuse to go camping with a lady-person. You know. Because of bears.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    • Ha! Now I want to take him on a camping trip!

      M was pretty outraged when he first contacted me. Even with all the misogynistic messages flying about lately, it’s hard (but not impossible!) for me to believe people like this still exist. I’m so glad M decided to write about this, because most guys wouldn’t have had the courage. It’s easy to believe this is the exception, and maybe it is, but this guy has power and influence in his field. Ick.

      July 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

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