When I was in junior high, I started subscribing to this feminist catalog. I tried forever to remember the name of it for this post but it’s not coming to me–maybe you know. They primarily sold buttons and t-shirts with slogans, and you could also order grab bags of pins with lots of different sayings on them, for a variety of causes. I was introduced to
AHA. I got it. Northern Sun.
I was introduced to MANY different issues through Northern Sun–Feminism, but many other things too. Vegetarianism. Peace. Spirituality, Native American rights issues, gay and lesbian rights, the idea that evolution was a controversial subject at all. So I had a very activist phase in junior high, not only wearing my buttons proudly but learning to ask questions about how others were treated, how I wanted to experience my life, and what kind of place I thought the world ought to be. That’s why I think “slogan t-shirts” are a great way for kids to introduce themselves to world issues and deeper thought, and come out with a better understanding of their own identities. When I see people my age scoff at teenagers wearing Che Guevara t-shirts from Hot Topic, I think that kind of sucks because whatever channel people can use to access these ideas is fine with me.
Anyway. After a while with the buttons, I cooled it with the sanctimony and learned to respect how others wanted to believe. But as time went on I started keeping my mouth shut in general. This describes the path my position of activism took from that point:
“I started learning about feminism, and it made me realize about how unjust the world really is not only to women, but other traditionally marginalized groups. But the more I spoke up about it, the more I was called a bitch. The more I was encouraged to play along with the game. I didn’t want to get a reputation as disagreeable, annoying, or unpleasant. So then I started to question whether or not I really understood what I was feeling. Maybe it was too complicated to talk about. After all, compared to many other groups and communities, institutionalized stereotyping and discrimination of women isn’t really that bad. I have enough privilege. Blah. Maybe I should drop it.”
That story might actually be a common one for many women. And as I’ve gotten older and had more experiences of discrimination and even outright physical abuse, I realized that I have tended to ignore or excuse this behavior, which only shows others that I accept it. I mean what do you do in those situations? Whether it’s sex or gender-based, race-based, whatever, those ignorant little comments–usually spoken by totally nice, good, well-meaning people of course–just leave me with my jaw dropped. If you correct someone for saying something sexist, you’re a “bitch” and they were “just joking.” If you ask someone to leave an event or party for harassing you, you’re “causing a scene.”
I’ve noticed a weird, marked increase in snide comments about my job, or ignorant questions about how I run two businesses, or assumptions made about my marital status, questions about my husband. Maybe I am suddenly for some reason more aware of it and it was always that way. For example, at a recent local event where I received an award for my business accomplishments, someone came up to my husband and introduced himself, asked him about what he does, and then thumbed at me and said “Dragged the wife along, eh?” Then to me, “These things are so boring.” Yes, these big-boy business things are too boring for poor little wifey. I would have loved to see his face when I went up on stage. What a douche, right?
…I did an interview for a podcast a few weeks ago and the host said, “Bring some of those coochie little things you make.” WTF? That’s nonsense, it’s incredibly stupid and he would never use language like that with a male guest on his business show.
…Tonight at an event for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce at CAMP, I spoke to two people who assumed my male tenant owned the workspace. “It’s cool of him to let you grow your business here.”
…I spoke to someone who assumed that I was able to work “away from the home” because my husband supported my business.
…My assistant’s friend was raped and her attacker was found innocent in court. He used the “she was asking for it because she was drinking” defense.
…At another event recently, some tactless drunk person told me that “a lot of people” felt bad for my husband because I asked him to marry me.
Like, beyond weird. What year is this? Am I 80 years old?
I normally don’t talk about this stuff–like I said–but I posted on Facebook tonight about “becoming super feminist lately” and the commenters encouraged me to post about it after the ensuing discussion. I’ve actually noticed similar sentiments from other women in my network–whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or in person, it seems like our collective gender stereotype radars have been on overdrive lately.
Here are some comments from my Facebook post that I really liked:
My experience at H&R Block this evening: “I’m sorry, I’m just so used to the man being the main tax payer.” â˜… “Someone told me today that I am “rebellious” for not pursuing marriage and children.” â˜… “I don’t know why…I’m noticing things lately. I always figured it was a “ignore it and it doesn’t exist” kind of thing, but I’ve been realizing that that isn’t actually the case. I’m so annoyed that I’m even writing this.” â˜… “I have come to the above conclusion lately and realizing a lot of my annoyances were not me just being an “overly insensitive woman” but reacting to real inequalities.” â˜… “I have been SO OVER gender stereotypes these past two weeks. Especially the idea that assertive women are bitchy.”
There is certainly something to be said for dreaming big, and that’s something that some women may not “traditionally” do. I know I can speak for myself on that one. My goals for Princess Lasertron are basically fulfilled–I have reached the place I wanted to be five years ago and exceeded my own expectations. But along the way as I’ve gotten more involved in the “entrepreneurship” (meaning tons of tech startups owned by men) community, I’ve learned so much about what it means to swim with the big fish by watching from the sidelines. Speaking at conferences around the country about best practices? Venture capital? Advisory boards? It’s interesting to be considered a formidable player and tastemaker in my industry, and also be aware that my work is primarily “adorable” in the sea of other passionate entrepreneurs in my community. It’s made me question whether I am thinking too small, and start making plans for a higher rate of growth. As I’ve realized this, I’ve found a wonderfully supportive group of advisers and mentors to help me explore these ideas further.
I’m capable of a lot. I love to work hard and my passion is business. Everything I accomplish is a function of my motivation, focus, and decision making. I’ve had to learn like any other entrepreneur. It stings as little bit to know that some people think I’m merely doing “good enough for a girl,” or good enough for now. Feeling criticized makes me ask why people might be thinking that way about me and whether I’m addressing the long-term goals I have set for my career. How can I finish my book and do a speaking tour? How can I create a platform for my favorite tastes and styles to reach my fellow lovers of design, without barriers to engagement? How can I support the work of aspiring designers? How can I move to Berlin for a year with Alice and enroll her in Kindergarten? How can I speak at a major conference about this fabulous marriage of technology and style? And as I make my plans and work with mentors and strategize with my workers, I keep creasing my tissue paper and replying to e-mail and coordinating photoshoots and doing phone interviews and designing tutorials. I keep driving to the office with Alice sleeping in the back seat so I can pick up work to do and get things done in the car. I keep missing dinner with my family and bedtime because I get most of my time to work at night.
All hardworking people make sacrifices–after all, every time you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else. It’s absurd to have to explain that to people who think I am just having fun in a clubhouse downtown playing “office” all day.