Feminism and Playing the Game in a Man’s World

In a networking group called Girls Rule that I’m a part of here in Omaha, someone recently posed a question: “Is Omaha a man’s world?” Do we have to gain favor with men here as the gatekeepers to our success, and is there some kind of implied “game” we need to play in order to be competitive in this community? It’s a question I spent some time thinking about both from my own experience, and from a longer view, looking at our community as a system. I’m one who is very perceptive of sexism, particularly in business, and contrasting my career satisfaction with the game I sometimes feel I must play to find it led to a lot of valuable reflection.

When I think about the people who have connected me with my heroes through email and coffee introductions, who have brought my name up when they heard conferences were looking for speakers, when books were looking for contributors, when there were press connections to be made, I count so many more men whose shoulders I have stood on than women. These are smart, smart, dear men who recognized my value, but I can’t avoid the reality that so few women in power have been available to me because of this system, or that my own race, class, and hetero-normative privilege will always play a significant role in my opportunities.

How could a woman’s world be a man’s world? We need autonomy over our experiences, yet we must always manage our resistance to patriarchal pressure to conform into roles prescribed by men. We all hear questions like, “Do we have to act like men to get what we want?” “Should we use ‘feminine wiles?'” Feminism and female power doesn’t mean learning to play a game, but we constantly negotiate sacrifices for opportunities because we have to work within a rich, complex social system full of prejudice. No, feminism isn’t playing the game. It’s changing the game.

When we talk about “a man’s world,” we’re talking about networks built on social contracts among men only, in racially and sexually exclusive environments over thousands of years. The power and privilege men inherit through that system is one reason why it’s so difficult as a society to consider changing, and much less abandoning, the practices that disempower minorities and women. (Note: I don’t mean to imply that dynamics of discrimination are identical for women and minorities, but that women of all backgrounds face a discriminatory system.)

Instead of talking about where we fit in a “man’s world,” we have to shift our own paradigms to see the world as open for us, while noticing the hurdles of sexual, racial, and of course gender privilege that place obstacles along the way. When women talk about experiences of discrimination and start from the premise of “in a man’s world,” we begin by defining our own reality from a man’s perspective and instantly miss the whole point. Let’s shift that premise to realize that we are women and we only need to learn to be ourselves. It’s not about rehashing gender stereotypes, because change won’t come without radical rejection of gender roles.

Feminism is not about women being better than men, it’s about shifting the paradigm of our culture so people stop facing the limitations of this “man’s world.” It’s necessary for men and women to advance conversations and make conscious decisions that empower all people to take autonomy over their bodies, their families, and, of course, their careers. The reason this conversation is relevant and must continually be in the forefront of our minds is because for thousands of years, this standard of liberation and opportunity has not been the norm. People of sexual and racial privilege have typically played a role in the formation of others’ lived experiences, and to deny that influence still exists blocks all progress.

So is it a man’s world here? Yes, and it is everywhere, today. This will always be business as usual until we begin to take actions that represent the change we want to see in the patriarchy around us. That’s what my writing is about, and that’s why it’s so important to me to reach as many men as I do women–participation from all of us is needed to begin unraveling our collective and individual paralysis around gender issues.

More on that later.

xx
meg

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10 thoughts on “Feminism and Playing the Game in a Man’s World”

  1. creole wisdom says:

    Blogs change. That’s okay. I’m sticking around because I have always liked your voice- doesn’t matter if you’re talking about politics, felt flowers or feminism. You are so well written and I will always respect you, even if your views aren’t identical. Keep on posting, I’m learning from what you write.

    1. creole wisdom says:

      I meant to say: identical to mine :)

  2. Becky K. says:

    Have you read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman? I think you would like it. She has a very casual, modern approach to feminism. I just finished it and loved it!

  3. Haley says:

    Meg, I want you to know that I love the “feminism” posts you write, and that they are especially moving to me because I know how devoted you are to your work and how successful you’ve been in business and in your personal life. It’s clear to me that gender equality is something you are passionate about, and I love to hear what you think. Just this morning an essay on a similar topic was shared with me: http://ilaba.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/gender-bias-101-for-mathematicians/. It’s about gender equality, but in academia instead of business.

    1. Megan Hunt says:

      thank you haley! I will read this during my break today.

  4. Peggy G says:

    I am tired of all Feminism post, been a long time reader but saying goodbye, I am a woman, I am in charge of my life and what goes happens or does not happen around me. I am not a weaker sex, I can succeed in any area I choose to if I work just as hard as anyone else (male or female). You are the one putting a stigmata over yourself, by crying feminism all the time, you are just being a whiner. If you spent as much time working to make yourself the best, it would be energy better spent.

    1. Megan Hunt says:

      I get it–my writing has changed a lot and it’s okay that it’s not for everyone. I appreciate you reading for as long as you did!

  5. I saw Gloria Steinem speak at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser last week, and she talked a lot about the myth of gender. She said that if we try to box ourselves into “male” and “female” characteristics and behaviors, we will never progress as individuals or as a society because we are only living half of the spectrum of humanity. What it is to be human is to allow ourselves to experience personally, and accept in other people, all of the things that humans feel. If men and boys are allowed to emote and women and girls are allowed to take strong, decisive action (without it being perceived as weak/bitchy, etc.), they can bring so much more to their role in their community/society/whatever than if they are forced to live in a case of gender norms. Also, on a personal level, over the last couple years I’ve found that if I look at people as humans, without taking note of their gender, I am able to connect so much better with them. I also find that I have nicer, more supportive things to say about people when I don’t use pronouns to describe them. (Being friends with a couple asexual/transgender people in New York opened my eyes to this and other things I’d never really considered before.) I wish we could adopt Sweden’s gender-neutral pronoun “hen” into the English language.

    Reading over this post, I realize that the only period in my adult life in which I tried to used “feminine wiles” or tried to appeal to my male bosses as a subservient “girlish” type, was when I was mentally ill for a period of time following sexual abuse. What an interesting correlation, that the lowest period in my life personally and professionally is when I was quite literally damaged, mentally and physically, by hateful, misogynistic men. Having been on that side of it, it’s easy to understand how and why women box themselves into the white male POV that permeates our society, and how far we have to go to overcome it. Talking about it is, without question, the first step.

    1. Megan Hunt says:

      thanks brittan. I agree that I felt much more secure and in control of my own agency once I started noticing the huge influence I was letting gender expectations have over my life. for some apparently that self-awareness and “individual responsibility” comes more easily than for others, but personally I didn’t realize how much my own prejudices were blocking me!

      You rule brittan–thanks for sharing this.


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Alice Elfie’s Day Off

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OOTD: Clothes to covet

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This summer was the first time I heard Clark & Company’s music. I was at a friend’s house for a big party and the place was buzzing with lively discussions between friends reuniting and new introductions being made. I heard Clark & Company in the background of all this fun, and it was the kind of sound that you at first think is coming through some speakers somewhere. Soon, singer Sophie Clark’s beautiful, soulful voice caught my ear, and I began paying more attention to the music than the conversation.

Starting a Storefront

So I've never worked clothing retail before. In college I worked at a record store for a while, but it was pretty much exactly like the movie High Fidelity and thus not a legit retail experience. As we were preparing to open our first retail location for the Hello Holiday offices, everyone who knows me kept saying stuff like, "Well, I hope you can handle retail." "I think you're gonna find that running a physical store is a lot different." "Well, I look forward to hearing how THAT goes." It's like when you're a parent and you say stuff like, "I'm planning on taking my kid to work most days," and other parents knowingly go, "Oh, YOU'LLLLLL see."

I opened a store. Here’s what it looks like.

On November 25th, right before Thanksgiving, Sarah and I opened Hello Holiday's first brick-and-mortar location. When we started Hello Holiday, we had no intention of opening a physical store, but one thing we are both good at is seeing opportunities when they arise and reacting to them quickly to take advantage of them. We had had some success with local pop-up shop events, and when a retail space came over in one of Omaha's coolest neighborhoods, we knew we had to take it. We're excited for the store because it'll give us the space we need to grow. The front is the retail showroom, the back will be our offices when we finish construction, and our growing online fulfillment operations take place out of the full basement. With this space, we'll also have the opportunity to carry more independent designers from all over the world and take more risks with designers that would be harder to sell online. When customers can feel the clothing, see the lining, feel the zipper, see how it looks on, they're more likely to feel that emotional connection to these designers. It's not just a connection to an object, to an item of clothing, but a connection to a maker--a designer--who may live thousands of miles away. It's someone we believe in and support, and we're exposing their work to hundreds of thousands of new supporters through our store--both online and now with this physical location.
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