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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  • creole wisdom

    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.

    • creole wisdom

      I meant to say: identical to mine :)

  • Becky K.

    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!

  • Christine Solomon
  • Haley

    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.

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

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

  • Peggy G

    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.

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

      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!

  • http://twitter.com/brittanclaire brittanclaire

    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.

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

      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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