As a general rule, I hate discussing the disparity between how females are treated in business versus men, however, this morning I was reminded of the reality again. A letter of complaint that I had written was perceived to be the rantings of a deranged, disgruntled woman. In contrast, the same points made in another letter but this time sent by a bloke were calmly answered (albeit with the same amount of bullshit) but the tone was so vastly different. I guess a pertinent point to note here is that the recipient of the letter was a man – but should it matter? The substance in each initial letter was fundamentally the same, the complaint was identical, and the concerns raised as valid – so why did one response feel like a brush-off, and the other response feel like a considered answer?
Much has been written about how the rules are different for women in business, especially if the women in question are in positions of perceived authority. The last time I addressed this issue was several years when I had sat in a meeting with the (male) head of an organisation that we were then doing business with. The other organisation had reneged on a contract leaving the college potentially stranded with no venue to do a show. As we all know theatrical venues get booked up years in advance, so suddenly losing a venue with just a few months to find an alternative is a nightmare. To make matters worse this was the 2nd time within a matter of weeks that we had been shafted by the organisation. In other words, our concern had a very solid foundation. We had already been forced to rewrite an entire term in order to facilitate the first double booking. Freelancers booked a year in advance were needing to be chased in the hope that they could facilitate the new dates. So a logistical nightmare, and one which I had every right to have some feelings over.
In the meeting I was spoken over, mansplained, and gaslit. Now as I’m writing this I’m hugely mindful that I’ve written something similar quite recently about another important meeting with a man from a certain organisation that we have an ongoing concern around. So it would be easy to perceive there to be a pattern whereby I’m the one looking to exonerate myself – except if you speak to nearly any woman in charge of an organisation, they would all have had this experience.
In the first meeting every time I offered up tangible proof of our booking I was told not to shout at the other person. Now interestingly there were witnesses to this discussion, and whilst I categorically knew that I was calmly stating my position, you do start to question your own sense of reality. Fortunately, my witnesses were very clear that at no point had I raised my voice at all – unlike the bloke that was arguing with me, who had shouted me down at every opportunity.
Or I recall the time I was in a rehearsal room doing the first play-through of a new show of mine. As with all new shows, there had been much discussion before it reached the rehearsal room about a particular scene, and indeed about a specific song. Nothing unusual about that at all. On this particular occasion, my co-writer and I had resolutely stuck to our guns and refused to cut the song. When it came to that part in the readthrough I was horrified to see one of the (male) creatives blatantly rolling their eyes and laughing when it came up to that particular section. The unspoken sentiment was clear, that we were wrong and this person was out to undermine that decision from the outset. As always though I wouldn’t let it lie, and challenged them after the readthrough, as besides being hugely unprofessional, why would anyone choose to undermine a writer at such a vulnerable time – the first read-through? As with all the examples I could cite the response was to not take responsibility but to deflect and pretend that my reality was in fact a construct of my imagination.
These are just 4 examples, there are many more, and all follow the same pattern, a female disagrees or calls out a male colleague for wrongdoing, and the female is perceived to be neurotic, the moment they assert themselves they’re accused of shouting, and a false narrative is created.
Now compare this to disagreeing with another female in position. Both listen to the other side. Neither raises their voice. There is an accepted equality with both parties attempting to find a middle ground which will allow them to move forward. Before anybody points out the obvious – there are clearly exceptions to this rule and some females in authority can be bullish, rude and downright out of order. I consider myself very lucky that I’ve only had to deal with a female in that position once. In the interest of parity, I would also add that I’ve had countless conversations with men in authority that have been equitable too – but that does not negate the regularity of the gender disparity by comparison.
So what can be done about it? Maybe it’s an age thing? Maybe the younger generation coming through are more mindful of their language, are more mindful of an unconscious bias? I mean I really hope so. For sure schools are doing much more work with students to discourage a perceived bias towards men in society. I do wonder if there’s something more innate though? I mean some of the men that have mansplained me over the years have been genuinely lovely people that seemingly don’t know how to speak to somebody of the opposite sex. Do some men have an inbuilt superiority complex, or is it in fact the opposite – a lack of confidence which makes it easier for them to pathologise the female as opposed to look into the mirror and deal with their own insecurities?
Let’s face it – I’m not going to come up with the answer by musing on here am I, but that shouldn’t stop me from publicly acknowledging that that is my lived experience. For all the younger women coming through and climbing the ladder, just know your reality and just know that this is a thing. The first few times it happens to you, you’ll examine your own behaviour, and self-doubt will creep in. Eventually, though you’ll see it for what it is and realise that the issue lies with the other person.
One more thing – I wonder if the move away from binary gendered thinking will have an impact on this reality? Somehow, I’m going to hazard a guess that it won’t, and in some instances, might make it more pronounced. Only time will tell.