Several years ago, I moved in with a guy. We both were established in our careers outside of the home, and one day when he was at work I took the liberty of doing several loads of laundry for him. I thought it was the nice thing to do, a nice gesture. I will admit there was a twisted sense of pride emitting from my veins when I was folding his laundry—it made me feel closer to him. Then, the next week rolled around and his dirty laundry piled up. On Monday morning, I was on the receiving end of a mind-blowing tongue lashing before going into work because I hadn’t done his laundry for him. Then it hit me—I had set a boundary and created a role for myself. I had waltzed into his domain and rendered his hands and brains useless on how to push buttons and pour detergent.
Women’s equality is a tricky subject. Men have always known their places. They are the Alphas, the dominators, the providers. Women? We can be and want to be anything and everything. That’s the beauty of being a woman; a woman can be anything from a homemaker to a CEO and in many cases are both at the same time. Of course that wasn’t always the case, and the ones (like myself) who are in a place of authority in a male-dominated industry have a unique responsibility to help society play catch-up.
I think back to Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards two weeks ago. She took her time not just to thank those who helped her along the way, but she used her precious minutes as a platform for women’s wage equality awareness. While I hate the word awareness, and find it tough to relate to a woman who makes millions, I hope that her words do bring change. They prompted me to write this blog, so that must mean something. “Awareness” to me means that you simply know about something. There is no action verb in the term “awareness.” We have International Women’s Day and Equal Pay Day all designed to raise “awareness.” However, if we want to truly be equal, why are we choosing symbolic days designed for women to stand out? Why are we demanding that doors be opened for us just because we are women? Why do some of us still, to this day, think a man should pay on the first date, or buy us drinks, or ask a family’s permission to marry us? Some people think there’s a respect factor in these social acceptances. If we want equality in our pay, we have to look at other ways inequality thrives in our society and change the boundaries that are set in our day-to-day lives.
In one of my first meetings in, for lack of a better word, a power position in my field, I was called sweetheart. It bothered me at the time, but I did as so many do and let it go. Then in subsequent meetings, I was told how pretty my hair was. As time went on, I realized that this person did not respect me as an equal, much less a boss. I was simply a girl to him. If the roles were reversed and I would call my male boss sweetheart, that would be grounds for dismissal in most companies. Over the course of many months I have worked to reset the boundaries of our working relationship, which if not done in the very beginning, is a tough feat. Now, every time he says that my hair looks pretty, I say with a smile: “Well thank you, so does yours.”
I understand that I am a small fish in a very big corporate pond. Women have a tough battle ahead in all parts of the world, and our country doesn’t have it nearly as bad as others do in the way women are treated. Respect is not a privilege or a right when it comes to women. It’s something to gain, to earn. I am lucky that I live in a country where I have the freedom to fight for equality. Hopefully others like me will set equal boundaries for generations to come.