Over the past few months (although I would have to admit that my informal research study began a number of years ago!), I have come to realise or rather accept that my professional relationship to and with men has significantly stalled. As one of my constant source of bemoaning and a (uniquely) bottomless pit of complaints, male professionals have always been – and will probably continue to be – associated with both my greatest successes and my most recurrent disappointments. When asked, I would often say that I loved working with both men and women, and I would pause for effect, with perhaps a slight tendency to prefer being in the company of men. Men we(a)re honest, transparent, easy to get along with and I naively think/thought, easy to stir in your direction (do not judge).
I have worked with incredibly persuasive, alluring and driven individuals whose vision I not only shared, I truly embraced and it seemed that they too shared my vision. It would be hard not to, right? Right? Well, vision is far from being it all. As inheritors and for many bearers of a legacy where privilege does and shall not fully involve women, men often, and fewer times that is excusable without realising it, perpetuate actions, attitudes and ideas that relegate women in positions of inferiority and dependence. In theory, for many, it is “ok” to be led by a woman and her vision but in practice, the woman in question does not quite hold the “authority” to lead and therefore it is ok to “question” her decisions, “delay” her process, “make” moves without her knowing and/or consent, “expect” her to understand and (my favorite) still be grateful for your sought-after male expertise and council.
And privilege is really this tricky, uncanny, and deceptive thing because even the ones who are mostly deprived of it in an era where standing in your own light and in your own truth is still considered rebellious, often refuse to see where gender constitutes a force that can either be utilised for the greater good or on the other hand, strengthen insidious structures of what the wise call heteropatriarchy and allow it to rear its very ugly head again and again. But how? When? Whaaaaat? They will say… What is this nonsense women always complain about? Well, my brothers, this is when you need to check yourself!
When you respond faster to or dedicate more time working with or for a male client/collaborator for an analogous project; when you do not respond at all to what you are being asked to do (something for which you have been duly remunerated) and your project lead (i.e. the woman boss) has to literally harass you using every means of communication in existence today; when you clearly under perform because you are simply not in full agreement with the direction taken; when you question the expertise, savoir-faire, experience and hell, education of the project lead because… well because what, really?; when you realise that you should have not taken on this additional task for reasons that are probably understandable but decide that discussing realistic and respectful exit solutions cannot form the basis for a conversation with the “nagging woman boss”; when you take zero responsibility for any of your actions but find it convenient to be considered and addressed to as collaborator or better yet, the instigator behind the project/initiative/task, when you assume again and again and again that because you believe yourself to be charming and know what to say to the ladies (my eye can no longer roll at this point), you will get away with just about anything…
Working with people can be excruciatingly painful, that is the fact we will agree to admit. Let’s be frank. We easily convince ourselves that our ideas should prevail because they come from a unique place of authenticity or acquired wisdom or simply because, despite our wanting to remain humble we really believe we are geniuses. The social entities we are spend a lifetime building our ego and another lifetime finding ways to feed and sustain it and for the dominant cultural frameworks, the rearing of boys places an incredibly strong focus on that aspect alone of being and thriving in society and certainly not enough on conflict avoidance and/or resolution. And because girls are told to be patient, understanding and emotionally flexible, they often dust off patriarchal, mysogynistic and sexist attitudes as unavoidable, masculine immaturities and flaws. They are not and shall in my view, immediately cease to be.
More recently, I have equated my reaction to this deterrent professional nuisance to what Zora Neale Hurston’s ideas on racism and its impact on African Americans were in the early twentieth century.
“Part of Hurston’s received heritage- and perhaps the paramount received notion that links the novel of manners in the Harlem Renaissance, the social realism of the 1930s, and the cultural nationalism of the Black Arts movement- was the idea that racism had reduced the black people to mere ciphers, to beings who only react to an omnipresent racial oppression, whose culture is “deprived” where different, and whose psyches are in the main “pathological”. (…) And she declared her first novel a manifesto against the “arrogance” of whites assuming that “black lives are only defensive reactions to white actions”.
Our highlighting gendered misbehaviour and its consequences should not be reduced to our reacting to patriarchy and misogyny. The manifestos we are writing from our daily life experience(s) reveal that women and men are no different when it comes to professionalism and professional care. We aspire to do well, better and sometimes even different. We want quality, respect and commitment. Systems are socially created, constructed and preserved but they can be dismissed, dismantled or redesigned as we all see fit. For us to remain our brothers’ keepers, we ought to become our sisters’ keepers too.
Zora Neale Hurston. The Complete Stories with an Introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sieglinde Lemke (1995). Copy purchased at the DC’s Bus, Boys and Poets bookstore in 2009. 🙂