Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Well, you're a smart girl

This is a series of posts about discrimination that happened to me as a girl and woman in the 60s-80s. (And a littel from the 90s and 00s) See the first five entries at:
When we had to wear dresses to school
Look around the room, you don't belong here
Anyway, we wanted a man for the job
He stomped his foot in anger at my taking charge
He said to me "That doesn't seem very fair."

This is a record for my kids, and for others so we don't forget how it was and what we can't go back to.

So after having a teacher run me away from what I loved in high school, getting denied a rightful position, and being treated as inferior by many in the military, I'd had a wonderful experience in college and jumped back into the work force.

Right into a software job at an amazing company.  And over the next decade there I experienced virtually none of the  discrimination that had happened before.  There were little things mostly independent of work that happened to bring home that those ideas still lingered, even up in the more progressive part of the country where I had settled.

I was helping my husband's family when they were lending a hand moving one of his sisters.  At the time my husband had a small Chevy pick up truck, with a manual transmission.  Now as it turns out, I've driven cars with manual transmissions from when I got my drivers license.  As they were bringing out some heavy furniture, my husband asked if I could move the truck. I jumped right in, moved it to where it needed to be and hopped back out without a thought

My husband's brother-in-law said, with incredulity, "You know how to drive a stick?"  I replied "Yes, always have." To which he responded "Well, you're a smart girl."  I can still hear this now, the way he said it.  That condescending tone, like I was some kind of performing monkey.  There it was again, I thought.  It's amazing where it will crop up.

One job candidate I interviewed, when I asked him what experience he had working in teams, he described how he was assigned to a team with 2 women.  Then said that "I knew they wouldn't do anything, so I did it all myself."  I remember wondering at the time, does he realize how this sounds?   And he's saying it to a woman?   I mean, if I give him the benefit of the doubt, and maybe he got saddled with two people who didn't know what they were doing that happened to be women.  But it sure didn't sound that way.

After my first software company, I would go on to other challenges, but at one place I got to experience a bit of inequitable treatment again.  For a time I got an old-school boss from a different industry than software.  Just a year or two older than me, but oh, the sense of patriarchy that oozed from this guy's pores.  He did not trust my judgement and wrecked my best employee's relationship with the company, and mine as well.

He was also old-school in the 'scare them into performing' mentality he had.  At a group meeting he once tried 'motivate' the software development team by declaring our numbers were not on target for the quarter.  Immediately my hand shot up.  

"How far are we off the target revenue goal for the quarter?"  
"Well, ummm 2%"
"OK, and how different is our revenue this quarter compared to this quarter last year?"
"We're up by around 20%"

I remember the sense of relief and amusement in the room.  This guy was trying to present what he wanted to to try to manipulate the group.  I wasn't having any of it.  I'm sure that didn't endear me to him much.  I found another great opportunity and took my first try at a start up that fall.  

Working for the software company I do now, I have occasion to travel.  As my name might suggest, I'm a pretty heavy gamer.  (And often in the minority of that population too!)  So when I travel, I almost always have my my portable Nintendo game system of the moment.  Sitting in a plane on one of the flights, a man next to me introduced himself.  He was associated with a technical news and information web site, was tech savvy.  What had piqued his interest?

He was surprised that I played video games.  This went on to become a discussion about women in science. His belief?  Women have different capabilities, aren't as geared towards study and careers in science.  I disagreed saying culture was the primary culprit there, that girls were influenced from birth in certain behaviors.  He didn't agree.  This was only a few years ago.  It's still out there.

But it is much better now, at least in the industry that I work in.  I am sure others may differ significantly.  Like the industry my old-school boss came from.

Finally, I want to mention for those of us who have gone through these kinds of things, and worse, how difficult it is to let people know about it.  

I know that personally I tend to keep these stories to myself and not tell my colleagues.  My concern is once they heard any of this, they'd suddenly start worrying about everything they say and do.  I don't want that.  I also don't want to be treated differently because the think I'm more sensitive, or would need support.  I don't.  I'll fight my own battles, thank you, I did so all along.  

I want to relate these stories because I feel that people don't realize how it was, the struggles that women have faced over time.  I mainly want them to know these stories because when we start getting galvanized by things like denying birth control coverage, there's a significant reason.  We've been there done that and it sucked.  

And bottom line, we're not going back.  Not if I can help it, or anyone else who has been through the crucible.  We paid our dues, paved the way, we're not going back.

Now go vote like your life depends on it!

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