Oh Progress, You Elusive Beast
You remember maybe six months or so ago, when actress Jennifer Lawrence spoke out about the gender pay disparity in Hollywood and how much less she and her female counterparts make compared with the guys? She wrote an impactful essay about it, acknowledging that while the men with whom she worked negotiated powerful deals for themselves, she worried about being viewed as “spoiled” or “difficult” in similar situations so she, in her words, gave up on the negotiations too early. Lots of women spoke out in support, with actress Salma Hayek pointing out that the only place where women’s payscales outweigh the men’s is in porn. Oh joy.
What I hadn’t noticed until recently – because, frankly, I never read the whole essay until now – is that Lawrence also spoke out about the reaction she’s gotten when speaking her mind like a guy, i.e., straightforward, no BS. As an example, she’d once expressed her opinion in a straightforward manner to a man working for her and he reacted like she’d been screaming at the top of her lungs. “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here,” he was reported as saying. As if she’d been looming over him with a blood dripping axe propped on her shoulder.
On the heels of that, a friend forwarded me an article the other day that had me vascillating between amusment and pissed-offness. In it, writer Alexandra Petri took famous quotes uttered by men and wrote them the way a working woman today would have to say them in a meeting in order not to appear bitchy or domineering. Here’s my favorite:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Woman in a Meeting: “I have to say — I’m sorry — I have to say this. I don’t think we should be as scared of non-fear things as maybe we are? If that makes sense? Sorry, I feel like I’m rambling.”
I’m both smiling and cringing because I really can relate. I’ve been in so many work situations where I’m mindful of not wanting to come across like a bully to the point that I end up sounding like every ounce of my confidence has been stripped away and tossed in the trash. How can we make gender progress acting like waffling ninnies? So I don’t. And here’s what happened.
I’m actively looking for a new day job at the moment, so a couple of days ago I met with an executive search recruiter. A woman. She grills me on my resume, having me talk her through it for over an hour beginning with high school (!) up to present. After all that she says she’s going to “tell me something.” I figure she’ll hit me up with her opinion that I’m not right for the role she’s filling for her client. But surpise surprise, that’s not it. What she did want to tell me was something else entirely. She wanted me to dye my hair.
Yes, I desperately wish I was making this up. Except I’m not. What the recruiter specifically told me was that while I had all the skills and expertise the client wanted, and that I came across as very buttoned up, polished and professional, I was also too “hard.” Her exact words. I didn’t crack a smile, she said, and I should because “you have beautiful teeth!” The environment where this potential new role would be is easy going, so I need to smile more, wear light colors (her recommendation: white or peach), and I should also dye my hair, perhaps to a soft brown. But, ah, this is my actual hair color, I said, my confusion so pronounced I probably looked like I’d just bitten into a lemon. (Said hair color, by the way, is very dark brown). OK, responded recruiter, but it’s too harsh. In order for me to look “relaxed” (read: approachable), she recommended a light brown. What. The. F**k.
The entire exchange, frankly, was rather depressing. She’s a fellow XX chromosome, after all. Doesn’t she realize how inappropriately she’d behaved? Would have said this to a man? Hell no. If she truly viewed me as a professional career woman, all she needed to relay is that the culture where she’d like me to interview is laid back and casual and I should adjust accordingly. ‘Nuff said. I get it. But instead I felt like I were being prepped as arm candy for a wealthy businessman and being given style advice that suited his taste in escorts. Deflating to be sure. Where, oh where, is the progress we’ve been trying so hard to make?
In the end, my hair color will stay intact and I shall tell her so. And if I come across as bitchy? Well, I’m sorry, but I’m OK with that.
Elizabeth Shore writes both contemporary and historical erotic romance. Her releases include Hot Bayou Nights and The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires. Her newest book is an erotic historical novella, Desire Rising, from The Wild Rose Press.