I don’t usually write about my research or political issues on this blog which could be an act of avoidance because it certainly is a big part of my daily life (as it is for most women who are aware of and experience sexism in our society). I think there are important questions of how certain situations in daily life are different for men and women and men and women of different positions.
Part of my problem is that I notice I put myself in subservient positions because of several reasons. One, I am a people pleaser and care about customer service after spending my late teens and 20s working in a make-up store and on a political campaign trying to get people to donate money. I also think I still feel like I am in a lower position or still see myself in that first job as a paralegal in New York City when I thought I would get ahead by being helpful and friendly (but really there was no getting ahead in that job). I look back now on my performance review and a male attorney praised me because he noted that even when I was making copies I did it with a smile. Now I am not saying a good attitude shouldn’t matter, but can you imagine this ever being part of a young man’s performance review? Why should it matter if I smile while making copies as long as you get your organized copies? Is it to make the people asking me to do these menial tasks until 10pm at night feel better?
Finally, I think I have been trained differently than my male peers. In order to get ahead I have always been taught to work hard and go above and beyond, but this looks different for young men versus young women. When I have been given this advice by well-intentioned people I don’t think they have the same image of a hard working woman versus a hard working man. A hard working man does not have to be always smiling or pleasant or subservient. He asserts his role, intelligence, and position, which is not related to being friendly or accommodating? If it is, terrific, but it is not what he is judged against.
This thinking all started because of a frustrating situation I was in today where I organized an event with a speaker. I am a PhD candidate and was with two professors in a room full of younger masters’ students who are at this event because I invited them. For some reason I let my role becoming giving people food and make everyone comfortable. The professor speaking at this event is someone who I think does not particularly like me or my research and in my nervousness instead of trying to demonstrate what a bright researcher I am and competent individual, I got up immediately to get him a water and as a side note asked if he wanted coffee. I guess I stupidly thought it wouldn’t feel like I was a waitress and that he would turn down the offer for coffee, but he took me up on my offer and asked for water and coffee. I did not receive a hello, or eye contact, and felt I had to make myself invisible as a person to get this coffee and water and deliver it quietly so as not to disturb the men having small talk. Then he asked for food and instead of someone sitting near the food helping pass it along I had to quietly walk across the room as the designated female caretaker to get it for him. I was not acknowledged when the event started except to ask questions about the food I ordered for everyone.
I am not trying to blame this one individual, but instead to reflect on myself. I internally scolded myself for acting this way, but was it really my fault? I don’t know another way of being that does not involve trying to be polite and friendly, but when does this become more than just being friendly, but becomes minimizing myself as an academic or professional. Maybe this is just me being sensitive and maybe the option is to not care whether I get coffee, but whether I am still getting ahead at the end of the day as an academic. In the meantime, I will be getting coffee for myself so I can keep working my butt off to produce the work that will help me advance.