A feminist’s fight in a boy’s club culture

This is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time.  Ever since I saw this great tweet during the 2016 presidential race, “Hillary (Clinton) is proof a woman can work hard, rise to the top of her field & still have to compete against a less qualified man for the same job”. (Tweet from @erinruberry) Brilliant, right?  It truly encapsulated everything that I was feeling about the blunderingly ridiculous tongue tied performance of Donald Trump during the presidential debates.  The rambling word spew when he was trying to talk about his strategy for dealing with ISIS and the war torn Mosul was unprecedented in a candidate aspiring to be the leader of the free world.  It would have been terrifying to think that a man running for president actually couldn’t articulate a response to a question that most 10th graders could have managed, except for the good folks at Saturday Night Live who managed to make us laugh at the absurdity of it all.  And boy did we need a laugh.  We still do.

But I digress. For intelligent, capable, hardworking women in business, the concept of the proverbial glass ceiling is an all too familiar one, and many have experienced it first hand in many ways. I am never surprised to hear stories from other women about how they have had to fight for recognition or been passed over for promotions they more than deserved for a less deserving male candidate. I am surprised but pleased to hear men say that they never understood the glass ceiling until they saw my wife/partner having to deal with it.  Comments like that have the wonderful effect of stopping the disparaging self talk, feelings of isolation and the second guessing of yourself which is all too common.

Conversely, I have come across one woman who said she didn’t believe in feminism and thought that all men were really lovely and didn’t try to hold her back.  She also flirted obviously with her married boss and said she would never be a feminist because she still wanted men to help her carry her bags and heavy luggage. I’m still puzzling over that one. Hopefully you understand that feminism is a movement to promote gender equality and fairness. Feminism does not mean you hate men or think they are evil.  Feminism does not mean that women can’t interact with men in a loving and cordial way. Feminism does mean that you don’t have to use your sexuality to vie for favours or acceptance from men.  Feminism means there are no double standards based on gender.

So this story begins in a large corporation, lead by an unmistakably boy’s club culture.  I first suspected the new management may have boy’s club culture when all the women on the senior leadership team were replaced by men, except for a lone female in HR.  Within months of the new VP arriving, we had gone from a 50/50 gender split on the leadership team, to one woman.

I knew for certain that it was a boy’s club culture when I worked on a launch plan for a new product acquisition.  I compiled all the background work on the product and the prospective market.  I had the numbers analysed and a strategy formulated. I had done all the work including the presentation without assistance and had been complimented for my thoroughness and skill.

However, I didn’t get to present any of this work to the clients because the meeting was held on a bike riding trip up a mountain and I wasn’t invited to attend. I had to dutifully hand over all my work and be ready to answer questions if required.  Yup, couldn’t have been more obvious if it had walked up and slapped me in the face; women were not to be included in the inner sanctum.

Things really came to a head when a new role was advertised internally to lead a sales and marketing team in my department. I had been seeking a promotion for a long time and was eager to progress in my career. The new role had 5 key criteria; 10 years experience in the field, an MBA qualification, sales experience, marketing experience and experience managing a team.  I was elated!  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I possessed all the criteria and as this role was advertised to go to an internal person, I knew that no one else in the organisation had the criteria required so there was a really good chance that I could be successful. Furthermore, the role was on the leadership team and if I was successful, this would mean two women on the leadership team.

Behind every Wonder Woman you find?

I unashamedly loved the new Wonder Woman movie. Loved it! Ha! It was exciting, action packed and the lead character was confident, intelligent, sassy and beautiful. Not to mention fit as hell with legs that went on forever. Gal Gadot oozed charisma on the screen and played one of the most iconic female superheroes like a boss.

However, perhaps like some others, I did approach the movie with some trepidation.  Would it turn out to be another failed attempt at mollifying feminists, stripping the plot and characters of their fun and relatability? Or would it be cheesy and lame with bad gags and a one dimensional leading lady who acted dopey in an unsuccessful attempt to be more sexy. What a revelation it was to see that it was none of those things. It was authentic, fun and delivered on what is demanded of the genre.

And there was one thing even better than seeing the movie. (Which is saying a lot because what is better than geeking out on a superhero movie? Am I right? 🙂 ) The thing that was even better was seeing the reaction on social media and the loads of fans who reasonated with the strong and cool female lead. The public gave the movie a huge bravo and the box office records responded in kind. Awesome.

Which got me to reflecting on female characters in current movies and TV. It goes without saying that there have been approvements in leaps and bounds in the last 10-20 years when it comes to how women are represented in pop culture. Previously there was basically no female roles other than the doe eyed, sweeter that sugar, brighter than a summers day, non-offensive, non-threatening, non-opinionated damsel in distress, that simply swooned with pleasure at a mere glance from the handsome leading man. And you know what? I’m a realist.  There are women who are genuinely like that.  They are not really women I tend to be friends with and I sometimes uncharitably question whether they are for real or if it is just an act, but there are most certainly women that conform to that archetype. What used to stick in my craw was the monotony of it.  There was no other role available it seemed and it got very boring, real quick. Other than the transcendent Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the rebel warrior Princess Leia in Star Wars, there was basically meh, meh and more meh.

For the feisty, spunky girls who wanted nothing better than to slay and change the world, Hollywood and pop-culture used to provide no more inspiration than a diet of cardboard…or kale.  Thankfully those days are long gone.