On Being a Feminist Around Business People

Posted on Nov 23, 2009 in Business | 4 comments

When I was working full-time in yarn, one of my primary motivators was to be a good feminist. In addition to having the opportunity to talk to people of all sorts about creativity and craft, I got to talk to a vast array of women about trusting themselves, trying new things, taking risks, accepting the consequences, and not asking permission to do any of it.

Now that I work full-time at a tech start-up, I’m encountering for the first time in my professional life a wide array of men. I’m loving this. And I’m finding that my feminist motivations still exist, but that they manifest in a very different way.

The other day I was told about a bigwig businessy speaker who, in addressing a roomful of entrepreneurs, likened the relationship between investors and entrepreneurs to that between Mars and Venus. He apparently said something to the effect that investors play the role of saying an entrepreneur’s ass really does look fat in those jeans.

I was appalled.

Now, I’m sure this guy isn’t a crazed sexist asshole whose grand motivation is to keep women out of the business world. What I actually think is that he’s lazy. Lots of offensive shit people say is said out of laziness, not malice. Lots of people sometimes (or often) don’t consider the greater meaning or implications of what they say, myself included.

That Mars-Venus bit made a point about a particular business relationship. I get the point. But what’s still sticking in my side several days later is that he could have made that point a ton of different ways, and some would have been just as cute or even funny.

Oh, and then there’s this study I stumbled onto. Researchers found that male subjects pretending to be business leaders made deeper cuts to women’s organizations after hearing sexist jokes than subjects exposed to benign humour. They concluded that “humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.

When I asked how many women were in the room to hear the speaker last week, the answer was, “not too many.” I wish I’d been there, because of and despite my confidence that upon hearing that wee gem of sexist stereotyping I would have raised the issue. Or at least grumbled audibly. I’d like to think I would have at least gone up to the man afterward and pointed out how dumb his comment was.

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  • http://www.nakeidknits.com/ Leslie

    Years ago was at a club where the talent started making fat chick jokes. We good-naturedly tried to get him off topic by pelting him with limes in a surely-you-can-do-better-than-this kind of way.

    We got bounced!

  • http://www.kimwerker.com Kim Werker

    Ha!

    But in all seriousness (though I'm still chuckling), it's a really hard
    thing to figure out: how to productively address this sort of thing. If
    throwing fruit gets us bounced but just bringing it up gets us painted as
    hypersensitive or incapable of taking a joke, what are we to do?

  • Kimsmom

    I would politely wonder aloud about his relationship with a significant woman – or with women investors. Years ago, in the early days of computers in the workplace, your father was conducting a training session. A middle-aged female student asked him if his wife was a strong woman. Taken aback, he asked why. She replied that he must be married to a strong woman because he was not treating his female students as being incapable of understanding this “scary, difficult” new technology. He responded by saying that if he treated women as inferior in any way he would no longer be married!

  • Kimsmom

    I would politely wonder aloud about his relationship with a significant woman – or with women investors. Years ago, in the early days of computers in the workplace, your father was conducting a training session. A middle-aged female student asked him if his wife was a strong woman. Taken aback, he asked why. She replied that he must be married to a strong woman because he was not treating his female students as being incapable of understanding this “scary, difficult” new technology. He responded by saying that if he treated women as inferior in any way he would no longer be married!

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