“I feel like if I was a woman, I’d still be awesome and successful.”
Ladies and gentleman, I introduce my husband, in all his well-meaning, oblivious glory. What could the problem with the patriarchy be? In the past, sure, when women were married off in exchange for livestock… that was bad. But now? Was it even really still a thing? There are female CEOs. There are historic numbers of women in government. There is room for awesome women to succeed. To his thinking, he— a man— is awesome and successful (and oh so modest), so if he were a woman that would still be true. Simple.
I love those rose-colored glasses of his.
The thing is, there’s a kernel of truth in what he’s saying. He’s smart, talented, and the hardest working person I’ve ever known. He runs a company that he co-owns with his dad and brother. He side-hustles. He helps his friends start their own businesses, and then, just for kicks, he registers our dog to run for school board. (He’s also whimsical.) These qualities make him both awesome and successful, and being a woman wouldn’t change those qualities. It probably wouldn’t even change the results.
After all, I know lots of badass women. Not only are the women in my social circle smart, driven, funny, and really, really, really good looking (obviously), but the majority of my Pilates clients are women with successful careers. They have power. They have status. If they’ve been held back by their femaleness, it certainly doesn’t show. I work with doctors and lawyers. I work with Danya, a C-level executive, who just the day before my husband’s revelations came into the duo session she was to share with her childhood best friend, Sara, and curled up on the reformer as if she was crawling into bed. She propped her head on the shoulder block like a pillow and lamented. She’d had a tough meeting. This is COVID life.Everything at work is more difficult than it was a year ago— for everybody and in all ways— but work still needs to be done. Deadlines need to be met. People needed to make decisions. They needed to answer her questions, and they needed to answer them yesterday. (She’s not Miranda Priestly, so those probably weren’t her exact words. I’m imagining.) Nobody likes hearing these things. Danya didn’t like saying those things, but she’s the boss. That’s her job.
“They’re all thinking I’m a bitch right now,” she said. “I just know it.”
“If you were a man, nobody would be thinking that,” Sara said.
“You’re the boss. If you weren’t willing to call people out and say those hard things, you would never have gotten the job. You had to call it out,” I said.
“I just hate that I’m even thinking about it, you know?”
And that is what would be different if my husband was a woman. He’d be thinking about it. When he’s at work, he only cares about the work. As long as it doesn’t impact their ability to do what needs doing, his staff’s opinion of him is irrelevant. That’s a freedom that he enjoys, in part, because of his gender. He’s comfortable being completely himself at all times. He’s willing to be honest, no matter what, regardless of the response. He’ll tell me he doesn’t “get” the patriarchy. He’ll tell an employee who has failed to meet expectations that they need to step up their game, and then he gets back to work. It’s not personal; it’s business. Feelings aren’t a factor for him. Not when there’s a job to be done. If he were a woman, he would say what needed to be said and then be held responsible for the soothing wounded egos.
Women are told to smile. They’re told to be nice. When women lead a meeting, sometimes people leave that meeting and call her a bitch. Even if what she’s saying is no different than what a man might say. Even if she was completely calm. It’s directness that makes a woman a bitch. And if she actually lost her temper? A crazy bitch. Meanwhile, men are straight shooters. They’re dedicated. They’re passionate. These impressions are obviously not reality. Most people would say they don’t even actually believe them. But then… the thought is always still there. We live in a world where women are CEOs and COOs and Presidents and Founders, but we haven’t reached a place where it’s not notable that these women are women. We haven’t reached a place where women who succeed don’t wonder if people look at them and think that that success makes them (quelle horreur!) unlikable.
Tony tried to understand all this when I explained. He really listened, bless him. He did his best, but these different expectations for men and women are both ever-present and almost invisible. Try as he might to understand, we live in different worlds.