Data shows virtually every American woman has experienced some level of gender discrimination and that American women of color get a double whammy of it. African American women are the most likely to be forced to prove and re-prove … and re-prove … their competence; Latinas are written off by colleagues as “angry” and “overly emotional” and are the most likely to be dismissed when they offer viewpoints contrary to their male colleagues; Asian American women are most likely to be expected to conform to so-called “traditional feminine” stereotypes, to be sexually propositioned and they are dead last of all racial groups to be promoted in the business context. Apparently, the stereotype that Asian Americans are “smart,” hurts rather than helps because, for females, it generates feelings of envy and resentment…not respect.
Last week, an incredible VP at CBS brought me and two of my team members in to make a presentation about the new pilot to CBS’s diversity group and, afterwards, one woman was in tears. It was raw, powerful and intense to talk in a real and vulnerable way about race and gender and what it means to us as a society and as individual human beings. It was also empowering to think of the potential for what this television series can do for women – and men! – by raising awareness and opening our eyes…kind of like the Taylor Swift lawsuit is doing right now in social media feeds. Entertainment media isn’t just for “fun.” It is a powerful means of affecting and shaping our perceptions, as a culture and as a society, of race, gender and sexuality. As study after study has shown, perceptions create their own reality and oftentimes that “reality” is distorted and negative and false, a bad reflection in a bad mirror. Which leads us to the title of the new series: “Mirror Mirror,” a comedy about all the reflections of ourselves we see, whether of our own making or of others, whether real, imagined, created, or distorted.
As we work on our series arc, I want to reach out via this blog to ask people to share their own stories of gender discrimination – whether they engaged in it, experienced it, fought it, or tacitly approved of it by observing and doing nothing. There will be no judgment and every story can be anonymous. You can email stories to our production team at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/AAFLTV #MirrorMirror
I have done almost all those things. I have discriminated based on gender, although I didn’t mean to. I have also seen it and fought back. To encourage others to share their stories, I’ll share a few of mine here.
When We Do It Ourselves
The most dangerous forms of gender discrimination to me are the unconscious biases that we engage in without realizing it. As a young lawyer working for a female partner who had just given birth, I found myself on a conference call with that woman and two male opposing counsel. In the background, I could hear the sounds of my female colleague’s new baby and I recall thinking, “How unprofessional! Couldn’t she put the baby in another room for this call?!” I didn’t say anything about it out loud and never brought it up, however, internally, I judged her negatively. Fast forward a year and I am still a lawyer and on a conference call with three male attorneys. We hear the sound of a baby and everyone pauses, surprised. One of the male attorneys says, “Sorry! I have junior counsel here with me today!” We all laughed and the call continued. In my head, I thought, “How cute! What a nice dad.” It was not until I was on the train home that it hit me that in basically identical scenarios, I judged a woman negatively and not only did not judge a man for doing the same thing, but actually gave him props and extra credit for doing the same thing. I was horrified by my own manner of thinking. I thought, “If I consider myself a feminist and I am having these biased, knee-jerk discriminatory reactions, what are people who DON’T call themselves feminists thinking and doing?” Since then, I have made a concerted effort to be very cognizant of my own behavior and to recognize and address these kinds of reactions as soon as they happen, and they DO happen and admitting that is important for helping reduce gender bias and making us able to talk about it and deal with it.
When It’s Done To Us
Taylor Swift’s suit is making the ass grab a headline and that is fantastic. It’s fantastic because too many people shrug off ass grabs as no big deal and thereby legitimise sexual assaults. I was in DC with colleagues and a young man grabbed my ass and I chased him down the street, stopped him and had the cops arrest him. A person with me urged me not to file charges and to think of what it would to do the young man, advice which I ignored. It is not incumbent upon us to accommodate the needs of sexual assaulters. Taylor Swift has made this very clear and very public - good for her!
There have also been situations where bias was taking place and I did not know how to address it. Once I was conducting interviews with a male colleague who was very junior to me. Interviewees would come in and make eye contact primarily with him, defer to him and just assume he was the senior person. It was disconcerting, but I couldn’t figure out the appropriate response at the time…other than to ding the ones that did it in my reviews of them.
Recently, I have had a large renovation of my home done and the company we hired has been unprofessional and unpleasant. Just about everything they could do wrong, they have. It’s been an ordeal. One of the lead project coordinators interrupted a business call I was taking from home to order me to vacuum up piles of debris his crews had left behind. I told him clean up was his job and he stormed out (without cleaning up). I contacted his boss and complained. The next day, the coordinator came back to our house, walked right by me and went to my (male) significant other and asked if I had something personal against him. My significant other said not only that I was RIGHT THERE and could answer for myself but also that, “No, she has nothing personal against you – she just doesn’t tolerate incompetence and a lack of professionalism…and I agree with her.” Drop the mic.
That same coordinator, when showing me a bathroom he had designed, lamented that one area was very narrow and advised me “Don’t get fat” and started inappropriately discussing my body type. I very much doubt he would have said anything remotely like that to my (male) significant other. How is that acceptable? How is that ok? I told him many times how inappropriate I find his conduct but he doesn’t change it. It’s too late in the project to fire him, although, obviously, we will never hire this company again.
As human beings, I think we owe it to each other to do our best to defend one another, to try to make things right and equal. Each of us has different skill sets we can utilize to do that. In the upcoming television series, Mirror Mirror, my goal is to harness the power of entertainment media to get people talking about this and maybe help make someone’s life just a little bit better.