Behind every good man is a great woman. Hmm. While I would be inclined to agree with that statement, something about it just doesn’t sit well with me. I’m sure that phrase was originally coined to give long overdue and much deserved credit to a good hearted, tireless working woman but still…I don’t like it. I’ve tossed it around in my head all day and the more I think about it, the more I doubt it will ever apply to me. While I hope to one day be a “great woman”, I certainly don’t want to be a great woman behind a man. If we’re quite honest, I don’t even know if I want to be beside one. Dang it, I want to be at the front of the line. I’ve written and rewritten that last line and then erased and rewritten it again in an attempt to sugar coat my ambition. And then I realized what I was doing and was disgusted with myself. For a moment, I was giving in to the critics, to the doubters and the naysayers. I was giving in to those who believe that certain things are “women’s work” and that when it comes to Corporate America, it will always be a man’s world. I’ve written columns about my amazing daughter, my hectic dating life or lack thereof, my wonderful hometown and my precious group of family and friends. This is not that column. This is a column for the overworked, underpaid and underappreciated women out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Women have been busting their butts for years, trying in vain to prove to men that we should be taken seriously in the work environment and that we are a force to be reckoned with as well. Not only can we do the same job as men can do, I would be willing to bet that in some instances, we can do it better. I’m not going as far to suggest that we belong in the NFL, but my six inch heels can run circles around your wingtips with tassels. But time after time we’re still seen as a skirt who can’t keep up. It’s exhausting and quite frankly, frustrating as heck. When it comes to being a woman in a man’s world, at what point do we stop trying to be one of the boys? (Even now, I’m tempted to curse just to prove my point. Would a man say “heck”? I think not.)
Rereading that first paragraph, I can’t help but wonder if it comes off a bit too bitchy or even bitter. But then it hits me that that is the problem with women working in a male dominated environment. We are constantly questioning how men see us and altering our attitude and changing our image because of it. It’s a balancing act really and a ridiculous one at that. You want to be taken seriously and you want to be respected but you don’t want to come off as bulldog who is seen as having “that time of the month” 365 days of the year. I’m not saying that all men feel this way but more often than not, women in the workforce are put into three categories: B*itch, slut or lesbian. If you’re assertive and have a take no prisoners kind of attitude, you’re either a b*itch, a lesbian or both. If you wear your skirts an inch higher or your blouse an inch lower, you’re obviously a slut and got to the top by being on your back. And if you refuse to give into an office flirtation because you don’t want it to hinder your budding career then hello lesbian. But the more I think about it, the more I could care less if I come off as a b*itch. Maybe we’re bitchy for a reason and it has absolutely nothing to do cramps.
It has been said that for every dollar a man earns, a woman doing the exact same job only earns seventy cents. With a thirty cent difference, a man is earning a minimum of 12 dollars more than a woman in a forty hour work week. You multiple that little number by 52 weeks and you get a grand total of $624 that men are earning more than women. In the grand scheme of things that may not seem like a lot of money. But when we’re working just as hard, if not harder than men to make that daycare payment each month or pay that car note, that 600 bucks could mean the difference between paying the light bill or the water bill. No wonder we’re pissed.
I meet women every day who are hustling just to make ends meet. We’ve all met “her”, that stereotypical woman who is doing everything she can just to get by. But if you look behind her tired eyes, I can assure you, she has more strength and determination than most of us combined. She’s the woman who works an 8-5 job making minimum wage and then heads to her night shift where she earns $2.15 an hour waiting tables and praying for a decent tip. Then she’ll go home, pay the babysitter the majority of what she made that day, check on her children before dragging her tired butt to bed and then get up the next morning to do it all over again. Then there are the women who have braved the scrutiny, faced the stereotypes and broken the barriers. Women who have joined the military and are fighting on the front lines, women who run into burning buildings searching for the injured and women who put on a gun and a badge every day to protect and serve. Some would like to think that these women are different than most but truth be told, all women fight a daily battle, mustering their inner strength and just living each day putting one foot in front of the other. We should be celebrating these women, not ostracizing them. Each and every single one of them has my respect. Bar none.
James Brown’s anthem “This is a man’s world” has been on repeat in my mind as I try to put my feelings to paper. There is something to be said for doing it alone. I am making a conscience decision to focus on my career which means that more often than not, my love life gets left out in the cold. I wonder about the kind of man I’ll end up with, if I’ll end up with one at all. I wonder if he even exits. But the more I get lost in my work, the less important finding a partner seems to be. My partner is the woman next to me in the office, the woman I pass on the street on her way home from a 50 hour work week, the woman doing her grocery shopping at midnight because there just aren’t enough hours in a day. More and more I am meeting strong, confident women who are getting everything they want out of life and are getting there on their own terms. Corporate America may still be a male dominated environment but women are showing up in record numbers proving that we’re here and we aren’t going anywhere. Regardless of our age, our sexuality, the length of our hemlines or our hair color, women the world over are finding just how much we can accomplish when we step out from behind the shadow of a man and brave it on our own. And I think the world is a better place for it. As the great James Brown once said: “This is a man’s world but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl.”