Sexual Harassment is Adult Bullying (and It's Alive and Well)
[Let me preface this article by saying I understand you can find decent men who aren't misogynistic. Some men are truly interested in working with women as equals. The men I met this week, though, are indicative of another group I have seen over and over. They are the men who do not hold women in esteem and do their darndest to keep us in our place.]
This week I was reminded I was a woman. Not in an empowering, positive way, but in a objectifying, belittling, humiliating way.
In general, I'm proud to be a woman. I'm a great role model for my daughter who sees me working for myself and learning something new every day. I do what I do because I love it, but I also do it because I want my daughter (and my son) to see that I add to our family, my clients, and them. This week, though, in under an hour, I was reminded that smart, attractive women with ideas aren't always welcome. In fact, we are threatening and must be demoralized so as to prevent any inclination to rise up and do more than stay at home with the kids.
Over the past 15 years, ever since I quit my corporate job, I've gotten used to working with other smart women. I've collaborated with them to get things done. I've bounced ideas off them to make both of our businesses prosper. Lately, I've started helping local business women understand and build a social media platform for their home-based businesses, because I truly want to see other smart women succeed. And it's been working. As I help my clients, they tell their friends and business colleagues about me. One of those colleagues, a man with a successful and popular local business, called me this week and requested a meeting. I accepted. When I showed up (exactly on time), I realized (again) why I left the corporate world.
During my meeting, my hand was squeezed to a point of pain (and I have a very firm handshake, I'm no wuss; this squeeze was intended to hurt). I was waved away as the man I was supposed to meet with had a meaningless conversation with another man (who was drunk, by the way). When we finally sat down, I was interrupted while giving advice so the man could turn to his partner to say, "You know what? I like her. She talks fast and gets to the point. OK." I could almost feel him patting me on the head. The intention was clear: Isn't it cute that she appears to know something about this? Both men left the meeting at various times to do other things. Throughout the meeting I was put on the spot with several "jokes" to see if I could keep up and "take it" (it was deemed that I had a good sense of humor). But the final straw? When one of them asked me if I was a real redhead.
This was bar-none the most unprofessional meeting I've had (and I've had some doozies -- I used to work with good ol' boys in oil & gas). I was so taken aback that I simply continued explaining my game plan with regard to their Facebook presence. I gave them solid advice and explained several things they could implement immediately to grow their fan base. It wasn't until I left that I realized how violated I felt. No one had touched me (except for the awful handshake), but I had been bullied. In fact, it's two days later and I'm still processing the incident. I am confident in my abilities, I am a quick learner, and I love to see others succeed. Rationally, I know these jerks were nothing. Emotionally, though, they shook me.
I'll bounce back. I already am. They want me to work with them on a weekly basis. I'm canceling our next meeting and instead sending them a proposal that outlines what I'll implement on their Facebook page (once) and for how much money. I'll do all the work from home, all correspondence via e-mail. After the implementation, we're done.
I have considered not taking the job at all. In fact, I have the luxury of not needing this particular job because I'm busy with several projects right now. If I'm being honest with myself, I think I want to take the job and twist it to my terms to assert my own strength. I need to show them (and myself) that I'm not going to be bent to their will on their terms. I will call the shots, implement the solutions, then leave (with plenty of money). The deal is on my terms and if they choose not to take it, that's OK too. At least I asserted myself. If I don't take the job, I'll feel like I didn't stand up for myself or the countless other women they've humiliated.
On the other hand, why bother with them at all? Why put myself in the position of dealing with jerks who aren't really committed to making social media work for them (sandwiched in between jokes and rude remarks were tell-tale signs that they haven't bought into social media's power). It's entirely possible I'll be their fall guy if their numbers don't triple.
I could use your support. Have you endured an unprofessional meeting? How did you respond? Would you take the job or run fast in the other direction?