Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Male of a Tale

I just got back from a business meeting with 8 men, all over 40, all of them potential clients in my largely male-dominiated career industry in Calgary's business sector. Of the 8 men, 5 of them - that's over half - 63% - behaved in an inappropriate manner at some time over the 2 hour tour and lunch:

1. Upon meeting and shaking his hand, one man who I have corresponded with through email once or twice said, "Oh! You look a lot different from your emails! Taller…" Um, no photos in email signatures, sir. Weak.
2. Upon entering a site and requiring safety vests (only 4 to go around): "Hey, if you need to feel safe you can clutch onto me, I have no problem with that!"
3. "No, please, ladies first, Miss," and then gently squeezing my arm.
4. Upon arriving at the lunch table, one attempted to pull my chair out for me (chivalry is dead on business). I sat a chair over.
5. One man getting up for dessert, walking behind my chair, placing his hand on me and squeezing my shoulder, "Come on, don't you want dessert?" Ick. Remove your apendage.
These men seemed to feed off each other's flirting and compete for more and more contact and attention. I noted the behaviour of #1 to my male colleague in the car and he simply laughed lightly and said, "yeah, what does that mean?" I'll tell you what you what it means, you little shitbird, it means that women are not respected and we are objectified. They're not touching you, are they? I am a professional. So many words spoken to me were discomforting, gross, and unprofessional. Maintaining my poise, I kept my remarks to myself and will save them, perhaps, for a function when I have some wine in my throat to spell out how it's going to be next we go for a tour!

As much as I know it is unacceptable for them to speak to me like this, I still feel conflicted for not standing up myself. I find it difficult to find a balance between my professionalism and my intolerance of unprofessionalism. In the moment they make me feel reduced and even embarrassed. For making this feminist feel reduced, I get mad. Really mad. At the end of the day, I'm pissed off. When I look at today closely and reflect on the real results for me, they don't take my power, they are giving it to me by showing their pathetic weakness. I am in control and I am determined to contribute to clearing the way for other women in this industry to advance and have an exciting career in this particular path. Taking anger and making myself stronger and more determined will be useful.
Potentially powerful but professional and firm responses:
1. "You look the same." [Wry smile.]
2. "I have a problem with that." [ouch!]
3. "I insist. I am the host. Really." [and don't touch me.]
4. No need, to change this one, I think I did well. [I got it, thanks.]
5. My "no thank you" was enough, here. Although I wish I had casually reached for my fork and jabbed quickly in that moment of contact.
Why the touchy feely? What made these men feel that they had to handle me with their grubby little fingers or make totally stupid comments like "you can clutch onto me"? They were so goddamn intimidated by a woman that they were like giddy flappy-tongued frat boys who just can't get laid.

Tomorrow night I have an event which will involve alcohol, hockey, and over 25 men. One female client will be attending. I'm brushing off my feminist toolkit of verbal self defense at the tip of my tongue. I will be smart and witty, firm and intolerant. Professional but fun.

Hand me a fork and watch your hands, boys.


Dr.Dawg said...

Upon meeting and shaking his hand, one man who I have corresponded with through email once or twice said, "Oh! You look a lot different from your emails!

Raises an interesting point, though. Don't you form mental images of people whom you've only "seen" in text form? And aren't we all usually jarred by the dissonance when we actually meet the people in question?

Danielle said...

I've had this happen to me many times--and I'm not even in business yet!

I don't understand why men feel the need to 'touch'--especially when you're the only woman in the group.
The last time a man did put his hands on me, I told him "if you want to keep those hands, you'd do best to keep them off me." It seemed to work.

I wish you the best when dealing with those 'touchy' idiots of men.