Does This Vagina Make Me Look Stupid?

by Amber on August 1, 2011

in Lifestyle, Real Life

The first day I set foot on the scene of corporate America I did so with a six-month pregnant belly leading my way. Fresh out of college and determined to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry, I couldn’t wait to put on that white coat, get into the laboratory and make discoveries that would have a positive impact on the lives of patients. Instead, I was escorted to my desk and told I would be spending the remainder of my time there until my maternity leave. This was a decision made for the health of my child, there was no disputing that, but I couldn’t help but wonder during those first few months how many times in the future my ability to procreate would affect my career aspirations. Instead of fearing impending labor, I began to worry about being mommy tracked.

Fast forward five years and I’ve learned that those fears that took root from day one were not unfounded. Despite the fact that women account for roughly half of the American work force, I still find myself struggling to prove my right to exist within it among my male colleagues. I watch as female coworkers and I are passed over for business trips, promotions, and positions as project leads with excuses that never quite seem to add up.

We have husbands and families perfectly capable of caring for our children while we are traveling on business. Shouldn’t we be the ones to decide if we can spare the time away from home? This is not our grandmas’ generation. We are not here working for pocket money. We are bread winners and don’t we deserve to be paid as such? We possess the same qualifications as our male counterparts, but all too often our promotions are on very dissimilar timelines. Women are, by their very nature, collaborative, flexible, and skilled multi-taskers. A project with a woman at the helm is by no means one bound for failure. Yet, our ability to carry children often seems to earn us the label of flight risk leading to the assumption that it is in the company’s best interest that we not assume too much responsibility.

During a personal development meeting with a new boss I was once told “It’s okay if you don’t have a five-year plan. I know that you are the mother of small children.” In that moment faced with such a ridiculous statement, I could think of nothing better than an equally ridiculous response. So, I braced myself and asked him. “I’m sorry; does my vagina make me look stupid? Does the fact that I birthed children render me incapable of personal goals to you?” While he pioneered new shades of crimson, I gave a sigh of relief years in the making. From that day forward, he never made the mistake of discounting me, of passing over the ideas I brought to the table until they were repackaged and regurgitated by a male scientist and that progress alone was worth the mortification that ensued after using the word ‘vagina’ in a business meeting.

While I would not suggest bringing attention to your womanhood as the cause for inequities in quite such a forward way, I do implore young women entering the workforce to first acknowledge the existence of and then refuse to accept the fact that gender matters. By acknowledging this obstacle you can better prepare and position yourself to climb the corporate ladder. Do not wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. Ask for them! If you think you deserve a raise or a promotion, start the discussion. Do not be afraid to call attention to your achievements and when someone else does it for you don’t be modest. Own them! Be assured, the men you work with are doing the same.

There is no refuting the fact that the role of and the options available to women have drastically changed over the last few decades. Today’s women are empowered, better educated and more equipped than ever to close the gender gap. If we can raise children, we can certainly raise that pesky glass ceiling.

Amber Doty is the managing editor of Go Mighty, as well as a slightly eccentric wife and mother of two. Her interests include eating meals she had no hand in preparing, making formerly professional business meetings awkward, and perfecting the emotional outburst.  One day she hopes to travel to all seven continents, but for now she lives in North Carolina happily equidistant from the mountains and the beach. You can read more from Amber on her blog, The Daily Doty.

Brandy August 1, 2011 at 7:20 am

I am in awe of the fact you were able to even articulate such an amazing response after him having said something like that to you! While I probably wouldn’t use the same term (even if it was PERFECT!) I think too many times women are discounted and absolutely have to fight to prove they deserve to be in their positions, much less so than men. Thanks for a great article!

Amber August 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Normally I’m not a “think on my feet” kind of girl, but unfortunately this manager in particular was a repeat offender on the sexist comment front. I had a lot of time to seethe from previous remarks and I had this conversation in my head a ton of times before he just begged me to say something rash during that meeting.

I definitely agree with you that in many cases women have to try a lot harder than men to prove that they deserve the roles they are put in and often do much more to earn them. It is a frequent point of frustration for me.

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] August 1, 2011 at 8:29 am

STANDING UP AND CHEERING!

I’m proud and honored to have you publish this on Curvy Girl Guide.

Holly {Artist Mother Teacher} August 1, 2011 at 11:10 am

This.

Perfectly said Amber. I may also have a crush on you for saying “Does my vagina make me look stupid.” Out loud. To your boss. BRAVO. BRAV-EFFING-O.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Thank you, ladies! I’m blushing.

Jaedeanne August 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

This might be one of the best posts on this site to-date. LOVE THIS!

I, too, am in the pharma industry. I know how high you have to step while trying to climb over the “good-old-boys” who are in your way. Although, I don’t imagine that it’s much different in other industries either.

I’m tucking your response in my mental archives – I might have to pull this one out at some point. :)

Cheers to you!

Amber August 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thank you, Jaedanne. I think it’s an even more concentrated problem in areas that are dominated by men like big pharma, though I’m sure it’s prevalent throughout the workforce as the statistics on women in leadership roles and the wage gap don’t lie.

It is hard to break into the boys club, but the number of women scientists continues to grow, which is great news to me!

Mrs4444 August 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

This post is as brilliant as its title. Well done!!!

As a middle school teacher today, it is quite rare that I come upon kids with the attitude that girls are “less than.” Maybe attitudes in the business will catch up with reality eventually, but it sure is taking a long time.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I think about this all the time. I really hope that the workplace continues evolving. It’s great to hear that younger generations are increasingly open-minded.

Anne August 1, 2011 at 9:35 am

OMG! I can’t believe you said that! Props to your “balls” and quick witted response. You go girl!

I do think that gender bias exist but also believe that it is not a given! There are bosses (clearly not yours!) out there that look past your gender. I got my second promotion WHILE on maternity leave, for example, but then maybe it’s because I am flat chested and German Butch – lol.

Wonderful writing! Proud to call you my sis!

Daisy August 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

As a female attorney I work in a very male dominated field. I feel so fortunuate that my current job has me under two awesome female managers who understand that a woman can have kids AND be an asset to the team, with full capacity for goal setting and project management. I haven’t always been so lucky, although I wish in previous circumstances I’d had the courage to say what you did.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I agree that working for a female supervisor who has children of her own and who also knows firsthand the struggles of being a woman trying to fulfill her career aspirations can make all the difference because they know it can be done. They are doing it.

When you empower your employees and make them feel supported both in the job and in achieving work life balance, I think that is when people really give their best performance. I hope the industry embraces this in the years to come.

Kate August 1, 2011 at 11:03 am

I think as women, we are too quick to sell ourselves short and participate in conversations like the one you had. We often mistake that garbage as empathy, or try to explain it away, because the reality that this stuff happens: well, it’s awful. Women may no longer be getting their literal bras snapped in the workforce, but my back is stinging even harder thinking of all the conversations that I’ve had that perfectly mirror yours. Thank you.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm

You make an excellent point, Kate. I spoke up in that instance, but only because that was the last straw for me. I let tons of comments go by in silence and that likely led to him feeling it was ok to say what he did.

We have to stop selling ourselves short.

Bitchin' Amy August 1, 2011 at 11:11 am

Great post! Love that you stood up for yourself and let him know exactly what you thought.

Amy August 1, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Is it inappropriate to say that was one hell of a ballsy move (that I wholeheartedly support and wish I could say I’ve done)?

kelbel August 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Loved this post. As someone who worked in IT my first 8 years out of college, I am way too familiar with the boys club. A male coworker of mine once got a promotion because he got his girlfriend pregnant and my manager felt bad for him. He needed more money to provide for the two of them. He actually said this, out loud. Don’t even get me started on the guy who told me (3 months out of school) that I should think about being a pre-school teacher like his wife, not a computer programmer. (BTW, I make more money than him now) :)

I really, really hope things turn around by the time my 6 year old is in the workforce.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm

That’s outrageous and is exactly the state of mind I hope we’re veering away from. I have a daughter too and I echo your concern.

Tricia August 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Unfortunately, I worked for women who were just as bad as the male boss you described. And they had children.

Amber August 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Tricia, I know where you are coming from and I could write an entire article on just that topic.

Kristin August 1, 2011 at 11:21 pm

That. Was. Awesome. Way to stand up for yourself!

Crystal August 2, 2011 at 7:40 am

I was very offended by a sexist comment our FEMALE manager made one day. We were told we were not allowed to go outside to smoke (at night) unless we had a male with us. I “kindly” brought up the fact that even though we are all females, we are allowed to take out the trash to the dumpster in the back of the building, so we should be allowed to stand on the well-lit sidewalk, in plain view of fellow employees and customers to smoke a cigarette. The “rule” was dropped shortly after. Men and women both have a sexist attitude, and I have no problem pointing out they are being ignorant. I cant wait to ask if my vagina makes me look stupid!

Allison August 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Good for you! My current career is in science administration – I left research because I thought it was research or family, and couldn’t see how to do both. Because it IS hard, and made harder (IMO) by the prevalence of males in the profession. What a great response!!

Another Suburban Mom August 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Whenever I get asked stupid ass questions like that I always ask the questioner if his kids have derailed him from achieving his career goals.

That also shuts them up.

Chris August 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Only a woman would whine like this ;-) .

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