Queen of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts, the ever-popular short-tempered character from Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’…A powerful monarch; cruel as she was, she is still a more interesting female lead in literature than most female protagonists who are simply rewarded handsomely for being unboundedly kind and obliging. I still can’t decide if their mutual youthful and beautiful dispositions are favourable at all to feminism. As relevant to this piece though, the title is more akin to the courage of the protagonist Alice. Here, I contemplate the courage of overcoming our own traumas and prejudices as women, as we fight for rightful convictions, particularly in professional roles and as pertinent to our exploration of higher prospects.    

As women, slipping up, even if everyone else is allowed their mistakes, seems thoroughly out of the question. This pressure seems to increase with our performance, especially as we ascend to professional hierarchies not customary to us. Perhaps it is self imposed, but our lack of representation within governance everywhere speaks to the unjust state and stance of society. Commonly, we believe that as women we have to be twice as good to get half as far as our male counterparts. It is worse for those of us who are minorities as well. Now, before you resort to the lesser-than-half fraction of wages that a woman earns on average compared to a man, to try and repair my ideas, factor in the actual scarcity of us in every industry. Yes, the world seems to be repairing, but no, we are not there yet, and the valuation of things more fluid as hard work especially when not associated with manual labour, is much more complicated even before factoring in gender and racial biases, whatever it is that they may stem from.

On the State of Women of Colour in the U.S.

The price of our contribution itself does not reflect our own strife and perhaps it is the case that this is our value as is seen economically. Some of us of these demographics, especially when we come from less than average backgrounds, perhaps even first generation residents in some parts of the world, do find it hard to cope with aspects of living as simple as language. However, to attribute our (apparent) competency and potential to that, is far too reductionist and hard to believe. I do understand that first impressions mean a good deal still, but here I am a proponent of positive discrimination. Essentially, the thesis of an unjust social value for women, is that the female contribution in the workplace is less than that of her male counterpart even in terms of likely advancement. Adjusting for the higher salary of more qualified women, still leaves the squander and atrophy of close to 50% of global human resource.

Much like the difference between price and value in economics, our wages alone do not reflect our hard work. Workplace prejudices aside, there are our inane complexes. Possibly the largest one, is the difficulty in approaching a male superior at work, perhaps even just a direct supervisor who actually handles day-to-day delegations of duties and ensuing instructions which are generically provided in person, and discussed verbally whether or not minuted elsewhere. Before I get further into it, a safe workplace is legality. It is required of employers to provide a safe (even conducive) environment for their employees, and it does prohibit gender discrimination and sexual harassment. These laws form a basic guideline for further written codes within a workplace, and procedures for handling and mediating any kind of work related communications, up to disputes. Often, the woman is the object of harassment, and whether or not the allegation itself seems far-fetched in terms of the requested compensation vs. the committed act, there was a dispute. The dispute is an indicator of a fault. Perhaps it is a mismatch and perhaps the woman isn’t a right fit for the space, but when it appears to be unconducive for women in general, the issue should be risen of its toxicity. In a lesser scenario, the hiring policies, procedures and personnel need to be reassessed, and that is only if the alleged perpetrator has an incongruent track record with the allegations. Even then, it is possible that the perpetrator simply got away with harassing co-workers repeatedly, as can happen with workplace psychopaths.

Now, the biggest problem with the critique and undermining of our sentiments as working women, is that the world is still a patriarchy and men are primarily responsible for the general lack of security of women everywhere. It is not the case that we have not fought more forwardly either, even physically and violently as is usually recognised as fighting. It is true though, that armed officials were not allowed to be women for a good long while.  

Women’s Protests in History
Women Protesting in the Middle East Against Egypt’s Mubarak
670 Sister Marches Worldwide, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

Back to female complexes in the workplace; I have discussed in Natural Women, the long term psychological effects of gender inequality. I also briefly addressed it in Of Adam’s Rib. These complexes are the manifestation of the inherited social traumas from long term biases and abuse against women. Physical or otherwise in nature, it takes certain courage to overcome long term suppression even if we are finally alleviating it.

So, why is it so hard to approach a senior at work, especially if they’re a man? I suppose we could just be shy, even boys and young men can be that way. But we are not cautious just because you’re a stranger and we’re young. Sometimes, more experienced hires even have this issue, and the assimilation of women into work environments is always more arduous. The issues are in the expectations and judgements that we are exposed to lifelong. How we dress sometimes, as modest as we may try to be, will portray us a certain way. First impressions still mean something, and we are classically perceived as charmers…lesser than men, but probably distracting. As such, there is a concern of how we are perceived in a professional environment. Are we being too daring, perhaps getting too close or speaking too often? Does it appear flirtatious? It is a conflict of interest to be intimately involved with a co-worker let alone a superior, and it can ruin an early career candidate’s professional prospects if they develop such a reputation. On the other hand, do we look too prudish or conservative? It poses a problem for networking purposes, is we’re not ‘fun’ or ‘cool’ enough to engage our co-workers even. As a woman, it is exceptionally concerning when we are capable and ambitious, to be pigeon-holed initially especially as in the prior instance. Yes, we may sue for harassment and butchery of character, but that can make it difficult for us because the butchery can in fact be perpetuated past the legalities ‘in private’ amongst ‘friends’.

Aside from that, the ensuing psychological issues can affect our own confidence in presenting our work, especially if trying new or original ideas. Ironically or not, this sort of novelty is what demonstrates proactivity and possibly vision if done right. I suppose the issue could exist for a young man with a female superior, whence he might prefer to reach out to a male superior who will probably be available, perhaps more so even due to numeric advantage. What happens if she engages the young man past that point? How will she come off? Should she try and patch a professional relationship, or is it too little payback to risk a workplace (sexual) harassment lawsuit? The stigma is terrifying. So few women get as far, and too much hinges on our own sole reputations alone. We stand the risk of perpetuating a different idea of what it takes to be successful in a man’s world, and consequently discourage such genuine pursuits of intelligent young women. What more, because of their rarity, it isn’t as easy to find a female mentor and not every successful person, regardless of background, is necessarily ‘successful’ due to ability and discipline.

Most people have been exposed to the token individual, and not just as a concept in entertainment. In fact, perhaps we have seen this more in politics than sitcoms. It is more of a political rouse than a genuine statement at all. Essentially, it is marketing. It will capture mass attention to promote a trendy cause, which promises capitalisation. Mass media alone is probably more guilty of this than actually credible of presenting issues and ideas thoroughly. Truth is, I am often underwhelmed by the lack of statistical understanding amongst people. Something like inquiring into a sample size or even demographic, still occurs to an alarming few. It seems much too easy to create a fad, but due to the superficiality of the endeavor, there is never any actual lasting impact other than maybe the profits of a few corporate megalomaniacs. Returning to the token individual though, being prejudiced against those from different socio-political backgrounds is one thing, but there is a high likelihood of becoming threatened by others of similar socio-political backgrounds as oneself, because one has willingly taken on the token role itself. Now, the token female becomes a threat to intelligent young career women, rather than a role model or a supporting hand for even causes that they appear perfect to champion. Sometimes, I wonder if it is worth a try to just get one in first, but their priorities and loyalties aside, their performance within those roles will reflect on the rest of us too. Having said that, I do see the ‘token-x’ in any field as necessary to convince class-x of opportunities that are available to them. After all, it is true that they were ‘discovered’ by power players. On the other hand, there is the overly political variation and the almost impossible task we have most days of telling the difference. Now, we are left with the challenge of knowing who to associate with and trust further in professional circles.

Some of us, are guided by a more realistic view. We do inform ourselves, and see that our growth will probably be slower, and that Oprah is a phenomenal exception to every norm. Where we can push, we should and sometimes I wish I could push more myself but I am pessimistic of the human condition. And no, I am not Oprah, and yes, perhaps that’s my problem. But as amazing as she is, she has been depicted as a political rouse, even a white man in terms of privilege, rather than the character role model she is for just about every woman. Without constantly challenging sexism, we will never overcome it. But it is hard to do it when we are outnumbered, and are particularly neither experienced nor worldly if only due to age. Here’s where our networks becomes integral; personal or professional, this is our support base. With any luck, which according to Seneca is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, they may even prove to be quite an artillery.  

Essentially, if we bring something to any table of some value to adjacent parties, we should be able to find comrades by similarly gauging their contributory capacities. In a way, it is simply making friends, as calculative as it may sound. I will hash out the value of female comradery to women in a later piece. Returning to this piece though, the issue of our own performance at work beckons. I am one who experiences the pressure I began this article with; that we can’t fail at our opportunities and struggle to deal with it when we do. It does contradict the idea of equality a little, in the sense that I now feel a need to compete and surpass my counterparts. It can sound as if I am looking to flip the tables on men. I do acknowledge that, but it is more that we finally have our breaks, and we really are gripping on to them for dear life. We wish to not fail ourselves, or our descendants and fore bearers who didn’t have such liberties as we do. The latter have fought for us, for our chances and independence, and now we need to be better equipped so that we can keep it up. We soldier on, recognising both the promise of a newer time and the dampening long history of our suppression.

Exaggerating, am I? Not always true? Too emotional, maybe having a visit from ‘Great Aunty Flow’? Noted. The statistics are conclusive about one thing; that is the lesser socio-economic status of women everywhere compared to men. This does not arise from healthy socio-politics, where everyone is cared for. We, women, are a part of society, we are under-represented, and we are unhappy about it. Something is wrong, and it is not just of a medical nature (i.e. medical policy), it is our own inability to truly be in control of our own circumstances, within allegedly the same confines a man is subjected to by society. It does take courage to face and overcome stigma and doctrine. Anxiety is actually a pathological term, and many women do experience it in newer environments. Where we do suffer less from it, it is usually because we have support, perhaps in the form of an old friend or family. Once again, as normal as it does sound, women are more susceptible to harm not of our doing or inherent shortcomings, and it does often escalate to physicality. We can’t brush it aside, as it does speak of the safety of our precincts.

We do gauge for ourselves, how hostile or accepting an environment is to us, by observing the social nuances around us. We do pay attention to what the common conceptions are of us, and navigate them as gracefully as we can to achieve our ambitions. Sometimes our aspirations are redefined with time and experience based on these parameters alone. Even socially, approaching anyone can be seen as too forward, as if we are challenging their wives, perhaps posing a threat to them since we are younger and/or spend more time with the men at work. We may idolise them, and appear as if we are a little smitten. This may happen even as a younger person, when we are still naïve to gender biased social norms, especially when we are not as acquainted with the approached person(s) and environment. This sort of misunderstanding, happening even once in a lifetime is plenty, and can set the tone for life of a woman’s communications with people in general. E.g. to step back when approached physically, to not appear too nice or accommodating, to be a little stern even, to refrain from physical contact, to exercise force perhaps on the arm to keep a safe distance from counterparts anywhere whether or not the handshake is customary, over explaining oneself and their preferences with human interaction, etc. I will acknowledge though, that there is a statistic even therein of informed ‘consent’ of young women engaged in such inappropriate relationships as extra-marital affairs.

The stigma alone is plenty, and instead of dwelling on it we do seek to move on and actually achieve something. Hence our perseverance and courage to push ahead, past and in spite of it. To be able to value our own potential though, we need to be independent and isolate what our unique contributions are. It is difficult without a mentor, and often if not always, there is a patronly figure in the picture in such unconventional success stories. To grow, we need our learning curves, which do customarily include mistakes. Once there is a healthier portion of us in work hierarchies everywhere, it should be easier for us to deal with little failures instead of feeling like the world is caving in on us when we so much as hesitate before answering a casual question at a networking session. Perhaps it’s more a matter of heart than mind, but our somewhat informed concerns based on commonplace irrationalities aside, these are complexes we have as working women. We can get loud too early, and screw it up for ourselves. We can keep it all in, and despite our successes, never use our platforms, ironically to maintain them. We can take informed and calculated risks, for payback no paycheck can write, and lead…truly be the movers and catalysts for the changes we desire.

Now, what does it means to fight? To be bold, or not to be? Perhaps we can try charm instead, but if we have to hold back from voicing out novel ideas, let alone against offences, to not speak about them as much if at all, if only to avoid hearing the jibe about ‘classic women’…what is the purpose of work, or the ensuing platforms? Whence and what was ever the ‘opportunity’ for women? Gauging risks therein and our own earned stability is not easy, but there is a need to shun the stigmas and take risks, to ‘face the man’; because how else do we lead? What offsets a leader is their vision, and of course the more practical skill sets and other resources to accomplish them. We are not men, and when we reach certain levels of affluence, we attract attention whether or not of counterparts, fellow men and women of our industries or even people we have anything in common with. Now, instead of judging, I wish they’d accept that there is that potential in us. Extrapolate from each of us up there, to each of us that exists. Women can do so much. Makes sense that we can all contribute constructively to our communities, doesn’t it?

There is a time and a place for everything, and we know that working harder to be subdued further makes no sense. Higher up, where we are now seen, let us speak and decide for ourselves with issues not necessarily of a feminine nature even. We are here too. Let us choose, and pave the way or at least set an encouraging example for others. Whence we do lead, as much as it will always mean something greater to other women in particular to witness our successes, we lead men too. Let us. It should not be so difficult to accept that we can be better than a man, especially if we have been at it for longer than he has. It is also not to be misconstrued to mean that we are better than men at everything, or that there isn’t a man who is better than any of us. Let our work speak for itself, and see us as equals, comrades even. Can’t? Try. Try harder, again even. I’ll even go as far as saying; we got here against even your prejudices, both in practice and conviction. Perhaps such communications are better mediated by legalities, if nothing else for need of credible witnesses of both parts, but that is at least a start. Once again, I am not denying the existence of the female work psychopath, simply presenting a feminist view and standpoint. We have a right to fight for our ideas and convictions, professional or otherwise just as a man does. As comrades, we will treat you as our equals despite our differences, as we desire for ourselves. That is the aim…a mutual just progress.

Good luck!

See Also: Natural Women, Of Adam’s Rib

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