Lately, I’ve been thinking about what Daisy said. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy in The Great Gatsby. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, and I read it in college, a time during which information was stuffed so quickly into my brain that I didn’t have time to commit it to long term memory.
Basically, this means I don’t remember as much as I’d like to about The Great Gatsby, but one part of the book has stayed with me over the years: the part when Daisy says to Nick,
“…I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
I’ve been out of college for a few years, and I’m not going to lie – being a woman in the workforce, especially an unmarried woman in a male-dominated field, is not easy. Ideally, I’d like to forgive and forget, but I tend remember the wrongs committed against me and other women. Some of these wrongdoings include the following:
- My sanity has been held in question because I’m dating a high-energy, borderline eccentric person, especially in comparison to my last boyfriend who was very quiet and considered a “Southern Gentleman.”
- My coworkers have made it clear that my stature as a small woman works against me because I don’t take up as much physical space as a man … or the other larger women in my office (who are not large, but simply taller and thicker than I am).
- One of my coworkers, who has worked at the company for less time than I have, informed me that he would be taking an executive role in the office as soon as the position became available. He informed me that he had already been selected for the position.
- A male coworker informed me that the only reason I’m pulled over is because I’m an attractive woman. (I guess I’m incapable of committing a crime…)
- An executive also said, in my presence and in the presence of another female coworker, we could “slap some lipstick” on a potential candidate so that he would cost less to hire. Apparently, he pays women who work for him less than the men who work for him. This was a mistake to say in front of two of his female employees, but I guess he’s not worried about facing consequences.
These are only a few of the sexist things that have been said about me or to me. Sometimes, I fantasize about leaving this position to move to a different company, but I already know this type of behavior is prevalent in more companies than not. In fact, women are probably treated much better at my place of work than many other places.
It still feels odd to me that it’s the 21st century and women are still called “crazy” or borderline crazy or always on the precipice of crazy just waiting for any small event to push us over the edge.
Even the respectable men in my life are free to say things like, “Unfortunately I was too old for the f’ing gorgeous girls … and married.” Yikes. In those moments I genuinely feel sorry for men who are don’t understand that 1. Young women will still go for older men with money because they believe that the world will never work in their favor, so why work? 2. Marriage is voluntary – especially for men.
I understand that this is all a very surface-level complaint of these injustices. I also understand that we all play a role in the socioeconomic composition of our country, so I can’t be angry at one single man – except for the one who rests his hard private parts on my leg while cutting my bangs – I cut my own hair these days.
So, lately, aside from being angry (Why yes, women do have that emotion – fancy that), I’ve been contemplating what women should do if they aren’t beautiful little fools. I’ve compiled a short list of strategies I’ve used to change the perception of women in the workplace:
1. This is obvious, but don’t lose your cool.
Recently, I experienced severe bullying from another female coworker (wow, I guess women can commit crime… ). As the situation deteriorated, I felt the need to remove myself from the situation and work from home for a week. Upon my return, my coworkers, who by this point knew about the bullying because HR had interviewed every single one of them, were shocked that I was able to treat the bully respectfully. Even more shocking, apparently, was my ability to have productive meetings with her in the room. If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I know you’re not shocked. But, the point is many people don’t believe we’re capable of handling situations like an adult.
2. Treat men respectfully – this means creating and sticking to some healthy boundaries.
People do unintentionally carry on the flaws of their ancestors, and I don’t believe they should be burned at the stake for carrying over some of these flawed ways of thinking; however, I do believe in setting boundaries. My coworkers know that, if they say something inappropriate, I will call them out – in front of whoever they said it in front of. Your situation may be different from mine, so please take this point with caution. You may have a very different relationship with your coworkers, so please don’t do anything that will get you fired. You should set healthy boundaries in all your relationships, including the ones you have with your family. Setting healthy boundaries (in a respectful and calm way) demonstrates to those around you that you, as a human being, have power. You have the power to say no, and you have the power to stand up against injustice.
Please note: if you are in any sort of abusive relationship, you should be seeking professional advice – not mine. This advice should always be taken with caution because, if you have not set boundaries with someone before, there certainly is a chance the person will react badly. For example, I set a boundary with my parents once – I told them, very calmly, that I would no longer participate in yelling matches. …they kicked me out of the house. Be careful when setting boundaries and start small with people you trust.
3. Focus on you, not other people.
One of the best things you can do as a woman is to not give a flip what other people think about you. This might also be the hardest thing to do because we’re hardwired to please others, especially the men in our lives. When you stop caring what others think of you, you’re freeing up mental space. To see just how much mental space, watch Dr. Caroline Heldman’s Tedx talk below:
Save that mental space for something useful. If nothing else, save that space to for your own enjoyment.
Just yesterday, I finally realized what Daisy meant: she meant that foolish women have the luxury of not noticing (or maybe just not caring) that women are often at the mercy of men’s choices, and often “beautiful little fools” are treated better than intelligent women with opinions. While I’m not sure it’s better to be beautiful and foolish, yesterday, it occurred to me that I do not have the power to determine my own value. Men who don’t know me currently determine my value as a human being. They determine my value by keeping me out of the male dominated circles where decisions that impact my life are made without my input.
But, I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought I couldn’t do anything to change these sad facts. Women do have power, and collectively, I think we can stop allowing men to determine our worth. Maybe it’s as simple as recognizing we give up our power every time we allow a man to cross a boundary.
…maybe I should have gotten up out of that chair in the middle of having my bangs cut…