You against the world

Recently a friend posted a link to an Upworthy blog about how entrepreneurs are viewed differently based on their gender.

It’s short, so I’ll include it here:

In a widely-read study, business school students were given a case assignment on Heidi, a real-life successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. But there was a catch. Half of the class randomly received their case with one teensy tiny change made: The name “Heidi” was changed to “Howard.” Afterward, the students were surveyed, and though Heidi and Howard were found equally competent (as they should have been because they are the same person), the students found Howard much more likeable. The following ad pretty much sums up why.

So that pissed me off, but “the following ad” is what really irritated me.

I’ve ranted before about the appalling lack of “solidarity awareness” that’s necessary before we’ll see real progress in the roles of women and men. This just adds fuel to the fire.

I don’t know how seriously we should take a commercial from Pantene, that center of the struggle for women’s rights. But their video has over 6 million views, so they’ve got a helluva lot broader reach than I do.

This video is a prime example of what I call “You go, girl!” feminism. It starts by laying out how women are perceived by others. Then it ends up by telling women, “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.” Presumably by using Pantene hair care products. Because nothing advances women’s equality like shiny hair.

The video is spot-on in its contrast of “dedicated” men vs “selfish” women. Women are perceived differently in the corporate world. And they are treated differently. By others. Lots of others.

So what are you supposed to do about it? You’re supposed to not “let it” hold you back. How exactly is that supposed to happen? Just by telling yourself it doesn’t matter? You can give yourself all the pep talks you want, but until you threaten legal action for discriminatory actions in the workplace, you’re not going to get any traction.

The problem with discrimination against women isn’t that women don’t have nice enough hair. The problem is with the people who discriminate against them. That includes men and women. It’s a societal perception. While I believe in grassroots action and the Power of One, you’re not going to change a whole society by isolated women deciding not to let it bother them. It takes collective action that focuses on specific goals and acts to achieve them.

You can decide all you want to be more assertive, but as the video points out, you’ll only be perceived as pushy. It’s the perception that has to change. And yes, that can start with individual consciousness raising, but the next step has to be, “Whom can I join with to change the system?” If all you’re doing is running around wearing “Girl Power” T-shirts, you’re practically useless. Likely you don’t have the consciousness and strength it takes to stand up and risk and make real change.

Solidarity feminism is about coming together with other women and men who share a deep desire to change societal norms about how we all are perceived and treated. “You go, girl!” feminism is a superficial, temporary, hypocritical approach that doesn’t even begin to touch on creating deep and lasting self-esteem in girls and women, much less mass societal change.

Isolated, individual acts can have a small effect on a small number of people. But at this rate it will be another hundred years before we see equal work for equal pay. It’s only through mass movements like civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, etc that we see massive cultural shifts.

A lot of work remains to be done, as this inane video shows. Will you step up?

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