I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how delicate the lines are between women rising up to positions of power from years of subjugation to total backsliding into second class citizen status. I am constantly in awe of the sudden resurgence of “Dark Ages” thinking around our nation. People who don’t believe in science. People who don’t think women are capable of making choices for their own bodies and futures. It’s maddening.
Of course it doesn’t help that I’ve been rereading “The Handmaid’s Tale” after watching the new series on Hulu and being both completely compelled and horrified at the notion that everything in our society could so easily be taken apart. The book, like the series, portrays a dystopian near future society pushed into a totalitarian theocratic state replacing the US government and enslaving women as handmaidens to combat low reproduction rates among the wealthy leaders of this new world order. In short, it is terrifying, but an important primer on what can happen when we stop valuing intelligent thought and education in favor of myth and fear based thinking. As a woman, it is deeply unsettling.
I was lucky enough to grow up as a child in the 80s, surrounded by people who told me that women could do anything that they wanted. I could write my own check in life. Travel on my own. Lead a nation! It wasn’t until later in life that I realized my naivety and that I grew up sheltered from the rest of the world and the very real plight of many women that are still struggling to this day. Little girls growing up without the ability to make their dreams realities.
So now, as a woman lucky enough to have won the geographic lottery, I never take for granted the opportunities presented to me to advance in my career and set an example for future generations of women who dream of being great in this world.
I hardly have time to reflect these days. But when I do, I try to give myself a healthy dose of self encouragement. I set the bar high for myself and do my best to raise it every chance I get. Which, in an industry completely dominated by men, is not always the easiest feat.
Its a weird dynamic, to be honest. There is a smattering of PC talk at my office, but mostly it’s still a locker room. Luckily for me, I thrive in that environment. I am competitive, slightly inappropriate at times and I don’t take myself too seriously. And as long as I feel that I’m being treated the same as my male colleagues, I don’t really feel out of place.
However, I am often reminded when interacting with customers that my presence is not the norm. Whether it be a curt greeting, a lack of eye contact or a complete dismissal of my attempt to shake a hand. Sometimes it’s fucking billboard sized misogyny.
Like the times I was referred to as “One of those lady bosses”, by an older gentleman customer in monthly sales meetings with one of my reps. *Insert eye roll emoji*
I know you must be wondering, “Christen, how do you hold your shit together and not go completely off the deep end in these moments?” Honestly, I have no idea. Deep breathing? But its mostly because I compartmentalize that I am there in a sales capacity and not in an educational one. However, I do use every chance I get to make a humorous remark to point out how inappropriate the comment might have been.
Often, I visit customers with the sales reps on my team. It is a good way to keep communication going and have a handle on what is happening in the market. This particular instance with the older gentleman wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it was just isolated to the first time we met. As we walked into our first meeting, my sales rep introduced me as his manager, to which the customer replied,
“Her? That’s your boss? You got one of those lady bosses, buddy?”
Obviously it was meant to be a dig to him, while conveniently wrapped in an insult to me. It is often a pastime of our customers to use any opportunity they have to be antagonistic to the distributor and remind them of who is in charge.
I squirmed slightly, but didn’t say anything. I let my rep do the talking, as I don’t think in that moment if I would have said anything productive. We left the meeting and set the appointment for the next one the following month.
Upon arriving at our next meeting, I entered the room behind the rep and faced the same table of idiots. I said hello, made pleasantries and was greeted again by the older buyer.
“Who is this?”
My rep sighed. “This is Christen, my manager. I believe you met her last time.”
“I did? Hmm…don’t recall. You got one of those lady bosses, huh?”
I looked at my rep and I could tell he was at a loss for words. I responded with a smile and a jovial tone. “You know so and so, I’m honestly going to have a hard time taking anything you say seriously in this meeting. Clearly you have forgotten your Alzheimers meds.”
More awkward uncomfortable silence.
Then, he chucked and made some remark about how I was full of surprises.
“And I drove myself here too! Can you believe it?” I laughed.
More awkward laughter and the meeting proceeded, although he didn’t do as much talking as his colleagues this time.
I wish I could say that this was not a common occurrence. But sadly, as any woman in the alcohol beverage industry can tell you, it is. Whether it being asked by customers at wine tastings how I was able to memorize so much about wine *insert another eye roll emoji* (while my male colleagues are never assumed to be nitwits with notecards) or whether it is a customer not liking the response to an issue and asking if there is perhaps a gentleman at my company they can speak to instead, it can be exhausting.
But, I’ll keep fighting the good fight as a woman in business. Correcting with humor when appropriate. Biting my tongue when I can’t. And mostly because I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can.