Updated: Sep 26, 2020
In the early 80s, a female college professor I admired once told me to call myself Pat. “That way, on job applications, no one will know you’re a woman,” she said with the satisfaction of someone who had gamed the system.
Back then I was told by mentors and workshop leaders to look as much like a man as I could. Don’t show anything feminine. Don’t accessorize. Don’t draw attention. Hide your femaleness. That way you will be taken seriously and move up the ladder.
Being over six feet tall, it was hard for me not to draw attention to myself. But still, somehow, I was supposed to blend in and find a way to de-sexualize myself in the corporate world.
I hated that reality. I hated that often, when I was introduced to a male coworker, he would look me up and down and say things like, “Wow. You’re a tall drink of water,” or something like that. I’m still not sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with my qualifications for the job I had been hired for.
Bias is a tricky subject. I suspect people who have not experienced bias in any real way have a hard time understanding that there are those who are seen by others as something LESS. Something not quite THEM.
"Just do more. Just blend in. Just be one of us."
I fortunately have had other mentors since then. Using who I was physically as a woman was an easy option, but it never felt right to me. I wanted to be rewarded for my effort, initiative and talent, regardless of my looks. I am grateful for those who showed me to be proud of who I am and the skills I possess beyond my name, gender and appearance.
Recently departed pioneer of human rights, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg fought to ensure we are all EQUAL under the law of this land. She stood for acceptance, fairness and building a universal understanding that we are all different, unique, and wonderful individuals who deserve to be respected for who we are regardless of what we look like or what we call ourselves.
What a concept! Yes, an American concept. Great in theory. So hard in practice.
I've come a long way baby. What a GREAT campaign ad. I gave up Virginia Slims cigarettes a long time ago. I am fortunate that I found a way to surround myself with folks who let me be me. The journey was long but not that hard for me. There are many whose path is not so easy.
The time has passed for us to tell the next generation to just blend in.
It is my imperative to say YES to those who are struggling to be accepted. At the heart of it all, we are all humans, all struggling for acceptance.
And I accept you... no matter how weird you dress.