Today, while looking at a rental property during my lunch hour, I asked for what I wanted. The rent was a little higher than I had hoped so I requested that the realtor (an older male) go back to the the renters and see if they were willing to negotiate on the price or agree to include utilities. The realtor turned to my realtor, a younger man I had just met today, and said, “Geez, you didn’t tell me she’d be so difficult,” to which the young realtor replied, “Yea, sorry about that!” Awkward laughter followed.
As I stood there in their presence, something occurred to me. At almost 40 years old, I have been exposed—like so many other women—to a wide range of condescension from men. The male CFO at a previous job told me that I didn’t “understand basic algebra” when I insisted that they owed me pay. (Fortunately, the Department of Labor agreed with me and I eventually got what I was owed.) Then there was the older male boss who told me that I should be grateful to receive my salary. (I told him that he was lucky to have me as an employee.) The wide range of insults go back to my first full-time job in 1999 when my male boss responded to an offensive incident that had occurred in my classroom with “boys will be boys”. (The student in question was later kicked out of school.)
It doesn’t matter if these men say they were joking after the fact (which many do), because deep down, we know their comments came from an authentic—albeit disturbing—place…a place that history has yet to dissolve.
So, how did I respond to the realtor? I thought of the strong female leaders that we have representing us today and told him, “I have the luxury of being choosy because I’m an ideal candidate. If there’s no negotiation, I have other options.”
Let this be every woman’s mantra.
At this age, I realize I’m at an advantage for having gone through the experiences I have. Sure, I might continue to be insulted by my male bosses and counterparts in years to come, but I no longer hesitate to tell them their comments are unacceptable. As women age, we realize that “growing old gracefully” is not about being agreeable. It’s about knowing our worth, standing our ground, and speaking our mind.
To quote Hillary Clinton: “I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I’m well aware of, but that’s just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history — empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves.”