Women know that femininity is both punished and rewarded. We also know that acting more ‘masculine’ — being openly ambitious in the workplace, or ‘pushy’ or ‘brusque,’ or speaking directly — can carry both risk and reward. A few weeks ago, in response to an Atlantic cover story about how the “confidence gap” is holding women back in the workplaces, Jessica Valenti at The Guardian suggested that women refrain from negotiating salaries and asking for raises and promotions because they know it can have negative consequences. It’s not a ‘confidence gap’ that holds us back — or at least, it’s not only that — it’s an accurate reading of the reality. We know we’re supposed to ‘lean in,’ but we also know that doing so can have negative consequences, because leaning in isn’t feminine. Asking a direct question or speaking in a low voice isn’t feminine. Making declarative statements with no friendly, deferential, self-doubting question mark at the end, isn’t feminine. We know that in order to achieve what we want, we sometimes have to expend extra energy making sure that people aren’t uncomfortable with how we talk or dress or behave. We have to collude with the expectation that we should be feminine. But we will also be punished for that femininity. This is the impossibly fine lose-lose line we toe, and though women are, historically speaking, quite new to the workplace, we have been toeing this line for centuries.
i appreciate most of this piece—and overall, the point is an important one. i do, however, think it’s important to note that
- this also affects people who may not ID as women but are perceived/forcibly assigned as such. femininity/masculinity is not a neat binary
- trans women face an entirely different set of damn near insurmountable barriers in the office as it pertains to navigating “acceptable” femininity
- black women are by no means “quite new to the workplace”