I wasn’t a feminist, but I can’t afford it anymore

I have a confession. Are you ready for it?

I’m not a feminist.

A lot of the really great bloggers I know are. So I read their posts about toy aisles on pink steroids, the marketing of anorexic bodies and inequality in the workplace. And I…

Okay, I have another confession.

I sort of roll my eyes. I’m sorry blogger friends. You really are great. I just can’t relate.

I’ve never been told I’m less capable or have less options because I am female. I’ve had quite the opposite experience actually. I sort of feel like I was subtlety pushed into engineering by well meaning parents and teachers. In fact, I wish we would stop “encouraging” girls to choose careers in math and science. Because, hey, they might be happier doing something else.

I went to a college where the boys out numbered the girls 3 to 1. And I’ve worked professionally in a predominately male environment. I remember standing in a tent during a major maintenance event as a two-year engineer, looking out over a sea of contractors, and realizing that of the hundreds there I was potentially the only woman. I couldn’t spot another one. Now that was an exceptional case. Still, the numbers quickly dropped from equal outside of my immediate group.

And I never felt like I was treated as less than because I was a woman. If anything, I felt like I was at times treated as greater than. Not in the, “Here’s a great opportunity for you!” sort of way. But in the, “I’m going to be nice to you because I haven’t seen a girl in awhile,” sort of way. So when I hear about this discrimination in the workplace thing I usually think, “Yeah… doesn’t really happen.” At least it hasn’t happened to me.


Or has it…? (You knew I was going there, didn’t you?)

I’m now in the process of maybe returning to work. I’m having the conversations. The complex conversations wrought with corporate politics. And it’s been a surprisingly eye-opening experience. It all started when a former co-worker contacted me to say, “There’s a job opening over here. What do you think about applying?”

She went on to say that typically they only accept people of a particular high-pay level into the group. But that they’re looking to bring in someone of a medium-to-slightly-higher-than-medium-pay level for this position. She thought that I could be a good fit.


So then I went and talked to this other manager to see if there were any open positions in a couple other groups. He went and talked to yet a few more manager types and came back to say this – a position previously filled by a guy of a particular high-pay level had recently become available. They were thinking of filling it with someone of a medium-to-slightly-higher-than-medium-pay level, and they all thought I could be a good fit.

I’ve been sitting with this news for a couple days now. Digesting it. Because here’s the thing.

It’s abundantly clear that nobody even realizes I’m at a NOT-QUITE-MEDIUM pay level!

And so, naturally, I am now asking myself, “WHY???” At the beginning of the last two years I worked my supervisor said something along the lines of, “You might get a promotion at the end of the year.” And then I didn’t. Twice. What did I do about it?

Exactly nothing. Not a peep out of me! Not at the beginning of the year. Not in the middle. Not at the end. Not once did I ask why I hadn’t gotten that promotion or what I could do to get it the next time around.


And I’m kicking myself over it now. Why didn’t I EVER bring it up? I’ll tell you why.

Because I AM A WOMAN.

I don’t mean I thought to myself, “I better not ask about that promotion because I’m a woman.” Of course I didn’t think THAT. But I did think things like:

  • If I ask about a promotion I will appear ungrateful. In this economy I should just be thankful I have a job that, admittedly, already pays well.
  • I don’t want to be presumptuous. Or braggy. My work product will speak for itself.
  • I definitely don’t want to come across like one of those people who’s just trying to get ahead. Those people are so annoying. (They are.)
  • I just don’t want to be that needy employee always asking for handouts and extra favors. I don’t want to be DIFFICULT. I want to be AGREEABLE and LIKABLE.

There are probably men out there that think these sorts of things. But really, I think they’re the woman’s mantra.

Let me be clear. I know with certainty that nobody’s sitting in a board room grabbing promotions out of our tiny, female grasps. I did this to myself. And this lesson is coming, quite literally, at a price.

Advocating for yourself doesn’t make you a bitch. I think this belief is what sexism looks like in today’s world.

7 thoughts on “I wasn’t a feminist, but I can’t afford it anymore

  1. Excellent post. I remember when I first heard about how women do not advocate for themselves, are less likely to attach to mentors who will champion them, see talking highly of themselves as bragging, and never negotiate salaries and raises…. It totally described me. Even the Lean In lady didn’t want to negotiate for a higher salary from Mark Zuckerberg. She did, but hesitated. So I get it totally. I look forward to hearing how and when you return to work and how you play hardball with the employers.

    • Yes, I’m really wanting to ready Lean In right now. But I’m like #5 million on the wait list at the library. I’m going to be retired by the time it’s my turn.

  2. Interesting post! Advocating for ourselves is a double-edged sword– we do run the risk of looking like an aggressive bitch. If men ask for what they want, it’s called being assertive. Another story here is the fact that the managers are unaware of how much you make– there seems to be an assumption that you are not a “high-earner”. This connects to the fact that women still do not make as much as men for equal work.

  3. Failing to advocate and negotiate for ourselves is a huge problem for women. I do it to myself; and I see a major difference in this between my female and male employees.

    Also, I appreciate that you have not experienced overt sexism in your industry. I think that is great. But don’t make the mistake of believing that means it does not exist. I am in law (high-stakes litigation and business law) and national politics. I am constantly getting the proverbial “pat on the head” by all the old men who surround me. The top levels of power in our boardrooms and in our government are still held by men who think that I look cute in a skirt, and that is my direct experience.

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