About a year or so ago, a group of us decided to go out for a drink and some apps after a meeting for a nonprofit organization we support. While there were a half dozen or so men on the event team at the time, that particular night only one decided to go out with six or seven of us – all women – to a nearby restaurant. Settling into the bar area, in comfy leather chairs and a loveseat, we quickly ordered drinks and selected some food to share.
As usually happens, especially in this group, conversation flowed freely and before long, talk turned to an experience one of the women had in the workplace, a situation that left her feeling belittled and disrespected. Suddenly, each of us began sharing experiences we had been through, mostly on the work front, but at different stages of our lives, too. Remarkably, given the disparity of our ages, our backgrounds and the work we do, the stories were very similar – or maybe it wasn’t remarkable at all. The commonalities weren’t surprising, nor was it surprising that each of us had far more than one story to tell.
The lone male in our group – a very dear friend, who had once been my boss – sat next to me in shock. While the stories felt commonplace for us, they were a revelation to him. To be honest, he had been so quiet during this conversation that I almost forgot he was even there. Suddenly he shifted in his seat, and I’m not sure if he sighed or exhaled in exhaustion with all that he had heard. We turned to him and he shook his head sadly, saying that on behalf of good men everywhere, he wanted to apologize for what we had experienced. He just couldn’t believe this had been the norm for us, yet he it hadn’t even been on his radar. It blew his mind.
And it blows my mind, every time I hear stories, every time something atrocious hits the news and how readily it’s been accepted throughout generations upon generations. As young girls, we’re told what to be careful of, what not to do or say, what to expect and what has to be tolerated – tolerated because it hasn’t mattered enough to put an end to it, for those beyond ourselves to say, “This is unacceptable.”
Like most women, I have my share of stories. I don’t need to give details.
I have a daughter. I have three sons. I expect each to treat everyone with care and respect – and for each of them to also feel empowered to tell anyone who tries to demean them, “This is unacceptable.”
It’s time that each of us feels empowered to say the same and know that others stand with us, ready to have necessary conversations, never averting our eyes to what is difficult to see.