"Hey, I'm going to set up my station here. Is this a good spot for you to run me a lunch box for power?"
I didn't think much of the wardrobe girl's request, actually appreciating the thoughtful nature of her question. After all, how many times have we cursed other departments for setting up exactly where we don't have easy access to a distro box?
My colleagues, however, had other opinions.
"Sure, we'll run you something right now," replied Juicer 1. Then to us, he says, "Why doesn't she just say she needs a lunch box there? Why did she ask us if it's okay? If she wants one there, she should just tell us."
"Yeah. It's like that article I showed you the other day," Juicer 2 chimes in. "About how women don't ask for what they want?" He then turns to me. "We read this article the other day about how this one company paid their male employees more than their females. When confronted about it, the guy said that after all his years running the company, not one woman ever came in to his office and asked for a raise. But the men would, and that's why they'd get paid more. Women have a tendency to not ask for what they want in the work place. I think they need to be more assertive. Don't you agree, A.J.?"
I stood there for a moment, grateful for colleagues who read articles on inequalities in the workplace and trying to create a dialogue about it instead of hiding under a rock, and at the same time, shocked at how naive and over simplified their solution was.
"Yes, I think overall, there is an issue with women not asking for what they want at work," I started, "but I think if Ms. Wardrobe had just said, 'I need a lunch box here,' you would've probably thought she was a bitch."
Juicer 1 slowly nodded his head in contemplative thought. "Yeah. That's a good point. I hate to admit it, but I that's probably what I'd do." Juicer 2 didn't say anything.
Moments like that echo in my head a lot these days. Over the past several months, I've had a few opportunities to step up in my department. In other words, I've been given the chance to lead instead of follow. And let me tell you, it's been fun. I love being able to run things my way and I absolutely enjoy the perks of being the boss, even if it's only for a short while.
However, as those opportunities arise, I've noticed more and more that critics of my work tend to fall in to two camps: those that think I'm a great leader, and those who think I'm bossy.
Let me preface this by saying that my superiors (and often their bosses as well) think I do a fabulous job. Everyone I've stepped up for wouldn't hesitate to hire me again. I'm proud of the work I do and the results I get, and in the end, that's all that should really matter and fuck the rest, right?*
So why does this bother me so much?
Because there shouldn't be such a distinction between the two ways I'm described. I approach every job the same way and treat my crews the same. So realistically, I should be considered either bossy or a good leader. And yes, while one could argue that the two terms aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, in this case they are since "bossy" is always used in a negative way while "good leader" is always meant as a compliment.
This leads me to wonder if I'm seen as bossy because I'm actually bossy (in every negative sense of the word) or if I'm "bossy" because that's how they describe assertive women? If it's the former, how did I go from being bossy to a good leader (and vise-versa) when I'm doing the same thing on every job and if it's the latter, well shit, where do I go from here?
I've run into issues like this before and when brought up, most men see it as making it a feminist issue when it isn't one and "sometimes a bossy bitch is just a bossy bitch." So how do we address a problem when those who perpetuate it don't realize they're perpetuating it?
Am I a bitch? Am I a good leader? Am I bossy? Or am I just an assertive woman?
Do the latter two mean the same thing?
*In theory. I'm not even going to get in to the fact how rumors circulating around about me being a bossy bitch will affect my future job prospects.