*excerpted and adapted from Women Overcoming O-Syndrome: Real, Raw, Unapologetic (fall 2018)
“The competition is over, fellas. I win. I’ve got the biggest penis.”
Yes. You read that correctly. I said it to a group of men in a training class I led several years ago.
You likely are in one of two camps about now. You are either judging and regarding me with disdain and wondering how in the world I could have ever said such a thing in a professional setting OR you are reflecting on and considering your own battles with being seen and taken seriously in a male-dominated world.
Twenty-three participants. All people leaders. All men. Not even one woman in the group. All white men. Not even one man of color.
Even today, it’s not necessarily a position that I as both a woman and black relish. Several reasons for this. One though is knowing that I may have to prove yet again that my skills and experience qualify me to not only be in the room but to also lead at the front of the room. In addition, my single mother constantly stressed to me and my two sisters during our upbringing that each of us would have to be at least twice as good just to be considered half as good. In black circles, it’s referred to as “the black girl tax.”
When the men entered the room, the posturing and the “man-spreading” commenced almost immediately. Chairs were pulled out from the tables with pomp and circumstance as they sat down, arms spread wide across the table and their legs seeming to spread even wider. Each man claimed and exceeded his place at the table beyond what one would consider customary personal space. As I watched and waited for a reasonable amount of time for them to settle in and peruse the participant materials, it was clear to me that the men had already discounted and dismissed me.
“Hey, Tom,” one of them exclaimed as he paged through the workbook, “Looks like I can teach this class.”
His comment was met with hearty laughter.
And so, the course began. They OVERlooked me. They talked OVER me. They OVER-talked me. The sheer energy it took for me to guide and re-guide the discussion in the right direction proved draining. It didn’t take long before they started to engage with each other as if I were invisible. Soon, they began competing to see which of them was the smartest and the funniest. In short, it was an all-out battle for who would emerge as the alpha-male of our session.
I was (and am) no stranger to male posturing and male dominance behaviors. I’ve witnessed it on playgrounds, in classrooms, and in corporate workplaces. And the cost is high — the marginalizing, appropriating, devaluing, and silencing of others.
Standing at the front of that room, I experienced so many emotions welling up inside of me. I flashed back to the many instances in my professional career when I had contributed my idea only to have it be repeated by a man and then taken seriously. I flashed back to the times when I had dared to express a contrary thought only to be labeled “difficult” or worse. Flashback after flashback after flashback.
Only about 15 minutes in, and it felt like an eternity. I chose my words and knew those words would be a huge risk. Of greater weight to me was the indignation of “How dare they?!” Pressing me on was my commitment to delivering on the objectives, to creating an environment conducive to learning, to being regarded with respect. And on that particular day at that particular time in that particular space, I determined that these men would see me and hear me. No matter what.
The instant I took a step forward and enunciated the words loudly and clearly for everyone to hear, the group quieted.
“The competition is over, fellas. I win. I’VE got the biggest penis.”
I had boldly disrupted and shattered their paradigm. As they looked at me in shock and amazement, I confidently held their gaze with what I can only describe as yes-I-said-it bravado.
What happened next, I won’t forget. From one corner of the room came nervous laughter, followed by more nervous laughter until the entire room was laughing more freely. I had made my point. As a woman, I’ve discovered that sometimes the “nice and proper civility stuff” in a room full of men doesn’t work. It can get me run OVER.
When the laughter subsided, they quieted once more and looked to me as the lead. I had dared and won.
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*If you would like to share your “O” experience in the book, “Women Overcoming O-Syndrome: Real, Raw, Unapologetic” (fall 2018), please keep reading below.
Due to the tremendous response, I am extending my timeline for gathering stories. There’s still time for your story to be included (anonymously or otherwise). If you have strategies to overcome being talked over, passed over, overlooked, or over-judged by men in a predominantly male environment, then I would love to hear from you. If you tend to over achieve, over-commit, or over accommodate and have taken steps to safeguard your well-being, then I want to hear from you. No matter your industry, role, or stage in your career, your voice is important.
Within the body of an email to me, please write up your experience as real, raw, and unapologetically as you can. Be sure to provide a helpful strategy/tip/solution as to how you overcame it or addressed it. Please limit your story to no more than 500 words.
Each story included in the book will use a first name pseudonym. You may choose the name you want used. If you want to ensure anonymity, please be sure to rework and disguise any identifying details of your story.
In the subject line of the email, please put “My O Story” and send to me no later than February 23 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for sharing your voice! \o/ tmr