It’s Friday night and a professional contact has invited you to an upscale social event. Not only will this event be a fun-filled night with games, food, cocktails, laughter, and good conversation, but several other professionals in your field will be in attendance, which creates a great opportunity to network. You’ve just left work so you’re dressed stylishly chic, but professional—perfect attire for the gathering. You mingle with everyone, being polite but not too formal or stuffy. After getting the vibe of the setting, you naturally begin to work the room with the hopes of networking and building relationships.
Casually talking to fellow women, you easily build connections with the sisters—learning about their work and laying foundations for future professional support of each other. However, as you attempt the same success with men, introducing yourself as you did with the women, you notice something obscure. No sooner have you turned your back from the men to chat to someone else, you suddenly hear one of them murmuring,
“She has a nice body. I wouldn’t mind getting on with that.”
You’re stunned. Did he just say . . . ? You think to yourself, “Damn it. I’m trying to network and this fool is thinking of playing Silk’s ‘Freak Me’ with me between his sheets.”
Professional men are still men, educated or not. And having on a suit and tie does not reduce the number of sexual innuendos men roll off their tongues in professional settings. I cannot count how many times I have been at a venue where I was attempting to have a conversation about business, or promote my writing to a man, and he glossed over everything I said to ask more personal questions like, “Do you have a boyfriend?” In discussing business, I highly doubt a man would ask another man about his marital status. This sort of intimate intrusion seems to be reserved for women alone.
In all fairness, there have been some great men with whom I have been able to network who kept it on a strictly business level. So this is not an attack on all men. But I cannot ignore the objectification to which so many women are subject whenever they attempt to professionally build with the opposite sex.
Black women have always had an unmatchable spirit of hustle, resilience, ambition and go-getter mentality; and it is easier to recognize in the 21st century. Now, more than in previous generations, we are climbing the corporate ladders, in many cases surpassing our Black male counterparts with higher ranking positions, if not salaries. As much as our success can be attributed to education, knowing how to play the game—code switching, always looking your best, being firm not aggressive, and avoiding stereotypes like the plague—is also a large factor. But playing the game in a man’s world oftentimes means being subjected to blatant sexist behavior that goes unchecked by other men.
Even with the progress women have made in terms of equality over the years, we are still struggling against the “be seen and not heard” mantra that once was a golden rule. It’s a constant battle for women’s voices to be heard and taken seriously in a room full of men. Whether it’s a boardroom or an after work social event, women face hurdles on their roads to success that men will never encounter.
As women, especially my feminist sisters, we are constantly taken to task to combat patriarchy by any means necessary. It is a full time job that most of us do not take lightly. But even with my commitments to challenging sexism in a patriarchal society, I would have grey hair at the ripe age of 25 if I tried to educate or challenge every man who has been inappropriate in a professional environment. This is the point when I wish more men would check each other on their behavior.
If only men could imagine how uncomfortable they would be if they were trying to build professional relationships, but women were constantly staring at their penises, or making reference to their penises in voices loud enough to hear. Or, while he is in the middle of commenting on the Bishop Eddie Long debacle, a woman interrupts to ask if he has a girlfriend. Day in and day out, women have to deal with such tomfoolery. Although, if the roles were reversed, I’m inclined to believe that some men may find this behavior flattering.
What a triumph it would be if women weren’t viewed as objects to be subjected to men’s drooling, catcalls, undesired compliments, or sexual references—in the work force or elsewhere. Until that day, keep the sexist behavior to a minimum. Please. I’m just trying to network man! And if I wanted anything outside of those realms, I’d have no qualms letting you know.