Being Alone with the Opposite Sex

Have you ever run into someone who doesn’t believe sexism exists anymore?  It’s easy for some people to dismiss the existence of something if it doesn’t happen directly to them or fit in their world view.  I want to draw your attention to some forms of sexism that might not be clear, and that some may argue are not sexism at all.

When someone is raised with specific family, cultural, or religious beliefs that become embedded into the core of their being, unless they have studied outside of their realm, they often have a hard time thinking beyond those immediate value systems.  This is why you can’t convince someone who staunchly believes the earth is flat that it is, in fact, round.  Sure, you can argue until you are blue in the face and show them proof.  But when someone has made up their mind based on their core value system, it is a tough case to crack.  And the more people who have the same beliefs as they do, the more validated they feel and the stronger their entrenchment becomes.   You cannot force someone to change their mind.  They have to be willing to change it first, then you can guide them, but the actual choice will always remain theirs.

Let’s get personal now…

I once had the misfortune of dating someone who told me the following, “Sexism doesn’t exist, now.  We have equality for women and you have the same opportunities as men.  I’m not sexist and I haven’t seen anyone have an issue with sexism in my workplace.”  I explained the troubles of entering a male dominated industry such as film production, and he quickly dismissed my issues.  Is the reason he never witnessed it because he denied listening to a woman who has experienced it?  This same person later chastised me for being alone with a male who was in a relationship, while likewise, I was in a relationship.  How scandalous!  Surely, I must be a tramp.

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Most of the people in the music and film industry are men, while keeping a few women to traditional roles (if they are lucky) as script supervisor, production assistant, makeup, wardrobe, and casting.  You want to operate the camera, boom, or direct?  Forget about it.  Most of the people I need to network with and work with are men.  How are women to succeed in a male dominated industry if we need a chaperone?  This problem isn’t exclusive to the music and film industries.  Careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are typically male dominated, too.  Here are a couple links regarding the subject:  The Real Reasons Men Dominate Science and Tech and Everyday Sexism in STEM.

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The problem isn’t solely with my ex-boyfriend, the problem stems from, well, everyone.  You might wonder, “Who me?  Everyone?  I’m not in that bunch.”  Let me reveal to you how most people are sexist without even realizing it.  When is the last time you asked someone of the opposite sex out to lunch for business purposes without worrying about the implications?  Guys have it easy.  They form a guy club early on and have no problem inviting each other out for lunch, drinks, the game, etc.  Lots of business talks happen over golf and drinks.  Nothing negative happens when guys ask guys out or when ladies ask ladies out.  We unwittingly segregate our pools of talent this way.  Here’s a short article that further expains why women have a hard time breaking into the C-suite.  Why Men Have More Help Getting into the C-suite

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Say you ask someone of the opposite sex to lunch.  A few things will likely happen.  S/he may think you are hitting on him/her and politely decline, because s/he wouldn’t want to lead you on.  Or s/he may like you and say yes with hopes of something more.  This is clearly not your fault either way.  Be sure to make your intentions clear so you don’t come off as “looking for love.”

Second, others in the office may think you’re having an affair.  People like to talk, and sadly for some, the more they can bash someone the better they feel.  Furthermore, women will do this to women!  Unlike the big brother club, women aren’t as supportive to each other.  I have had multiple issues with girlfriends of band members who were jealous of me and refused to take the time to get to know me.  I didn’t want their guy, and it didn’t matter that I had a boyfriend; they surely didn’t want me around.  Ladies, please stop.  You are hurting each other and the advancement of women as a whole.  Build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

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Third, if s/he says yes, people may think s/he is a tramp or gigolo or sleeping his/her way to the top.  The key here is, they will think SHE is the tramp more than the guy.  What is sad is, the lady may believe she is tramp for going.  Values are great, but some values have created a truly judgmental environment where opposite genders can’t have an innocent lunch or professional friendship.  Now, I’m not going to point out those value systems, but you likely know who you are if you immediately thought the lady is a tramp.  I’m sorry to break this to you, but your value system is sexist.

With all these possible thoughts and speculations running through everyone’s heads over a simple professional lunch meeting, no wonder women haven’t been able to penetrate male dominated industries!  How can we cure this social disease in order to create a true equal opportunity?  I implore those men of decency to look beyond the men’s club and reach out to include women.  I implore the women to be more supportive of each other and lose the jealousy and conniving politics.  This takes everyone.  All of us.

There must be an equal ground where we can meet professionally without compromising our values and dignity.  Let’s start looking at the person (not gender) we are connecting with instead of the worrying about what society thinks.  If enough of us adopt this new enlightened view, we can change the norm to be inclusive.

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As a woman, I have talked with men and had male lunch buddies at my previous job.  It took some awhile before they realized I wasn’t hitting on them.  I’m “nice.”  In today’s society, being nice can be seen as flirtatious.  It is most amusing when men resort to talking about their wife or husband in fear I am hitting on them.  I can usually tell when this happens.  Engaged now, I have noticed a drastic difference when wearing my engagement ring.  I almost wish I had worn one earlier in life to cut the ice.  Married or involved men seem more at ease and able to talk with me.  Men who would otherwise be interested in pursuing me and nothing more, tend to shy away faster.  This mindset that I’m already spoken for, reveals real friends through all the speculation.  Now imagine everyone was wearing a ring.  Feel better?  People shouldn’t have to get a ring to be taken seriously.  Marital status should not be a factor in building professional relationships.

In my own case where I was chastised for being alone with another man, I can firmly say nothing but talking happened.  This was someone I wanted to work with creatively.  I could care less if he was female, gay, black, white, or a closet Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.  I wanted to network and connect with like-minded people.  I was yelled at and made to feel like I was a horrible person.  I quickly got over that, and got rid of the boyfriend.  It’s better to be alone than with someone who doesn’t even realize he is sexist and holds me back from valuable networking opportunities.

Wanna have lunch?

-Wen Di

Update:  Here’s a great article that came out after my post.  There’s some great survey data on what men and women think is appropriate verses inappropriate activities with the opposite sex who is not your spouse.  People are finally opening the conversation on this topic.  It’s Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone With the Opposite Sex.

One thought on “Being Alone with the Opposite Sex

  1. Pingback: Entre-preneurial Blog | Eat Lunch with Others

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