Woman’s Work, or How I Went from Expert to Invisible

I knew there would be some changes in my life when I came out and started transitioning. I knew I would lose some friends. I knew I would lose the status and privilege that every male—especially every white male—on this vast, beautiful earth takes for granted. I knew the world would see me differently.

But let’s be honest, that’s every trans person’s ultimate goal: for the world to see them differently. To see them as who they really are. And that has been lovely. When I’m seen as female by someone out in the world, it feels wonderful. It was an emotional experience the first few times it happened.

But then, sometimes, opening a jar of olives is an emotional experience for me (hello, hormones!), so maybe I’m not the best judge. And, of course, the positivity is tempered when I’m called “he” or “sir” (usually on the telephone).

So, I anticipated a lot of what happened and what’s still happening. What I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have, is having my experience and expertise ignored (or never even considered) in the workplace.

I’ve worked in, on, and around the web since 1995, and specifically in website hosting since 1996. There were only a small handful of commercial web hosts when I got into the business, so we were essentially creating the industry as we went along. Inventing infrastructure, policies, practices, and standards that are now taken for granted.

There are 350 people at the company I work for, and none of them have as much industry experience as I do. About half of them of them weren’t even born when I started in hosting.

Just establishing my bona fides so you know I’m legit because that’s what’s at the core of this.

I’ve known the man who hired me for this job for almost 20 years. He created a position with me in mind and asked me to join the company. That was a beautiful thing to do, and I love him for it. But he wasn’t doing me a favor. He hired me because he knew I’d be an asset to the company. Modesty aside, I should be sought out for my experience and expertise.

I was already transitioning when I started the job, so everyone there—except three people I worked with at other companies—has always known me as Hannah. Some know I’m trans; I’ve been open about that. But generally, most just see me as Hannah, a woman.

And here’s where our story takes the turn I should have seen coming.

As every woman who has ever worked alongside men knows, men believe women are stupid.

I tried to think of a different way to say that, but it’s the reality, so let’s just stick with it. Even when a woman is the smartest person in the room, the men in the room will still consider themselves superior to the woman. To any woman. In any room.

For every woman rolling her eyes right about now, I know. I know. None of this is news to you. And honestly, I’m not surprised by what I’m seeing. I’ve always known that men believe women are stupid.

I’ve been a feminist since I learned what the word meant. When I was in a position to hire, I hired women, even when some of the men around me were adamant that women didn’t belong in a tech company office. Seriously.

I’m aware that the easiest paths laid before men are inevitably a difficult uphill climb for any woman. But as your local Rastafarian will tell you, who feels it knows it. Knowing and feeling are very different things. You may believe you know something, but until you feel it, you don’t really know it. You can’t.

So this is me freely admitting that knowing that men believe women are stupid did not prepare me for being on the receiving end of that belief.

During my working day, it’s normal to be talked down to, have things mansplained, be ignored, disregarded, and (virtually) patted on the head. It’s demeaning and hurtful to be quizzed as if I’m a student eager to learn at a man’s knee. Or to be asked if I know how to cut and paste.

Yes, a man asked me if I knew how to cut and paste text on a computer.

The question took me aback, so I said, “Come on…” and he became defensive and said he couldn’t assume anything about what I may or may not know. Which sounds reasonable, but it’s bullshit. He would never ask a man if he knew how to cut and paste.

I’m working on a big project now: a pair of newsletters. It’s my project because I have extensive experience writing newsletters. I have extensive experience talking to hosting clients and developers. I know them. I know how to communicate with them and how to persuade them that I’m on their side. I know how to connect with them.

None of the men working with me on this have ever written a newsletter. Yet they are hijacking the project, methodically stripping away my intentions and plans and turning it into something pedestrian and boring. These men who have never written a newsletter.

My draft versions are picked apart, and everything human, everything with my touch, is removed. My suggestions are talked over or simply ignored. When I try to make it clear that I’ve done this before, that this is my thing, the men go, “Uh huh. Let’s do it our way.”

The privilege and the expectation that the world will bend to their wishes are on blatant display. They don’t try to hide it because I don’t believe they’re even aware of what they’re doing. They aren’t aware that they are steamrolling me because their default state of mind is women are stupid. Even if they don’t think I’m stupid, they have no doubt that what they want is what’s important. Not the mission, and certainly not me.

I’m rarely at a loss about what to do, but I’ll tell you, I don’t know what to do.

Part of me wants to say, fuck it, and just be their typist. It seems like that’s what they want. Another part of me wants to stand up and make them see me and respect me. But I don’t think standing up for myself would make them respect me. In fact, I know it wouldn’t. It would only make them see me as (more) “difficult.”

So, what now?

7 comments

  1. Tell them they seem to be getting a little overly emotional and just need to calm down 😇

    Also – women do this to women too. My old boss would ask me to ask Jordan how to do something related to my job. The job I’d been doing quite successfully for many years. Pretty disheartening when even women believe men are smarter.

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