I used to work in a male dominated industry with a testosterone driven company. I spent my first two months flailing, doing everything to fit in with the guys that didn’t involve sexual harassment or body-noise jokes, when I was extended an invaluable piece of advice:
“You’re not a man. Stop trying to act like one and you’ll do fine.”
This advice was from “M”, a grizzled, crotchety, misogynistic, middle-manager who had seen dozens of my kind come and go, and by “go” I mean flee. His advice, I realize now, was meant to drive me off, but it had just the opposite effect.
You see, because my job was mostly held by other males who more or less bulldozed their way through the ranks, the only way I knew how to behave was like the men who had come before me. And because I was not a man, I could only fail at behaving like one.
So I took M’s advice and I changed my approach. I acted as I thought I ought, not as how I thought the last guy before me had. This meant is was okay to be feminine, okay to dress like a woman, thank you, and okay to be appropriately emotional. I wore colored suits and carried a handbag as well as a briefcase (because dammit it makeup just doesn’t fly around inside those things). By not acting like a cut-throat male, I was able to fly below radar and focus solely on my work, not my competition.
And because I was considered differently and considered non-threatening, I found, as a woman, I could say things the men could not. I could push boundaries because in some cases, my male colleagues focused only on each other. Since I was constantly underestimated, I always over delivered. And shockingly, I never had to compromise myself in the process. My male bosses appreciated my nearly flawless work, work ethic, and the lack of office drama I brought to the table. After my first year, I was promoted well above that of my male peers. I had misjudged the male management structure in my company, but I was paid in kind by them not misjudging me.
So it doesn’t surprise to read that women have proven amazingly successful in the counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan. And it’s not just that we misjudged women here, it’s that we have misjudged men (of the Afghan variety) and an entire culture as well. So just why is it that the American military can not get their act together, yet again, on a no-brainer such as allowing the ladies to continue their good work?
Let me put this in turns certain men can understand: we all agree that Boise State is a stellar college football team deserving of a chance to play with the big boys, so what exactly is stopping them? Tradition? Because it’s always been this way? This is a valid excuse?
Afghanistan has been a piece-meal war for far too long. If the gals are getting the job done, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.