By Gabi Stewart
Khaki pants, trusty tennis shoes, a bright, collared t-shirt that sports the company logo — all of these things are typical pieces of CEF-Durham member Sharon’s uniform for her housekeeping position at a local inn. However, without another piece — one imperceptible to the eye — Sharon’s outfit is incomplete. It’s a mindset, a personality feature, and it’s something that working women across all sectors feel that they’re defined and restricted by.
It’s her bossiness.
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of sitting down with Sharon and discussing what it means to be a working woman in Durham. As a college freshman constantly immersed in the university environment, I find that engaging in discussion of gender in the workforce is pretty commonplace for me — whether in the form of a drafting a research paper on working women in Disney films, participating in class discussion on gender roles, or simply conversing with older students about their experiences, this sort of analysis frequently enters my world. However, what I’ve realized is that my insight on this topic is theoretical at best; it lacks the raw, honest power that only comes with experience. Experience and power that Sharon definitely has. Though usually soft-spoken and laid-back, Sharon kindly and passionately shared this insight with me as we spoke.
My first question was simply, “What does it mean to be a woman in the workforce?”
Ruminating on the super broad question, Sharon paused for a moment. Eyes narrowing with realization, she looked directly at me and said, “You gotta be bossy, you know.”
Intrigued by her answer, I asked her to explain.
“You have to let your co-workers know you’re in control and that you can do it.”
Jumping a little bit, I replied, “So would you say that women are bossy in the way that men are powerful?”
The bossy/powerful distinction is definitely something that’s gained some media coverage over the past few years. And that’s great — coverage raises awareness. However, having never worked in a position outside of a summer job, I never really felt aware of this issue until I heard it firsthand from Sharon. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks; I was angry. Outraged, even. Sensing this, Sharon spoke up.
“But it’s all good in the job I have now, though. My boss, he’s really good.”
After that, Sharon went on to detail how her boss really empathizes with his workers. Instead of being hired immediately as a manager, Sharon’s boss had to “make that bed and clean that room” before being promoted. He shares a common experience with his workers. He understands. And he respects them when they assert themselves and their opinions, regardless of their genders.
Even though Sharon’s experience is certainly not a reflection of the entire work world of Durham, it stands out of a pocket of light in a sphere of society that can seem like a dark place. Yes, the societal construction of women’s bossiness versus men’s power and confidence is an outstanding issue that absolutely needs to be addressed. However, it’s not an ubiquitous, all-consuming issue; it’s something that we can tackle on a grassroots level. Together, as a community, we can empower one another and lift one another up on an individual level. And that’s an amazingly encouraging prospect.