How many times has a co-worker asked you to be less “aggressive” in a work environment?
I ask because as I waited four hours to get my hair done on Saturday â€” and people wonder why I wear my hair natural … â€” I read an article in ELLE magazine about women’s (read: white) inability to admit their ambition out loud.
“Even highly successful and ambitious women, like CEOs I’ve interviewed, are loath to identify themselves as ambitious because they feel it desexualizes them,” says Anna Fels, MD, a psychiatrist and author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” “That’s less true in the black community and in the lower-middle and lower classes; those women haven’t been brought up with the expectation that femininity is equated with a subordinate role. But for the white middle-class woman, it’s a major issue.
Outside of reading that quote to mean that women who aren’t white or middle-class aren’t raised with a sense of what it means to be demure, let’s unpack this statement.
It’s interesting that women of color are painted by Dr. Fels as unabashedly rallying for power, or for the purpose of this article, openly displaying their want for more. This admission, according to the ELLE, means that non-white women don’t feel like being ambitious makes them less sexually attractive. I disagree.
In my some 30 years as a black woman, it has been my experience that ambition can be desexualizing, but not nearly as much as the other “a” word: Aggressive. And ironically, the two terms go hand in hand.
When I’m hampered by a difficult situation, I often tweet, in jest, a Nicki Minaj quote where she says, essentially, that as a business woman, she can’t be all things to all people. Specifically, that if she’d accepted less in her professional life, she’d still be drinking proverbial “pickle juice.” Now, I don’t worship Nicki but I do think she makes a point with which most of us can relate.
Its a talent to get things done with a firm hand that doesn’t feel that way in an office environment, especially when your co-workers are either terrified of your color â€” because then your strong voice becomes a black voice, conjuring whatever stereotypical black female they’re most comfortable withÂ â€” or quick to dismiss your input because of your lady parts. That being said, is it fair to say that perhaps as a woman of color your office tactics aren’t “aggressive” but rather informed and that’s why your opinion is so scary? Perhaps we desexualized women of color should try being passively unsuccessful and see how that works out for us.