Earlier this week I wrote a column for The Muse about ambivalent sexism, or sexism that comes across as complimentary but originates in stereotypical beliefs about gender and ultimately has the same effects as hostile, or outright, sexism.
During my research for the piece and after its publication, I received some (anticipated) push back from readers of both sexes about how some of the examples I cite aren’t “really” sexist.
For instance, a few friends told me that when a man “apologizes” to the women in the room before or after using profanity, it’s not sexist. He’s simply acknowledging that there are ladies in the room.
Another reader, while agreeing with the article’s conclusions, noted, “This reminds me why chivalry is dead.”
Chivalry is a word that comes up a lot when we start talking about ambivalent sexism. It’s common to hear, Let’s just live in a world where no one can pay a woman a compliment or open her car door or help her carry her luggage without being called a sexist!
Let me be clear about this. I do think chivalry is dying, and I don’t think we should be sad to see it go. If I have to put up with wage gaps, double standards, street harassment, unattainable expectations of beauty, and all the other lovelies that spring forth from a society that tolerates sexism, in exchange for someone occasionally offering me a seat on the metro because I’m a woman, well, then I’ll stay standing for thirty minutes. Thanks.
Why are we trying to preserve chivalry when we should be aiming for a culture of kindness and acceptance, one in which we are polite to each other regardless of gender, appearance, social status, or sexual orientation? Instead of upholding chivalry — a tradition that stems from the view that women are in need of protection — we should focus on creating a culture that expects us to respect each other and allows us to express genuine emotion without fear of being punished for transcending gender norms. This type of culture of universal respect should be the ideal we’re working toward, not an outdated vision of white knights and damsels in distress.
A few months ago, I wrote a column about a situation I’ve experienced and witnessed more than I’d care for: being the only woman participating in a meeting or project—and thus being expected to become the team’s default administrative assistant. This piece struck a chord with readers of both genders, and many shared experiences that, although not directly related to administrative tasks, fell into the category of ambivalent or benevolent sexism.
Even if you’re not familiar with these terms, you’ve most likely witnessed them firsthand. Ambivalent or benevolent sexism refers to attitudes that view women and men in stereotypical roles, but feel “positive” or even complimentary in nature. Ambivalent or benevolent sexism usually originates in an idealization of traditional gender roles: Women are “naturally” more kind, emotional, and compassionate, while men are “naturally” more rational, less emotional, and “tougher,” mentally and physically. Translated into the workplace, ambivalent or benevolent sexism is behind the assumption that women are naturally better administrative assistants or naturally prepared to organize buying a gift for the boss. Because they’re “better” at it.
In their book The Mommy Myth, authors Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels point out that mothers on opposite ends of the earning spectrum are often sent vastly different cultural messages.
Middle class mothers are encouraged to postpone or forego their professional development and told that doing otherwise is selfish and damaging to their children, while poor mothers are told that they’re lazy for even thinking about staying home with their children, continually being stereotyped as welfare queens. For middle and upper class women, motherhood is glamorized as the ultimate feminine endeavor, the one pursuit that proves your womanhood. While for poor women, motherhood is classified as something they’ve “gotten themselves into” and must endure as punishment.
I’m thrilled that my latest piece for The Daily Muse is featured on Mashable (one of my favorite online publications) this week. You can check it out here.
I’m thrilled that several installments of my column in The Daily Muse have been picked up by Forbes Woman. Check them out!
It’s conference season, and the holidays are right around the corner, so marketing professionals everywhere are feverishly creating conference presentations and are eyeball-deep in holiday collateral. During this busy time of year, it’s easy to get bogged down in your benefits statements. You may even get tired of writing the same phrases, no matter how beautifully crafted they are.
Now’s the time to freshen up your messaging. By injecting new ideas into your cache, you’ll energize your sales and marketing teams and attract new customers. Here’s what I do when I need some inspiration:
1. Browse through AngelList. The startups using AngelList to attract and connect with investors are trying to sell themselves with pithy headlines and succinct profiles. Their messaging is as fresh as it gets, since these companies are typically under 3 or 4 years old. Browse through their profiles and think — how would I pitch my product to investors if I were in a fundraising round? Although the messaging you come up with might not be ideal for your current campaigns, it will jumpstart your brainstorm session and lead to new ideas.
2. Shadow a sales rep. Marketing writes the sheet music and salespeople sing the song. How are your clients responding to the lyrics? How are sales reps adding in their own melodies? Are they loving the song and making it even better with their special touch, or are they signing in a completely different key? You’ll never know unless you spend some time with your sales team and hear how clients actually respond to the messaging.
3. Describe my product or campaign to my grandma. We spend a lot of time, and rightly so, identifying and researching our target demographic. We find out what they like, what they understand, and what they know about our products, and then those findings turn into assumptions. It’s important to periodically revisit those assumptions, and describing the benefits of your product to someone who knows nothing about it — ie, your grandma — will do the trick. Assuming you’re not selling record players or Lincoln Town Cars, you’ll have to pare back your core capabilities back to their simplest terms and completely rethink their value.
My husband and I are getting ready to move, and so we’ve been spending quite a bit of time shopping for furniture, appliances, and housewares, visiting retailers both large and small, independently owned and big-box. Of course, as a marketer and as someone who works closely with sales pros, I’m constantly critiquing these stores’ messaging and sales strategies.
For example, today I was at a large store we’ll call Tom’s Furnishing Superstore (but it was really Bob’s Discount Furniture). As expected, a swarm of salivating salespeople immediately began spouting off the discounts and incentives du jour as soon as my husband and I walked through the doors. This type of behavior is the reason I hate going to furniture stores. Aggressive, hovering salespeople make me uncomfortable, and their selling style is incredibly ineffective — your pitch shouldn’t precede any understanding of your buyer’s needs. Nevertheless, Tom’s redeemed itself with one clever in-store tactic: they had a cafe with tables, huge jars of complimentary candy and carafes of coffee, lemonade, and tea for shoppers waiting on paperwork or bored children. Their prices were competitive, but their selling techniques have ensured that I’ll be making my purchase online.
After our trip to Tom’s, we headed to an appliance and electronic store that I’ll call JJ Craig (but it was really HH Gregg). We were mercifully greeted by just a single salesperson, who got off on the right foot by asking us a few questions before delving into the weekend’s sales. But things went downhill when we requested more details on the products. It became clear that he wasn’t familiar with the appliances he was trying to sell us. He was flipping through manuals for basic capabilities. He couldn’t tell us if the microwave/hood had a matching oven and refrigerator (It did. We found them.) So, although he was appropriately eager, he couldn’t really sell because he didn’t understand what he was selling.
Now, listen, I understand that a commission-based retail job is no walk in the park. These two salesmen are not in charge of their company’s marketing, pricing, and likely did not receive a great deal of training. However, you don’t need to be at the corporate level to implement these basic sales and marketing strategies:
1. Know your product. Use it. Talk to people who use it. You can’t market what you don’t understand.
2. Know your customer. The sales guys I met this weekend were obviously motivated to make a sale. But they weren’t interested in what I wanted to buy. Neither of them spent much time finding out what I was looking for. Instead, they focused on the pre-packaged incentives designed to make me spend a ton of money, and when my needs didn’t fit into this package, they fumbled.
2. Don’t treat your customer like a target. Because of their aggressive commission structure, sales pros tail you through aisles of appliances and stand awkwardly close to you in crowded living room displays. They repeat their name to you over and over, shoving piles of business cards into your hands, not because they want you to call them by name but because they don’t want you to forget to mention their name at check out. Instead of putting so much effort into tracking the customer like a hunter, focus on offering expertise and service, and loyalty will naturally follow.