The year was 1997 when I heard a spoken word song that sparked a dream and changed the course of my future. ‘Wear Sunscreen’ was the song and it contained the line ‘Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard’. That one line stuck. Well the first part anyway: living in New York City one day became my dream. I was 22. Years later I discovered the lyrics were taken from a Chicago Tribune column titled ‘A Primer for Real Life’ by Mary Schmich. The following ‘colom’ details in part, why twenty years later, this 42-year-old knows EXACTLY what Mary was talking about and why recent movements and uprisings across the United States have been far from surprising for this Aussie expat.

 

Before coming to America, I had specialized in my industry for 15 years and worked hard to earn, and command, respect in the most hardened ‘boys’ clubs’ in Australia; Financial Services and Sport. I was used to being treated as an equal in all respects. If someone referred to me as ‘wearing the pants’ it was because I did (far comfier right? Hillary!). If men referred to me as strong, resilient, opinionated, or even bossy; it was because I am and they respected that. Then at the end of 2013, I moved to the United States.

 

Arriving in NYC armed with only a passport, two suitcases and dreams to be realized, I was full of optimism, self-belief, and a blind faith in what Frankie said – ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!’ Very quickly I gained a newfound respect for ole blue-eye’s lyrics. Within twelve months, I had experienced more misogyny, and witnessed more dismissive behavior toward woman and diverse groups than I had in my entire career in Australia. Especially attitudes toward unmarried and gay woman, transgender people and people from minority backgrounds.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there is still much to be done in Australia too. Fun fact, apparently there are more men named Andrew running Australia’s top 100 companies than women running them in total. However, back home my experience was of a nation far more evolved in their attitude to women and diversity & inclusion.  My experience was women held women back just as much as men. I guess you could say I felt greater equality even in our misogyny!

 

However, over the last four years living in the United States, I have experienced, observed, and listened to (including as an Executive Coach) so many examples of blatantly abhorrent behavior of men in power holding woman and others back.

 

In my first role here, I was made an offer that was 10K less than had been discussed. After asking the hiring manager directly “Am I being compensated equally in comparison to my male peers?’” he replied, “No, what do you expect? they have families to support!” Following up on why my Visa was delayed two months, I discovered he HR Director had changed my status to ‘married’, because he didn’t think a woman my age could make such a move without a husband. Further, as I’d moved before job searching he assumed someone was supporting me. Someone was – me!

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams

Eleanor Roosevelt

That was only the beginning! I have been referred to often as ‘on my feminist soapbox’, usually when championing female associates, daring to have an opinion, or quashing assumptions that great work must’ve been completed by one of the guys. I’ve been called ‘aggressive’ and an ‘opinionated Australian’ when presenting my ideas or perspectives more times than I can remember. I’ve been screamed at ‘I have power over you’ and ‘listen to me you stupid’ bi#tch’. As I mentioned earlier, I have spent much of my adult life around sports clubs and in board rooms. I am no stranger to banter, nor am I sensitive to it. I was however a stranger, and am sensitive to, this country’s rampant misogyny.

 

A few months ago, I was sharing these views with an Executive who told me ‘that couldn’t have been your experience’. A few weeks ago, I gave a man some timely, specific and balanced behavioral feedback. Feedback that was business orientated and aimed to set him up for success. It came back to me that I was ‘nasty’. I guess I have more in common with Hillary than just a love of suits and a disdain of POTUS.

 

In the past, I have simply reminded myself that a superiority complex is a psychological defense to compensate for inferiority. But I agree – Time’s up!  I mean, I’m a white, well-educated professional who grew up in 1980’s middle-class Australia. That is privilege. If I’ve felt and experienced such toxic and coercive behavior, I shudder to think!  It disgusts me to observe and listen to the stories of those less-privileged and others from minority or diverse groups.

 

They say a match is nothing until it strikes resistance, well until moving here I would’ve described myself as apolitical – and a feminist as one of those amazing 70’s trailblazers that opened the doors for my generation. Fast forward to 2018 and I’m all in! Call me Hashtag Harry but #blacklivesmatter #loveislove #womansrightsarehumanrights #timesup #metoo #shepersisted #whiteribbon – the list goes on.

 

As a Psychologist, I believe a lot of this behavior stems from Power. Power and the unfortunate need for women to fight for it, struggle to keep it, or apologise for having it. I think the election of a President who was caught on tape gloating about how fame allowed him to grab women sexually served as a metaphor for many: When a person leverages their positional power to take advantage without consequence. Then along came the Harvey Weinstein story to underscore that having power deemed him worthy of greater protection for habitually exposing himself, than those women who had tried to expose him! Harvey, his pot plant escapades, and the many accounts of his grotesque power plays over women were a catalyst for others to speak up, be heard, and spark a movement. That kind of coercive, unwanted power over another person, whether sexual, physical, emotional, cultural, or financial, is simply wrong. History demonstrates that in times of loss or oppression, the oppressed get angry and they mobilize. It is fabulous to see so many groups rising up!

 

Remember, Helen Reddy and her huge 1970’s international hit ‘I am Woman’. Like me, the song is 40 plus years old; however, the opening lyrics are as powerful and poignant today as they were then: “I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers, too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back an’ pretend. ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before and I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again”

 

It’s 2018 – TIMESUP – we sure do know too much to go back an’ pretend!