Lose the Labels, See the Woman

As someone who was born in the Philippines, I was thrilled to find out about the Pantene commercial airing there that has gone viral online. In it the contrasting ways that successful men and women are stereotyped are shown.

My first job out of college was as a video journalist for CNN. I worked so hard during the 4 ½ years I was there that every time I was eligible for promotion, I got the job. By my third year, I was writing and producing international news for the network’s CNN International channel.

I enjoyed what I was doing so much that working overnights, weekends, and coming in on my days off were not inconveniences but part of the job description as far as I was concerned. But what I hated about getting ahead—at the time, my movement in the company was considered rather rapid—was the whispering that went on behind my back.

According to gossip, I was sleeping my way up the ladder, giving sexual favors in exchange for promotions. I also was a stuck up, mean, bossy bitch. Ironically, most of these made up stories can be traced back to a few of my female coworkers.

At the time, I remember being hurt and angry that my hard work was being dismissed and attributed to me using my sexuality instead. But competition with other females was familiar to me, as we vied for position at work and for attention from men in the dating scene, so I chalked up their insinuations to jealousy on their part and a “win” for me.

Back then I didn’t question the way society in general negatively judges a woman who does really well on the job—making it about her sex appeal or her “connections” or perceiving her as “domineering, pushy, or aggressive” rather than recognizing her body of work or her intelligence, talent, determination, or abilities. Is it any wonder that these women looked at me through this same lens? How many were holding themselves back so they wouldn’t be similarly judged? Did any of these women pass on certain opportunities in favor of being liked?

I think back to my own dismissal of their feelings and how I too chose to negatively categorize them… petty, jealous, catty… rather than understanding that something deeper may have been going on for them beneath all the barbs.

The other day I was reading an article in Vanity Fair about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. The article says a lot about this successful woman, tracing her ascent and mentioning both positive and negative comments from people who previously worked with her. She also has a $5 million penthouse at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, reportedly throws fabulous parties, appears on magazine covers, and is married with a child.

My initial knee-jerk reaction to the negative reviews was, “Wow, I guess you do have to be a ball-buster to be that successful and have it all”—but then I stopped myself. I don’t know Mayer outside of the headlines that I read. She wasn’t even interviewed for the article. I have no idea who she is as a person or what her life is really like. Why jump onto any bandwagons about her—especially the negative ones—or perpetuate the usual stereotypes, even if just in my head? Why not look at all she has accomplished and the life she appears to have and say, “WOW! How awesome is that!

Over the last 10 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in women’s circles. These gatherings are usually populated with females committed to remembering their own power while holding space for the other women in the group to do the same.

What I now know for sure is that one woman’s power and success never takes away from anyone else’s. It gives us permission and possibility to have our own.

29 Comments on “Lose the Labels, See the Woman”

  1. I love that you address the role we as women play in the perpetuation of these labels. In my leadership courses, I stress the importance of a part of being a female leader is stopping tearing other women down. We are where we are because of what we do to each other…

  2. diahannreyes says:

    Agreed! It would be great if instead of bringing other women down with our words, we used our collective power to raise each other up!

  3. Amen to that! 🙂
    Thank you for representing the female & Filipina community so well 🙂

  4. diahannreyes says:

    Thank you, Kelly! Right back at you.

  5. BroadBlogs says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. So interesting to read about both how you were treated and how you now recognize that both you and all these other women had internalized some negative notions of womanhood.

  6. You are a self aware and inspiring person! It’s easy to stereotype and judge, but challenging to really know and understand. Thanks for this thought-provoking post! Celeste 🙂

  7. diahannreyes says:

    Thank you, Celeste! And yes-it really is challenging sometimes to know that we are even doing either unless we manage to catch ourselves in the act. Happy Holidays 🙂

  8. It has been a fantastic journey to see the difference in how women in the work place are viewed now as compared to the 1950’s when I was making my living in one of the accepted roles as a secretary. Often, we were taken for granted, expected to be subservient, and rarely given credit for our good ideas. Women jealously guarded their positions. As times change, and human nature rarely does, some of these old ideas still prevail, but at least there is more wiggle room for advancement these days.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I bet you have some really interesting stories to tell, Patricia. I think it’s inspiring the trajectory of your career. And thank you for the reminder that even though we have a ways to go we have come quite a distance in the last several decades.

  9. sarahbgoode says:

    I feel like we live in a really confusing time now, because things are changing so fast. But it’s really good. It’s awesome that women (in the society I live in anyway, I can’t speak for all others) can make CEO of a company, or clinical lead in a hospital, or run a country. But because change happened fast, there are still people in the work place, men and women, who remember when men where in charge, so there is much tension still. And definitely the worst part is the women turning against other women, in the name of competition. It’s a shame that some women feel the need to. Change will continue though, I’m sure. Our society is still evolving.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Good point, Sarah! That some people are still operating under the older paradigms and not realizing that change is happening.. like you said though, hopefully the evolution will continue. I agree about women and competition. — why not pull each other up rather than push the other down.. that would be a great way to collectively harness female power.

  10. 1. Backbiting is not about you. Yeah, it sucks. But there will always be insecurity. It’s about their uncertainties (anger and taking a position against someone feeds a delusion of strength). And yes, we will find this among women more than men.

    2. Felt like I was reading my own bio in your description of how hard you applied yourself to succeed – though men were not in the picture. I speak of the die-hard dedication to excellence.

    3. Yes, it is wise to withhold judgmt as well as envy when we come across mere snippets of someone’s achievements. What I WILL bet my money on is that the woman does NOT have it all. There is a cost to all endeavors of greatness, as I have been uncovering in my series. I think, especially for women with families. I know it cost something of your and my physical and emotional health to succeed through that dog-eat-dog season.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I agree w/ you that “having it all” may be another impossible ideal, Diana that we’ve been set up to think is possible. These days I like to think of my version of “having it all” as being able to strike some kind of balance that fits me and gives me personal satisfaction… still challenging to achieve but more doable I think.

      Per your #2 above, Curious about the male response you received to your success. (I was thinking of weaving that dynamic into this piece but then decided to just keep it about the women this go around.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your, as always, thoughtful comments, Diana!

      • WISE! Yes, balance balance balance. Holistic health is precisely about restoring balance to the body. And this balance is needed on levels beyond the physical plane. Love your modified version of “having it all.”

  11. lovely rants says:

    Love this and relate on so many of the points you made here. It is so easy to compare our “insides” with other people’s “outsides.” It is also really easy to judge others on their outsides without considering all that lies beneath!

    I can only pray and attempt to cultivate the an open, nonjudgemental and accepting view of the world and allow others the space to be themselves as they are at any moment. Easier said than done- but hey, I’m trying. I want to empower- not disempower.

    Thanks for making me think! 🙂

  12. I remember watching Billy Jack and how the one dad beat his teen daughter. Like many males they think it is okay for a guy to play around but when the woman does her character comes into question. In Billy Jack she was treated as less than human and yet even though there has been some progress in the USA, there is a lot that needs to be dumb. Not the superficial playing with the dolls, that is going too far, but really establishing women as competent without the approval of men. Approval is nice but not endorsements for the man’s sake but for hers.

  13. This is a well-written and truly insightful post if I may say so myself. I worked in television for some time as well (though in the drastically different world of animation) and sadly I saw a bit of the same prejudgements and lack of a willingness to understand.

  14. insertwittyusernamerighthere says:

    Reblogged this on VeryMuchClichedBlogAboutATeenageGirl.

  15. SirenaTales says:

    Thank you for sharing your perceptive, thoughtful and generous self here, once again, Diahann. Especially love that last paragraph. My amazing husband observed to me years ago his view that when people–here, women–are faced with sharing the “pie” of life and its resources, they generally have a “shrinking pie” or “expanding pie” approach. Those in the first group fear there won’t be enough goodness to go around, so they hoard and undermine others. Those in the second group, like you, see that when 1 benefits, succeeds, thrives, we all do, and the pie just keeps on expanding. I have experienced this phenomenon a lot with other dancers, but am now blessed to be part of two dance communities where folks recognize and treasure that when we band together and support each other we are all more powerful and truly alive. Rock on, my friend. Xo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Chloe! I always look forward to what you have to say.

      I love that you are now in communities of dancers where, unlike the old way of moving together (makes me think of all the Hollywood ballet movies where the dancers usually have it out for each other), you are working together and supporting in the creative field. I think women, especially, have had to heal that divide with each other.

      Curious, what type of movement communities are you with now? No need to share if too personal a question. I’m just genuinely curious about you, Sirena. xo

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