A few weeks back, my friend Chris (who is an unstoppable force for LGBTQ equality) asked if I’d be a part of something called "The Human Library" in Sedona. It’s an event held in September that helps dissolve prejudices and stereotypes. Essentially, I’ll be a “human book” telling my story in about 15 minutes time, and then attendees can ask me questions for another 15. I’m honored to be part of this event surrounded by incredible human beings who, in most cases, have endured prejudice and unfair treatment far worse than anything I’ve ever endured.
For me, well, my topic is about gender inequality. Here’s my book cover description…
"As a self-taught carpenter and furniture designer, and the founder and CEO of an internationally-known furniture company, she faced gender discrimination on a weekly basis for fourteen years. Despite being told she was crazy to think a woman could do what she did, she built a furniture company out of her LA garage in 2007, won a deal on the TV show SHARK TANK in 2011, and grew her brand internationally through licensing partnerships. Now, at the age of 47, she’s fighting for her transgender daughter to ensure equal rights for all genders."
When I was crafting my book cover description, I thought back to my carpentry days and all of the sexist comments, the looks, the naysayers, the grossly inappropriate comments, and a few moments where I had to leave the room in order to not strangle someone. And then I realized that even now, during a time that I’m not as entrenched in the male-dominated furniture industry (aside from designing pieces for the Frank Lloyd Wright collection), I still continue be a target for men whose egos are larger than Texas.
Ironically, when I finally ousted a few king and queen narcissists from my personal life, the same damn type of person showed up in my work life. I thought I’d left behind the old boys’ network that is still at the helm of the furniture world. Turns out, they are in or around nonprofit work, too.
My husband, who is the antithesis of the men I’m describing, is one of the good ones who does all he can to fight for gender equality. He’s even gone to bat for a woman who was being sexually harassed by a top dog in the TV industry only to find himself kicked to the curb because he stood up for her. There are a few other good ones, too. But on the whole, over the last three years that I’ve been involved in nonprofit work, I’ve seen many wolves in sheep’s clothing. And let’s be honest—most of them are older white men. That’s been my experience, at least.
I’ve been told to calm down when I wasn’t doing anything but asking questions about a project this particular man needed done. For God's sake, I was helping him!
I’ve been retaliated against when I stood up and demanded to be paid for the work I’d done. (Apparently, this dude just expects everyone to do work for him for free.)
I’ve had to stand up to abuse while filming a speech only to be made a target again and again for expressing that I will not tolerate bullying.
One guy even asked a woman that I report to if she could handle me. First of all, that question is incredibly demeaning and degrading to both of us. I’ve never been someone who has needed to be "handled". I’ve always gone above and beyond to ensure our team succeeds, no matter where I'm working or volunteering. Now, think about this for a second…if you swapped out two men for the two women in this scenario, would he have asked the question in the first place? I think not. Who asks another man if they can handle a business colleague or direct report?!? No one.
I used to want to believe that what I endured while building the Mod Mom brand was mostly industry-related. That it was just the good old Southern boys running the show, ya know.
But it’s not. Despite the work of equal rights activists like Gloria Steinem and Malala Yousafzai, and all who came before and after them, gender inequality is everywhere.
Like the silent epidemic of childhood abuse, sexism and chauvinism are still happening at a rate I didn’t want to believe to be true.
How do we stop this, you ask?
You keep standing up.
You keep talking about gender inequality and sexism.
You keep shining a big freakin’ light on generational cycles of dysfunction and abuse that will only end when people are aware of what they’re handing down to their children.
But what do I know?!?
I’m just a woman who needs to be handled.