This Is One Sentence I Am Sick and Tired of Hearing at Work

You were expecting someone else?


People often get to know me through my public speaking and articles before they meet me in person, and it seems like everyone has preconceived notions about someone they only know through text. The most common reaction I get—from people who like my work, no less, and especially from other women—is, “I didn’t expect you to be so short!” I write articles about women and careers from a feminist POV, run a feminist web shop, and produce the annual Bullish Conference, none of which are pursuits involving physical prowess. Well, I occasionally lift a box of “Smash the Patriarchy” pencils. But that’s about it.

I’m 5 feet 5 inches. That’s one inch taller than the average height for women in the United States. I am the same height as J.K. Rowling, Angela Merkel, and Demi Lovato (how’s that for a list?). In other words, I am not short for a woman.

It’s not that I’m short by any means, it’s just that for some reason… people expect me to be unusually tall. I often get another, similar version whenever I lead a webinar or online class and people hear my voice for the first time: “I didn’t expect your voice to be so high!” or (wait for it) “I didn’t expect you to sound like a girl.”

These comments are sometimes delivered with the air of surprise, and other times are even intended as compliments. I’m baffled, though, because I’m pretty sure my voice is totally average for a woman. I’m pretty sure that my voice and my height have little to do with what’s going on here.

I’ve received these comments enough times that I have begun to think that maybe many of us—men and women alike—have more internalized misogyny to contend with than we might realize. A lot of us seem to expect that women we admire or view as authorities should be… well, more like men. At the very least, we expect honorary men, not someone you might describe as “girlish.”


trust, star trek is relevant

This attitude exists everywhere—online, in social media, at the workplace. It’s in the media we consume! One example (from my own formative years!): in 1988, Star Trek: The Next Generation released one of its worst-ever episodes: “Angel One.”

“Angel One” is about a planet ruled by women. On a fictional world, there are many ways that this could be possible! Perhaps the planet was much like ours, but evolved to the point that physical size and strength were irrelevant, and slowly, women overtook men as the dominant gender? NOPE. The women are just tall. Really tall. That was the extent of the writers’ imagination: for women to rule, they must just be … bigger.

Quoth one James Hunt at Den of Geek:

The planet is a strange one where (if you accept the episode’s highly dubious premise) social gender roles are flipped, so that the females are more dominant and physically imposing, and males are slight and weak-willed. You know, like the opposite of what is on Earth! (This might be a new record: a Star Trek episode whose ingrained prejudices undermine its point at the premise level, before a word has been written).

The head matriarch on Angel One (because of course that’s what matriarchs would name their damn planet) has a male servant who is a short man in a chest-bearing shirt. On an away mission to the planet, Commander Riker happily wears one of the local chest-bearing shirts for the purpose of practicing diplomacy with his penis. The tall women who run this matriarchy immediately swoon and fall into bed with Riker, who is also tall. Because that’s how power works!

Even as a child, I knew something wasn’t right in this episode. You know that feeling you have when you want to like something, but you know you’re being made fun of? Yeah, that’s what it felt like.


why does internalized misogyny even happen? (and what can we do?)

I’m hypothesizing that there are very good reasons many of us harbor internalized misogyny about manifestations of authority in small or even average-sized women. Don’t get me wrong; it gets complicated here. Being large makes you more authoritative, but wait—largeness in women is also penalized by patriarchal beauty and body ideals! Trans women are often penalized for the very qualities that cis women are exhorted to cultivate. And, lest anyone flood the comments to remind us, short men don’t have it easy either.

As for the high-pitched voice: Women’s voices, it turns out, garner complaints from men basically anytime women are not silent. It is perhaps difficult to emerge from this environment untainted by internalized misogyny that tells you that to be taken seriously, you should try to sound like a second-rate man. Or that someone whose writing you enjoy ought not to sound “like a girl.”

giphy (1)

What can we do? We can call this shit out. Recently I was watching one of my favorite ladybiz gurus, whose name I’m not going to mention here, on Periscope, talking about product pricing. A man I was working with overheard a few seconds of the broadcast and said, “Her voice is all wrong; she sounds like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” I suggested he try listening to the actual words, which contain the information, and pointed out that her tone of voice was natural and intimate—all the better for making an intimidating subject more inviting.

She’s also rich. It works.

I’m an average-height woman with an average female voice. I won’t be doing any “power poses” to make myself look more like a linebacker (or a blowfish). I don’t like games that are set up so I can never win. If I’m wearing heels, it’s not to seem more commanding. I’m glad shoulder pads have never come back. I think a good picture of power is a woman of any size sitting lazily in an armchair wearing leggings and flats, and everybody comes to her because she has all the good shit, like information and promotions and raises. That works. It’s better than pumping your fists in the bathroom to get blood flowing into your biceps… which are basically useless in the business world.


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Jennifer Dziura

Jennifer Dziura is the founder of and the annual Bullish Conference, taking place September 18-21, 2016 in Palm Springs, California. She believes in risk-taking, negotiating better by being genuinely willing to walk away, gentlewomanly living, gravitas, espresso, prosecco, and helping other women.

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  • Diamondminek

    I am short (5ft1), and look young – imagine the shock when people realise I know stuff, and am actually good at my job…. as well as being physically capable of stuff. I hope my confidence and competence will see me through, beyond people’s expectations. Not like care work has any kind of career path anyway, but I hope to at least make some changes.

    But also, imagine if diplomacy was penis (or vagina) lead in a good way – imagine if it was like i want our two different sides to be able to have sex or live together happily, so to let that happen we need peace all round. (Super sad over Syrian aid mission being bombed… imagine if those at the helm of that conflict just decided to stop… star trek escapism can really have its place!)

  • Mrrpaderp

    This is a great article. Not to geek out too much, but Angel One was far from the only matriarchal society in the Star Trek universe. Betazed (aka half-human/half-Betazoid Deanna Troi’s home planet) is a matriarchy. The women aren’t bigger or anything, their society just evolved that way.

    • Janet Hélène

      I also love the Star Trek deconstruction, but I always try to be mindful of the time they were written, and how while they might seem antiquated now, it was really usually pushing barriers when they first aired.

  • Daisy6564

    This is really interesting because I am wondering what is socialized here and what is innate. By this I mean, are all postures and ways of speaking truly neutral and equivalent and we are merely socialized to view some as weaker than others, or are there objectively more confident, dominant postures and vocal tones and women are socialized to diminish themselves by using weaker postures, tones, and speech patterns?

    I ask this because I work in a school network where we coach teachers on how to have strong presence and convey authority in the classroom. We coach things like squaring up body posture and giving directions avoiding “up speak” (when your tone goes up at the end of a statement making it sound like a question). The majority of our teachers are women and at some level it does seem like we are coaching them to adopt posture and speech patterns that are more stereotypically masculine. I have seen these techniques really work and make a difference in how students respond.

    Thinking back to my own teaching, when I did not receive this coaching, I can absolutely see that I did not convey authority in the classroom. Students walked all over me. I was socialized to ask others to do something, rather than tell. For example: “Will you bring me that book?” rather than “Bring me that book.” By using that speech pattern, that is very common to women, I was confusing my students and sending the message that they could choose whether or not to comply.

    It does seem like children (and animals for that matter) respond better to more assertive postures and tones and often disregard messages that are conveyed from weaker postures and tones. That is what makes me question which here is socialized: the action of the posture/tone or the reception of the posture/tone.

    • Cassidy

      I think a whole lot of it is socialized. I think we are taught as young girls that it’s more ladylike or polite to ask favor versus ask for something directly. I think all toddlers go with GIVE ME regardless of gender – we teach manners to all kids, but somewhere along the line we teach girls to couch their language further with terms like “bossy” (instead of assertive).

      • Amy March

        Such a good point about toddlers having assertive down pat.

      • Yeah, when writing professional emails I always do one pass before sending to remove the “I think”s, and ask myself “Would a mediocre white male say ‘I think’?” It helps.

        But then you get the bossy effect, where as a woman everyone expects softer. So then I just come off as extra blunt. Lose-Lose.

        • Lisa

          I had this issue at my last workplace. I decided to make a conscious effort to censor my work e-mails of “I think,” “just,” and an overabundance of exclamation points. After that, co-workers complained that I wasn’t “friendly” in my e-mails to my manager– not that I wasn’t getting the information they needed or that my e-mails had anything necessarily negative in them or the tone. They weren’t “friendly,” which is something I never knew a work e-mail needed to be!

          • I’ve got student evaluations that ask me to be more CHIPPER.

          • Sarah E

            Please blithely and willfully misinterpret that as “be more WOOD CHIPPER” then go about your merry way.

          • That. That is the best mental re-framing I’ve ever heard of.

          • Leela

            I like subtlety, so I advise you to come to class dressed as Paul Bunyan.

          • Julia

            Oh my god, the “friendly” email thing has absolutely happened to me (and my mother in her workplace, and many friends) — and I just have one million eye rolls to give to it. Not every e-communication needs exclamation points and smiley faces.

        • LJ

          “What would a mediocre white male say/do”

          This is our generation’s WWJD ;)

          • Janet Hélène

            The email think is such a good example of female/male interpretations of language. I have definitely noticed the word “just” and the need to appear ‘friendly’ on emails is mostly focused on women.

            Even more interesting is how a lot of boss female authorities that I know who were pioneers in their field (i.e. female dr/engineer who is in the baby boomer generation) DON’T write emails like this.

          • JLily

            I’ve noticed that many women in my field start emails with “Hi JLily”, where as the men more often write only “JLily”, comma–without a “greeting”. I make a point of doing this now–it DOES look more assertive. I also only use exclamation points with female coworkers, because I like them (the coworkers and the !!).

    • Violet

      I don’t know about posture. But from a child development perspective, “Bring me that book” is a prompt more likely to result in compliance because it removes the nuances the question version introduces: Is my teacher asking me to, as in, it’s a choice? So in general, if it’s not a choice, don’t phrase it as a question. (Or use upspeak, which conveys a question is being asked; just as confusing to young kids.)

      • Daisy6564

        That is why i do think that it is beneficial to train teachers to phrase commands as such and remove upspeak from their speech patterns. In terms of posture, a “power stance” does convey more authority than arms crossed and shoulders hunched making yourself smaller (as you would have seen in videos of my first few years of teaching). My opinion is that these things do convey authority and confidence in an absolute way and not just because we have been socialized to view them as confident and authoritative.

        My read of the author’s point of view is that she is suggesting in the last two paragraphs that all people need to be more focused on the message than the delivery and I would counter argue that delivery is important. There are tones and postures that we innately view as authoritative and those we do not. The gendered socialization comes in largely with the performance of these postures and tones, not the perception of them. I have seen this first hand with working with young children. I agree with your point that it comes down to removing ambiguity.

    • Christina McPants

      It took my two year old responding to me during our current possessive phase to realize how often my wife and I phrase commands as requests or use “ok?” as punctuation. It’s hard moving away from that because so much of my job is gently nudging people to do what they’re supposed to.

      • Daisy6564

        Werd. Adding “ok?” to the end of a direction is also a common pitfall of teachers (and one that I was guilty of). It totally confuses kids and makes the adult look like they are not in charge. I imagine the same is true of how adults perceive other adults.

        I am 7 months pregnant. Yesterday I caught myself saying to my husband: “Would you turn the light on?” when he was next to the light. It was a small thing but I had a record scratch moment in my brain and I thought, I better end this habit real quick before I have a kid.

    • Janet Hélène

      I think there are definitely certain qualities that are innately seen as more authoritative, but even more that are socialized and so ingrained that they may appear innate.

    • Emma

      This is interesting. I live in New Zealand, and as a culture (ie. NZers of all genders) we are known for doing ALL of those things – upspeak is a thing most people do, qualifying statements like “just” “maybe” “Would you mind” are EXTREMELY common etc. etc. It’s part of a culture of being indirect and not inconveniencing anyone. (My family is German and we… are not like that, haha)
      So I definitely think the behaviour is socialised. I’m not sure whether the response to that is socialised or not (ie. are we biologically inclined to react negatively to that? I dunno)

  • Sarah M

    Let me just throw in that I didn’t realize this article was written by Jennifer Dziura when I clicked it – so when I saw the byline and realized it was her, I was super confused. I heard her on a podcast (and let me say she was by far one of my favorite interviewees of ANY podcast to listen to because of her confidence) and her voice just…. sounded like a woman? I didn’t think she sounded especially high pitched or “girlish.” So I was sitting here scratching my head how people thought she sounded “more girlish” than they expected. And I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for women who do have higher pitched voices…. Because “high pitched” is NOT how I’d describe Jennifer’s voice.

  • Sosuli

    It’s really hard not to let people’s reactions throw you off. I have people raise eyebrows at me and express surprise whenever I go present conference papers or turn up to teach, because I’m a academic who regularly gets mistaken for a teenager. Sometimes it really knocks my confidence and the doubt of “wait, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about…” seeps in. This article is great reminder that actually those reactions have nothing to do with me or my skills. I need to get better at internalizing that and not letting other people’s reactions get to me.

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  • Jess

    I’m reminded of all the meetings I’ve shown up to in heels, the times I’ve dropped my voice and carefully eliminated upspeak, the conversations where I’ve squared my shoulders and tilted my head so that I could look down at someone while issuing a demand.

    Like Daisy6564, I’m not really sure which way this happens – do we teach men to behave in more assertive ways and women to behave in subservient ways, or do we judge manly behavior as assertive and womanly behavior as subservient?

    I’m guessing it’s a bit of both. As a girl who was constantly called Bossy and likes being a subject matter authority, I kind of feel like we shoehorn women into behaving and then judge them for being weak. Maybe women are naturally more passive, but I’m not so sure.

    Sure, I shouldn’t have to control my voice or force my physical appearance to be taller to command respect. I also shouldn’t have to make myself smaller or less forceful to be liked.

  • C

    Sometimes it’s nice that my voice is noticeable because I have a speech dysfluency and I often speak assertively. Sounding like a woman is the least of my (perceived by others) problems.

  • rg223

    Can I just do a mini-rant on how freaking RUDE it is to comment on someone’s appearance/features/attributes in any way? I’m just floored that people even made these comments to the author in the first place, particularly in a professional setting. If you start a sentence with “I didn’t think you’d be…,” you are almost certainly about to say something based on an assumption that’s sexist/racist/ageist/ableist/etc. How hard is it to just make a mental note that you made a false assumption and then be silent about it?!
    ETA: Or god forbid, do a little self-reflection on why you made that assumption and change your attitude.

    • LJ

      A lot of people associate height with confidence. I know a lot of people who say “wow, you’re tall!” to me (I’m significantly taller than the average women, especially in an area with a large Asian population) and they do it in an awe-filled way…. people are soooo unaware of the implications of their assumptions and the social rules they’re enforcing. Getting them to see the reasons behind their comments is a long road.

  • Her Lindsayship

    Glad you mentioned that the unrealistic expectations about women’s appearance work both ways. I’m six feet tall and I have only one woman friend who is even close to my height. Being tall is great for many reasons (one of them being that people prob have at least a small amount more respect for me inherently), but it downright HAUNTED my angsty sensitive teen years. I hated seeing pictures of myself standing in a group because I just stood out so much, and especially as a woman, I’d been taught that was not a desirable trait. I was in theatre and was told I’d never be a leading lady because of my height (which, fuck that noise from so many different angles, lord) and at the time I was just like ‘haha yeah that’s true I’m so monstrously huge and imposing! LOL why would anyone ever cast me in a leading role when obvs I’m not small and delicate enough! Yes clearly all leading ladies must be physically subservient to their male leads duh!’ It’s almost sickening that I wasn’t even offended by it, that’s how brainwashed I was. Being a tall woman in a society that expects women to minimize themselves actually made me more meek and unsure of myself, because I spent my formative years being embarrassed at the amount of space I took up. Let’s not even get into the year I realized had big boobs.

    ANYWAY, rant over, awesome article! I so appreciate a good Star Trek deconstruction. Love that show but god could it be awful sometimes (Voyager was much more feminist but even that had its cringe episodes).

    • Lisa

      Ugh, the casting dilemma. I sing opera, and noticed the same issue even in grad school, where we had a professional director on faculty. One of my classmates was a 6′ woman, and she was never given any leading roles despite her awesome voice because she was taller than almost all of the guys who would have played opposite her. During a callback once, the director even lined all of the women up next to the men who would be playing their counterparts and took photos. I remember joking with my friend about how we were doing the “tall girl slouch” to appear to be a more suitable height for casting.

      • Her Lindsayship

        LOL “tall girl slouch”! The only time I was even considered for a leading role was in a student-directed production, and it was Love of the Nightingale and I got to play Philomele. And because of this handy trick I was practicing called ACTING, I think it was still totally believable that the guy who played Tereus (a good 4″ shorter than me at least) terrorized and raped my character. And then Philomele burns it down, but like, a short girl could also play that part! The stature of the actress makes WAY less of an impact on the way her character is perceived than like… her acting does.

        • Lisa


    • LJ

      I’m 5’9″, tall enough to be “tall” but not in the same percentile as you – however, I did almost all my growing before grade 7 so there was a multi-year period where I was one of the tallest girls in my large school, if not THE tallest. I was so fortunate to have a tall (6’4″) dad who, alongside my mom, pushed me into activities that supported height: basketball and band (the latter forcing good posture), for example. This makes me realize that I’ve had SO MUCH fortune in how I was raised. Thanks for sharing your story.

      I also want to add that I’ve ALWAYS felt urge to be skinnier, but being involved in sports (I play most of the “sportsball” sports at a minimum recreational level and I also lift weights) has had an AMAZING effect on my body confidence and height insecurity, as it gave me somewhere that my height made me desirable, and skinny (relative to average, not relative to overweight) was actually UNDESIRABLE because I needed mass to be able to play as aggressively as I wanted to. I will definitely be pushing any tall children I have in the same direction when they’re young.

      • Her Lindsayship

        I never got into sports, and I think it was partly because I already felt so unfeminine and didn’t want to pile on more “masculine” traits. (Sigh.) But then I still got asked if I played basketball constantly for the first 20 years of my life, so was I really doing myself any favors? ;)

        • LJ

          :P It helped to play basketball when I got asked that! The volleyball teams were always disappointed I didn’t want to come play with them but that sport always looked hard when I was young. I love it now :P

          I feel really lucky that sports were never impressed as “unfeminine” on me. So lucky. Not by friends or family or anyone… there was a LOT of sexism in organized sports (men had twice the uniform budget than the women despite the women finishing in the top 3 in the province consistently whereas the men never broke top 10) but we were never discouraged from playing explicitly.

    • Brienne of Tarth!

      But anyways, I’m 5’11” and forever thankful to my mother (only an inch shorter) for *burning* that love of being tall into me and my sister from a young age. People want to shame you about it, I just prefer to think of all the haters/shamers as being jealous.

      • Ashlah

        I love reading these stories! I have a friend who’s just an inch taller than me, but she grew up ashamed of her height, and slouches to this day. It bums me out so much.

      • Brienne! Side note, I love that whenever you see pictures of Gwendoline Christie at premieres or events, she is always rocking sky-high heels even though she’s almost always already the tallest person there, she just totally owns her height.

      • Her Lindsayship

        Or Lady Macbeth! Or actually a lot of women in Shakespeare’s plays, or really ANY WOMAN because being tall does not actually need to be a reflection of who you are! Although yeah, I now love being tall. My parents were tall too and happy about it, but idk, I grew up in the conservative South and there were a lot of other influences. Also didn’t help that I was really shy, so I hated the extra attention it garnered.

  • sage

    These assumptions are so awful and happen to me as well. So many times people say something along the lines of “Wow, I’m so impressed with your understanding of the subject matter”, which 1) It’s my job, 2) I’ve been working in this field for YEARS.

    My only explanation is that these men (because it’s always men) say this because they can’t say what they’re thinking, which I imagine is “Whattt? Blonde, short [average height!] girl with big boobs knows shit about engineering???”

    Story time: a few months ago at work I was emailing back and forth with this guy, and he kept addressing me in the emails as “Mr. MyLastName” (I have a unisex name and work in a male dominated industry). I didn’t correct him because I thought at the time we would just be emailing, but then it turns out I needed to schedule a call with him. Most awkward beginning of a phone call I’ve ever experienced. He kept saying “Oh… oh…” and babbling apologies and I was like “Whatever, let’s talk about the issues”. I sincerely hope he starts addressing people in emails by FirstNameOnly like a normal person.

    • Lisa

      Tangentially related to your story: I have a student who constantly refers to me as “Mrs. MyLast” in e-mails but calls me by my first name when I see her in person. I haven’t bothered to correct her yet, but I dread a moment like the one you describe where she realizes my husband doesn’t have my last name. Not as dramatic, but still a good reminder to never assume things about someone!

      • I honestly don’t think most people are aware of the “Mrs. HerLast and Mr. HisLast” statement being incorrect. So she probably wouldn’t be as horrified as you might think.

  • Great article! I don’t have average female stats – I’m tall, have a fairly low voice, have hella wide shoulders – & it can actually be a little surreal noticing the ways that I get a bit of de facto male privilege. It’s often noticeably easier for me to make myself seen, heard, or to have boundaries respected then it is for other women around me.

    Of course as the article alludes to, a big part of this is because I’m cis, white & generally conform to gender expectations… I don’t think “second-hand male privilege” or whatever is available to everyone. But this shit’s real…

    • Sarah E

      My friend and I had this discussion recently. I’m a fairly confrontational person, and while both my friend and I speak up and speak out about sexism, I rant and rave about a lot of dismissive bullshit. She said it dawned on her that I come up against a lot of patronizing bullshit as a small, blonde, straight cis white female that she doesn’t, simply because as a queer, brightly-colored-hair-having woman of size, she’s dismissed, invisible, or otherwise not approached. It’s wrong both ways, but my attitude is certainly related to growing up as a petite blond girl with a penchant for the color pink and having to prove I’m neither sweet nor nice.

      • EF

        oh this is such a thing. like, i try to be real sympathetic to women complaining about street harassers, etc — but i’ve literally only been catcalled twice in my life. but i ‘pass’ most of the time as pretty genderless and just confuse people. i get ignored a lot, which is better than being harassed for not being feminine.

        i read a thing recently where a transman was talking about how much easier it was to go through society as a trans guy rather than gender nonconforming woman. i thought that said a whole lot about the feminine gatekeeping.

  • Cellistec

    Years ago I was at a leadership workshop, and we started with a physical-space warmup. We basically were told to stand “tall” and bellow some empowering phrase. The instructor kept insisting I do it over and over again because I didn’t sound “big” enough. “Don’t be small,” he said. Puzzled, I finally replied, “But I AM small.” I am–I’m 5’2″ and fine-boned–and it’s a fact, not an insult. I’m not less than someone else because of my build. But apparently leadership equates to BIG AND LOUD and if you’re not that, you have to fake it? I don’t recall Angela Merkel being six feet tall with a booming voice and she does just fine.

  • Janet Hélène

    I get the feeling that a lot of what the author is describing might not be internalized misogyny. For instance, if someone knows the individual from pictures, video, audio, etc. both visual and auditory perspective can be skewed.

    An in-person meeting removes these and provides common reference points (such as your own eye-level) that will make people look different than what you may be used to in a video. A similar situation for audio, as compressing/uploading/recording definitely skews the voice and a in-person meeting alleviates these. So, someone expressing surprise that you are a different height, or have a different sounding voice might simply be because it is processed differently in their brain – one aspect is familiar, and the other is novel, causing the brain to become confused and you to ‘notice’ that something is different.

    Some comments I am sure come from internalized views of tall/lower voice = more masculine = more powerful, but I hate to paint all of these comments with a broad brush.

    • Preengaged

      I was thinking similar thoughts during this article because I often have the opposite experience. I’m short with a high voice and a general “cuteness” so when I read blogs or articles, every author has a similar cute, high voice – because thats the way my internal voice is. It’s often surprising to me when hearing someone in person and their voice is deeper because I expected them to be more like me. It’s definitely not connected to ability.

  • Sarah

    In my previous role (marketing comms), I worked for a man who described every young woman at our agency as “a bit of a dark horse”, meaning she was really smart and capable and he hadn’t seen it coming. Literally the only person he didn’t say this about was the one guy in the team – who was also super talented, but for some reason in this one case it wasn’t shocking, it was only unexpected when a woman was capable. EVERY TIME a woman was capable.

    I’d totally call him out on it “I don’t understand, why didn’t you see it coming? It’s not like she comes across as a dummy on first impressions. Why aren’t you surprised that Agency Dude is so good at his job, seeing as literally every woman on the team has shocked you with her competence?” but he would just laugh it off.

    Also he “didn’t understand why X came back to work when she just had a baby, and she has a toddler at home too, what’s the point of having kids when you aren’t raising them?” even though that woman’s husband also worked at our company, at the exact same level, IN OUR TEAM. Anyway that’s off-topic but once I start thinking about this guy I get a bit ranty.

  • MO Engineer

    I get a different reaction at 5′ 6″ — people often comment on how tall I am, and are surprised when I tell them I’m within one standard deviation of the average. My mom and I are both women engineers, and most of the people (generally men) we work with have similar reactions. We both have “big” personalities” so even in person, people think we’re “tall”. My mom is 5′ 2″, but she’s been in software engineering since the 90s, manages our family finances, and is the breadwinner by a long shot. She has been known to control the conversation/ argument with many individuals who have 10+ inches on her (my father, for instance).

    I think we’re products of our work environment, though. I didn’t develop a “big” personality until college when I got sick of people questioning my creditials. Even my female friends comment on the way I carry myself (which I learned from my mother). Many women engineers that I know share this quality — using our personality as the first line of defense.

    This isn’t to say I don’t agree — I completely do. I get comments on my petiteness all the time and how I only weigh 100 lbs (I weigh a bit more, but I work with people who weigh twice my normal weight, so it’s fruitless to correct Johnny Linebacker). And maybe I ought to mention it’s in junction with our favorite caveat: “You’re tall for a girl!”

    • LJ

      “You’re strong for a girl”


      Eff this caveat so hard

    • Emma

      “I’m within one standard deviation of the average.” Hahahhaa as a statistics student I love the accuracy of this response.

  • Holly Stone

    Ugh the feelz. I’m really small–4’10” and slender–and I feel like I don’t fit in my office job all the time. Chairs are too tall, people (men) literally talk over my head, everyone always compare me in size to their kids. So much for being taken seriously. -___-

  • Grace

    Occasionally, I get, “You don’t look like an engineer.” You know, because engineers can’t be 5’2″ with freckles.

  • Morgan D

    5’2″ and baby-faced. This post = the Feels.

    This stuff is SO ingrained. And SO painful to respond to. And also so, so, so vitally important to respond to!

    A colleague once suggested that some specialized training made me uniquely qualified to lead a professional development workshop. My then-boss pulled me aside and said he’d love to share the information/skills with the faculty, but that he “wasn’t sure how people would respond” and that “he didn’t want me to be uncomfortable” or to “have people look at me and wonder who I was to be leading the workshop.” I was so flabbergasted to have this input from a man I respected and viewed as a mentor, I let it slide, but later talked it over with the colleague who made the orginal suggestion (also a woman). We got one other (femaleteam member to join in as a co-facilitator, lobbied hard with the administration, and got our training back on the docket. In one of the scarier moments of my then-early career, I decided to mention the incident in my annual performance review as an issue (of trust and legality) with the administration. I can’t say I was 100% pleased with their response, but they did extend an apology, owning that they made a mistake and would take a different view in the future. Uncomfortable as all that was, having practiced confronting this kind of “subtle” ageism/ableism/sexism was incredibly empowering, and set me up for success in later interactions in other roles.

    More recently, I pulled aside a male colleague who used his physical size and depth/tone of voice to exert a disproportionate amount of control/influence in the workplace – literally drowning out the vast majority of other (predominately female) voices – in a way that was ultimately intimidating. It was super awkward and uncomfortable, and his initial reaction was defensive and justifying (“but that’s just the way I am,” “how else can I exert influence?”). But I think the stark honesty of the interaction set the tone for a much healthier work place and relationship, and in the end we were both better for it. This won’t always be the case (and there were some serious growing pains along the way!), but that colleague and I eventually became the person that the other would turn to for a gut check when we thought we might be thinking about or doing something incorrectly.

    I know that this kind of forthrightness doesn’t work for everyone, though, and it for sure carries it’s own risks! That’s a perspective I sometimes struggle to understand, (if anyone can explain it to me, I’ll be your BFF forever!) so I’m super interested to hear how other people have handled similar events/circumstances!

  • fridayfan

    YES. How can we change this????I was on a graduate student field trip and heard from a botanist and local water quality activist in St Louis. She was amazingly informative and showed us the indicator species [bugs, crayfish, etc] that correlate to good/bad water quality. Everybody loved it, but on the return bus ride, people complained she hadn’t come across as confident or authoritative bc her voice/speech patterns were soft and high. WTF let her talk how she talks!!!!!!!!! You hit the nail on the head. I love this line “I suggested he try listening to the actual words, which contain the information.”

  • Emma

    You also see this in fashion really strongly. It’s generally okay or even stylish for a woman to dress in “manly” ways, and that will often elevate her status. I’ve worn both things that were inspired by menswear and actual menswear (everything from blazers and sweaters to shoes and jeans). I’ve also worked in menswear and regularly sold mens clothes to women. But a man dressing in traditionally feminine ways is often read as being humiliating or hilarious. I mean, how often do men wear womens clothes, compared to the reverse?
    And “androgynous” fashion is almost always women dressing like men (although we’ve seen a liiiiiiiittle bit of a change there recently, with some famous men in skirts etc)
    For a woman to make herself more like a man is an upgrade basically, whereas for a man to make himself more like a woman is a downgrade. And yeah, that shit has got to stop.