The Need for an Old Girls’ Club

Since I was old enough to really take notice, I realized there is just no equivalent to the ‘old Boys’ Club’ for girls and women. Through my own struggles both in school and in my professional life, and through observing the struggles of other females around me, I noticed that the absence of this system had and still has much deeper and more significant implications and repercussions than we may realize. Male dominance ensures complex safety nets for men and boys only. And female success in life is fairly random – there is seldom anyone looking out for girls and women and so much talent and intelligence and creativity are lost. Such a shame.

One might argue that playing to the Boyz (i.e., complying and going along) is good for women’s careers. Perhaps on the surface, for individual women, it might seem that way. But if you take a closer look, compliant women aren’t reaping the benefits that the boys do. They still aren’t included in the ‘important’ stuff. Their climbs to the top are limited and controlled by men. And further, they are constrained by the yes-girl role they’ve opted (yes opted – compliant vs non-compliant, those are the options) to take on in order to get the crumbs they are given. Like in a lovey-dovey, standard hetero relationship, once compliant, women can’t suddenly start standing up for themselves. They’ll find out exactly how much they are considered ‘equal’ by the male(s). ‘Acceptance’ and ‘love’ are conditional for women whether in relationships or in professional lives.

Not having a ‘Club’, girls and women lose out in the following ways. There is a dearth of role models, mentors, supports and go-to people. Their (female) peers are set up as the opposition, rather than teammates, and girls often struggle on their own. Their learning and earning opportunities are severely limited. Information access is random, patchy, and unreliable. Achievement requires more time and effort and is much less acknowledged or rewarded. Less able, intelligent and talented, but more connected and supported, people (males) always seem to have a leg up in all situations. There are fewer socially and psychologically healthy outlets available. In short, girls and women are seldom supported and nurtured in the same way that males are, and thus, have a much less chance of achieving intellectual and professional success.

While I’ve always been a bit of a social outcast and always struggled to find a group I felt comfortable joining, I somehow managed to see the value in at least trying to start women’s networking groups. They don’t always last long. It’s hard to be a one-woman organizer on a long-term basis for something that most women don’t seek out in the same way or find important. I’ve found that a lot of women just don’t seem all that comfortable in all-woman professional settings. I found this fascinating, but sad. On a strictly informal level, getting together is easy/easier for most women. But, disappointingly, I found these gatherings always seemed to devolve into talking about babies and children, which I had zero interest in. Why did women always reduce themselves to that? Yes, it is important to SOME women, but why does it have to be the default topic/focus? Why couldn’t a group of women come together regularly and talk intellectually or professionally on a casual basis (i.e., not a conference)? Still I tried. And these outings were fun. Don’t get me wrong, there was bonding. Having social connections is needed and awesome. We managed that. But that networking synergy that men seem to gravitate to and create naturally? It wasn’t there. I never felt that I was making connections with women that would extend beyond enjoying food or a laugh. And that is what women, still to this day, are missing on the scale that men have it. Where are the women’s professional networks? I know some exist, but they are not natural and pervasive and informal. They are usually extremely constructed and intentional. Partly, it is because women are so new to the workforce, and partly, many women see themselves as secondary earners in hetero relationships. Partly, it might be that women don’t see other women as allies because of how men have pitted us against one another. Whatever it is, it needs to change. We need an old Girls’ Club, and we need it now.

Anyhow, having entered my 40’s, and now being around young people all the time (when I’m with people, that is), I worry about my female students. Traditional China is even harder for young women than in Western countries. There are huge pressures from most families to achieve, but not ‘too much’. And of course, women earn much less, are herded into lower pay and respect jobs, are 100% required to marry and breed at a young age, and will often be excluded from jobs on the basis of their looks. Some of the things my young students tell me are heartbreaking. A few of my English translation majors told me that despite wanting to become interpreters, they know they won’t be able to get a job because only ‘beautiful’ girls are hired. Skills or ability, who cares? Fuckability is much more important in securing a job as a woman. Just like in the West. Another of my former female writing students told me today that her options upon graduating (in a year) will be limited because the jobs available to women are low-paying and difficult.

I have made it my mission to act as mentor to any and all of my female students. I may not be able to hire them myself, but I will always write them excellent letters of reference. For jobs where English skills are required, a letter from a native speaker of English who is also a university instructor can go a long way, and I was happy to find out recently that one of my students successfully got a part-time job over this past holiday thanks, in part, to my letter. Yeah! She has a new round of applications going out for summer jobs in foreign countries soon, and I’ll be contributing to that.

I also act as a confidence-builder and supportive counter to their parents’ conservatism. Many young women have ambitious ideas, but fearful, traditional parents will easily crush their dreams and prevent them from thinking further about their potential. With some parents, however, they can actually be convinced to allow their daughters to try out something if the girls just push a little harder. I try to give these young women the confidence to push. And push again. I mean, hell, if an entire life can be changed for the better based on the strength of an argument and a show of passion, I will try to make sure it happens. I know one young woman whom I taught in high school about 6 years ago who is turning out to be very ambitious. Her mother wants her married like yesterday (she is only 22!!!). But dad is on the fence and therefore malleable. My young protégée likes to bounce ideas off me. I support her dreams, and then her dreams become more concrete, she becomes more confident, and the dreams get a little bigger. She came to me last year with this idea that she wanted to have her own business as a buyer for foreign businesspeople who come to China looking to import goods to their countries. She has been working freelance in this line of work and is slowly building a client base, and it occurred to her that she might want to travel to Kenya to meet with several potential clients. Hell, I wasn’t even dreaming that big when I was 22, and my parents didn’t give a flying fuck what I did with my life! So, we discussed the idea of finding a like-minded female travel and business partner to make the idea more palatable to her parents. Long story short, she ended up going to Africa over Chinese New Year this year, and she even extended her stay. I’m waiting to meet up with her and hear about the adventure. Yeah, again!

But these are just small and isolated things I can support. And I certainly don’t take credit for these young women’s achievements. But the bit that I’m doing reinforces to me the need for professional female networking and mentoring. This needs to be happening on a wider and more automatic basis for women. Women need networks for idea exchange, confidence-building, opportunity discovery and crafting, and professional collaboration. And until this becomes a more natural part of women’s lives, the professional world will be dominated by men, who by and large, are not the most talented out there and who are getting jobs because they are men and they are naturally and well connected.

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Posted on March 14, 2016, in Feminism, Male Privilege and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Need for an Old Girls’ Club.

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