How Difficult Women Change History: In Praise of “Difficult” Women

Difficult womenA few weeks ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren stood before Congress to express her concerns about Attorney General Nominee, Jeff Sessions. As she began to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King, activist and wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, she was interrupted by House Speaker, Mitch McConnell. The letter was originally written in opposition to Session’s 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship. As Senator Warren continued to read the letter, Mr. McConnell, who invoked the archaic Senate Rule 19, which prevents any senator from using any form of words to impute to another Senator, stopped her. Ultimately, she was banned from speaking that evening.

Mr. McConnell concluded with what has now become a feminist rally cry: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Yes, she persisted. Senator Warren proceeded to film a Facebook Live segment (since viewed by close to 13 million people) outside the Senate chambers to finish reading Ms. King’s letter. She will not be silenced.

The next day, male Senators Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and Tom Udall read Coretta Scott King’s letter in it’s entirety on the floor of the Senate. It appears that the only reason Senator Warren was not allowed to continue was her obvious possession of a vagina.

Being interrupted, spoken over, condescended to, ignored, and yes, even silenced, isn’t a new phenomenon for women. What is it that makes a woman’s voice less relevant, less important and even less powerful than a man’s?

Often times, when a woman does speak up – and refuses to allow herself to be interrupted, she’s seen as “difficult.” If she shares a strong opinion or vehemently disagrees with a male counterpart, she’s a bitch.

Researchers who study male-female communication patterns have found that men interrupt women an average of 2.6 times per three minute conversation. In professional settings, men typically dominate 75% of the conversation during meetings. Female doctors are more likely to be interrupted than male doctors. And, as we witnessed during last year’s Presidential race, some men have a very distorted sense of reality when it comes to women’s voices. In one of the Presidential debates, for example, Trump complained bitterly that Hillary Clinton was being allowed to speak more than him. In reality, when the minutes were tallied, he’d actually spoken more than her.

I’d argue that if you are a living, breathing female, you’ve experienced this at some point in your life – and most likely, quite frequently.

I recently experienced this with a client. On multiple team calls, one of the partners (a man) continually interrupted, spoke over and dismissed his female counterparts, including myself and a very savvy member of my team. We were hired because of our social media marketing and influencer expertise – something this partner knew very little about. Ironically, he challenged us at every turn and refused to listen to sound direction and experienced suggestions.

Needless to say, after multiple calls over a period of a few months, it did not improve. In fact, this man became even more defensive and threatened. Ultimately, we fired the client. I have a longstanding business policy: we do not work with assholes.

But it gets even more interesting: after one of these particularly challenging phone calls, I brought my concerns to a female counterpart on the client’s team. She, too, expressed concern about the way this man does business, but said, “He doesn’t really work well with strong women.” I took that as, “he likes to be in charge and call the shots, and we’re afraid to stand up to him or question him.”

For months, I watched as the female members of his team twisted themselves into pretzels to accommodate his demands, and every time he said, “jump!” they sprung into action.

I call bullshit. If nothing changes, then, well, nothing changes.

Fear of being seen as “difficult” or “strong” and stifling your voice so that a man doesn’t feel uncomfortable will never get you where you want to go.

It’s because of “difficult women” that, now, women have the right to vote, and work, and run businesses, and own property, and fly planes, and go into space, and yes, run for President of the United States.

Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafazi, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton.

Difficult women get things done. Difficult women change history.

Here’s to difficult women.

May we be them. May we raise them.