Officially I have 15 years I of professional experience but if you actually count all of it - from advanced education, fellowship, internships to temp jobs to entry-level administrative and database work -the amount goes up to 25+.
During that time, for whatever reason, I have worked mostly for strong female executives. Their demands were usually exacting and they did not spare your feelings when you made a mistake.
I think it's about proving yourself. Many of my friends tell me the same thing about these larger-than-life, legendary figures. Particularly bosses who earned their stripes in the '70s and early '80s. It's not just something you see in the movies - these women clearly have confronted lots of stereotypes about passivity and overcome them.
I was thinking about this today. I watched "In The Land of Blood and Honey," by Angelina Jolie, with my husband this weekend. Ostensibly it's about Serbs vs. Croats but from what I could tell it was very much about women's degradation as a class. Over and above any other kind of distinction.
It was a really upsetting movie. As much as "The Stoning of Soraya M." It left me sleepless for a night.
I was raised in a traditional religious family and we didn't use fancy words like sexism. But I saw it a lot - it was insidious and awful. Women worked to help out at home, not as the primary breadwinner. We were not the main focus of religious education. We were not supposed to know much about politics or the economy either.
We were supposed to look good, act nice, get decent grades and babysit.
Those who stepped outside the norm were seen as "achievers" but also odd or mannish. Mainly people wondered "what kind of boy would marry someone like that."
Things have changed quite a lot, and now "high achievement" is expected. Although you're still left to figure out on your own how you will handle your family responsibilities, especially mothering, on which the bar seems extraordinarily high. And it's up to you to figure out how to be "assertive but not pushy."
I just want to say that I am grateful to all the demanding people in my life. Of both genders. Not just my bosses but my family and friends too. The ones who have insisted that I follow through on my potential as a whole person, not just a human of the female gender.
I think it's important to say this out loud because there are still so many women who are caught up in all the stereotypes and feel lesser because of it. Even me, sometimes.
Anyway, you know who you are.