Paradox of Awareness

6 minute read


Being a woman is really, really weird. As, I assume, being a man can be really, really weird. But I put forth the idea that being a woman leads to a constant rollercoaster of crazy second-guessing and walking a stupidly fine line between “being assertive” and “playing the victim.”

Here’s what’s up: nobody likes that sexism is a thing. I fucking hate that it’s a thing. Women don’t like it, men don’t like it, LGBT* communities don’t like it, bosses don’t like it, your mom and dad don’t like it, Obama doesn’t like it, nobody likes it. And nobody likes being accused of it, male or female (or non-binary), black or white, nocturnal or diurnal, land-dwelling or aquatic. Why do we have to talk about like it’s a thing? But here’s the thing: nobody likes experiencing it, either. So, sorry, we gotta talk about it.

Here’s just my experience, some of the time, being a woman. Every interaction is a second guess. All the symptoms I’ve been taught, I’ve also been also cautioned against (by myself, by my strong female mentors, by my male friends). There’s no winning. Every woman’s “cool side project” is Gender Equality.

Either we’re all crazy, and we prove men right that women are frivolous and irrational and can’t be trusted because we all victimize ourselves, or there really is a problem. But from the inside, it’s impossible to tell which it is. 

My thinking is: there’s too much smoke for there to be no fire. As my wonderful friend, who’s a white man who works in tech, said: “If ten people say there’s an elephant in the room, I don’t need to see it to believe it’s there.” 

Being aware of discrimination, subtle devaluing, this whole “man vs woman” thing, is to be forced to acknowledge it. By knowing it exists, women are brought into this paradox. Either IT’S REAL and women really are being subtly devalued, in which case good fucking luck walking the line between asserting yourself without over-compensating, OR IT’S NOT REAL and you’ve just victimized yourself, stop looking for sympathy you lazy do-nothing. 

But at the same time, we need to be aware of it, so we don’t second guess ourselves and can call out bullshit when we see it. But then, are we looking for it?

Questions I Often Ask Myself

Am I Allowed to be Uncomfortable?

What is the best way to tell somebody when I feel uncomfortable? Am I taking this too personally? Is it appropriate for me to tell somebody that a comment made me uncomfortable? Should I go through HR so they don’t know it’s me? If they do know they made me uncomfortable, are they going to hate me? Will they not want to work with me? When we work together, will it be awkward? If they find out I told HR, will they tell other people that I’m sensitive? Will they stop inviting me out with the team? Does anybody else feel this is inappropriate? If I don’t speak up, will some other person who’s just as offended or hurt drop out? Do I owe it to all women everywhere to assert my discomfort?

Does Everybody Feel This Way?

Every interaction is a second guess. 

Did I really not talk as much as the guys in the meeting? Did I just imagine it? Did I really have anything to say that didn’t get said? Was I really about to say that before he did? Did he really just restate what I just said? 

Is it just these specific leaders? Is it not the fact that we’re being led by mostly men, but in fact these specific men who have these specific styles of leadership that kinda seems like they think they’re the shit, and nothing deeper underpins it all? 

Do men at the company have a hard time speaking up? Does everyone feel like they’re not being taken seriously? 

Is it really the case that when Charles throws a marker across the room he’s still being a genius and we just need to massage his ego, but when Christie covers for his mistake she’s seen as careless for “forgetting” to attach a file in an email, sent for him? 

Is Kevin really a genius for coming in and enforcing process, or did Kate really make honest attempts to put it in place but nobody took her seriously? 

Does everybody feel this way?

Am I Personally Making This Worse?

If I, or we, all women, as a community, decide to stop talking about sexism, will it go away? Are we blowing things out of proportion? Am I making this a bigger deal than it is? 

How could I possibly be making it a bigger deal than it is, when actual literal statistics show that it really is a thing? Is it a generational effect, and will go away with time? 

Is everybody done talking about this, and me harping on it is only going to make enemies? Am I making my friends feel bad? Am I losing male allies by just stating my experiences an opinion? 

How can I frame this to highlight that fixing this benefits everyone? How am I alienating men? How can I change that?


I’m not pretending to have an answer for this. I’m not going to preach advice about “Leaning In” or being a “strong woman.” I don’t have a solution. I’m going to carry on second-guessing nearly everything I do, and hope blindly that being hyper-aware of being hyper-aware can somehow cancel out the effects of pervasive sexism, a culture of hyper-sensitivity and self-victimization.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you’re a woman and you think that harping on this issue is shitty for minority communities, and I’m sorry if you’re a man and this makes you feel guilty and bad. I don’t want you to feel bad. I just want to give you a window into a shitty facet of how being a woman can feel.