Earlier this week, after spending too much time laughing at memes on Instagram, I was stopped by a picture on Dolly Parton’s page. I discovered the beauty and talent that is Dolly Parton, when I moved to the States, and have loved her boldness, her strength of character, and her music catalog ever since. So here is what her inspirational post said : ” Tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen/ Pour myself a cup of ambition“. Now, if you are not familiar, those are the first lyrics of her iconic song ” 9 to 5″, from the eponymous movie. I have watched this movie, about the struggles of three working women and eventual revenge on their awful boss, many a times. It’s a comedy that depicts conditions women have had to endure ever since we have been able to enter the workforce.
Throughout this week, I took to those lyrics to heart, as my motto to get out of the house and hustle. Working women in male dominated fields, have been subjected, at one point or the other, to being undermined, having their work heavily scrutinized, your opinions dismissed and other frustrations that could not all fit in this post. From the sexism, to the sexual harassment and the belittling of your intelligence, there is not one woman, who has not experienced all those issues, to various degrees. In the US, there are enforced laws, protecting women from discrimination in hostile work environments, whereas here, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have some type of protection, even if we have laws and remedies to consult in those particular cases. But the reality, is that women are still not respected enough for all the work they provide, anywhere in the world.
Here, in my beautiful west African country, working as a woman in a professional setting provides a new set of unfair challenges. Hostile work environments tend to be the norm, and our rights are not always taken into consideration. My work is taken for granted at times, my ideas are appropriated, and there are even some situations that would be qualified as sexual harassment. Because I have lived so long in the states, I will speak up when I know I am within my rights to complain. Others do not have that edge, as they are often intimidated by their bosses: if you complain, you will lose that underpaid job, and become jobless in an economy that does not favor constant job creation. I had this discussion with my colleague, who felt that our boss, was not giving her the credits she felt she deserved on jobs well executed, thanks to her vast input. When I explained our conversation with my mom, she told me that, unfortunately, he will never give her or even I, the merits due to us.
Not only your work is under appreciated, but your body and personal aspects of your life are questioned and up for comments. Professional and personal lines are crossed constantly, muddying the waters even more. There is no respect for our bodies, our brains, the invaluable work and experience we provide daily, to help businesses grow. The only validation I get is knowing that I did an excellent job, and this boosts with my confidence and self-worth.
By sharing my experiences with friends, colleagues, and other women, we provide for ourselves, a safe place to vent and air out all of our frustrations and disappointments. I’ve learned, very early on, that having a strong network of women around you, will always keep you sane and give you the will to continue, when you have had enough. By working together, we keep each other in check, we help each other by clarifying muddy situations, we encourage each other by championing one another. And that is the key to navigate this mad man’s world.
We win by supporting each other, mentoring each other, and listening to each other. This is all part of life experience, and we, as women can turn all this negative, into strength and go further than anything we could have imagined, just as our grandmothers and mothers have done before us. These unfair work situations will test our will and might, but we must use them to strengthen our characters, become even more resilient, and in the end, make lasting changes so that when our daughters, granddaughters, will enter the workforce, we would have made it better for them to succeed and go where we haven’t been able to reach yet.
So every morning, I will put on a smile, my crown, my heels and I will stomp to the encouraging words of Dolly Parton, to create the future I want for my children.