THINK LIKE A MAN WOMAN

January 2020  – “You know what we have to do, right?” My colleague Jack asked me, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck as a gust of icy wind rushed past us. I knew what was coming and braced for what would probably be a wild statement. “Nah, what’s that?” I asked anyway. “Grow a pair of knockers,” Jack replied. Now Jack was partial to a loose statement here or there but despite his crassness, I didn’t break stride as we walked back to the office in the bitterly cold, January air.

The infamous bonus and promotion week was upon us and the office gossip was rife. What would you get paid? Who was going to run your team? Would you even have a job by the end of the week? Colleagues cut anxious glances over the floor as they mulled over their futures, wondering whether enrolling their third kid in private school was a good idea. Jack was a relatively established middle manager on the floor and someone who I’d grown to like in my time at the firm. We shared a mutually beneficial and transparent relationship, but he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Jack was old school and many of his ways were set as firmly as the chill in my bones as we took our rapidly cooling lunches back to the desk.

I rolled my eyes and responded, “C’mon Jack. You know it’s not that simple. Plus, that would just look weird with all your facial hair.” He flashed me a wry smirk as we stepped briskly across the pavement. “Look PB, I’ve been in this industry for a while and eventually you realise the difference between stuff that needs to be changed and pure politics. This agenda for women, it’s all politics.” His face twisted in scepticism. “Why do you say that?” I responded. “Because it’s clear they’re favouring Katie over me to run the team and we both know she can barely run a bath.” We crossed the road towards the office and I considered Jack’s tone; he was indignant, but I had to keep it real with him. “You know there’s things she’s exceptionally good at though Jack. You may be an excellent producer, but she can charm and work with clients in a way you can’t. She builds and manages teams better than you do and, no offence, she’s way easier to deal with than you are.” Jack shot me a sharp look as we approached the doors to the building. “So you do think she should get the job!?” I shrugged my shoulders as I embraced the warm, sweetly scented lobby air. “Not necessarily, but it isn’t as black and white as you’re making it out, Jack. She’s not just getting the job because she’s a woman, although it probably is a factor.” “And that’s what I have a problem with PB! It should just be the best person outright, why do I have to be a victim to the agenda? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro the empowerment and progression of women blah blah blah, but not when they’re just outright not good enough and that goes for anyone.” Jack rounded off his point with the vim of a man who was convinced he was the authority on the subject.

As the lifts opened, Katie came gliding through the doors. The vim drained out of Jack and was quickly replaced by feigned delight to see the colleague he was slagging off not more than thirty seconds ago. “Hey Katie! You should’ve told me you were grabbing lunch; I would’ve joined you!” Katie responded with an equal amount of enthusiasm, keeping eye contact with Jack as she backed out the turnstiles, “Let’s do it tomorrow, Jack!” Jack watched her walk out into the lobby as the lift doors closed and he growled under his breath. “One thing I will give her though, she’s got an incredible set of legs…”

Today  – Men versus women, coochies versus cajonas, city boys versus hot girls, the list rages on to describe what is a fever pitch in the gender debate. Now if you haven’t noticed from my previous posts, I’m a young guy from the testosterone driven environment known as the Ends who now works in a richer testosterone and cocaine driven environment that is Banking. You might think this means I’ve become an arrogant misogynist who only identifies women by archaic and demeaning stereotypes. You’d be right to an extent; the only thing that frustrates me more than a woman with money is a woman who spends her money on a car and cuts across me without indicating only to do half the speed limit. In all seriousness though, women are doing better than ever and all power to them, so this this isn’t a debate on whether they deserve more opportunities in the workplace or life in general, its self-evident they do. However, it is interesting to compare the journey of males and females and see where the current climate of gender tension stems from.

As a child growing up, classical gender roles played a huge part in shaping how I viewed men and women in society. Despite attending an all-boys secondary school, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by women as a kid. I have all sisters and my Mum was ever present. From an early age I could tell the pressure and expectations were different for me and my siblings. Whilst we were all expected to academically achieve, there was infinitely more pressure on them to help with the upkeep of the house, look presentable, be on call when there were guests and as they grew older, prepare themselves to settle down. These pressures became something they had to juggle with their career and life goals and ultimately, they had to be willing to concede certain opportunities. As women strive for greater gender equality, this presents a problem for some men. I’ve often argued that men are becoming increasingly confused with their roles in modern day society. The rise of the third wave of feminism and woman who can “do it all” has meant that some men aren’t really sure what to do at all anymore. The typical roles and ideals that were formerly required by men: to be the leaders in society, to be breadwinners and providers for their families, to go out and be hyper successful amongst other things, are now being facilitated by women. Young men are seeing an increase of women in positions of authority and many men are disillusioned by this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting women shouldn’t get the opportunities they want in life, but it would be naïve not to acknowledge that this will have an impact on young men which needs to be addressed. Many of the ideals that men work towards are fundamentally set by women. In my generation, I knew that if I didn’t have a half decent income and could not protect what was mine, I was redundant as a man. They were simple values really, but I only really cared about them because women did. However, the result of women embodying the same values will ultimately lead to a generation of young men who will feel rejected by their female counterparts unless the ideals by which we measure young men are adjusted, lest we risk a generation of men with an identity crisis.

Here’s the thing that men get wrong as well though. When I started working in banking, I would often notice the resentment of men towards the powers some women held just by virtue of being a woman. It seems that sometimes women can bat their eyelids, wish things into existence and then go on a nine-month maternity leave. I was being genuine when I told Jack that Katie was way more charming than him, she seemed to get people round to her way of thinking in a way I’d never seen a man do in her position. She was eventually promoted to the job and Jack sulked for a month whilst he lambasted “quota filling promotions”. To some extent he had a point. Here was a guy who’d been the top producer in his team that had been run over by a candidate who hadn’t come anywhere near his numbers in her career, but she had managed to convince everyone she was the best person to build a better team and that was the crux of Jack’s problem. As men (especially men from the Ends) we can be too focused on the win, and reluctant to put aside our egos to focus on doing the right thing more broadly for the team or the greater good. It’s actually been a symptomatic issue of many of the biggest corporate and political failures throughout history. Many projects could have been salvaged if men had listened to people often more competent than them or taken less needless risks. However, the cost of appearing wrong or a weak leader is too distasteful for many of us to embrace. I’m not a fan of quota filling exercises but as is the case with all minority issues, if a seat can be filled with someone who owns a different set of ideas from the incumbent and can help drive new avenues of growth by focusing on other qualities aside from individual brilliance, then that’s something I can live with, even if they are less gifted on the surface.

Now back to feminism versus other social agendas. I generally feel that women’s rights fall under the broader spectrum of minority issues. I read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg before writing this and many of the challenges she experienced as a woman in the workplace and life were very similar to mine. Imposter syndrome, selling yourself short and generally being profiled on stereotype (my case being a racial stereotype). The logic suggests that all these social issues be approached with a similar amount of energy to rectify them. The challenge here though, is that modern feminism feels quite different to me than other social justice causes. Women’s rights from the 1920’s all the way through to the 70’s were about fundamental human rights. Early stages of feminism were dominated by rich white women and mostly concerned the right to vote, own property and generally operate freely without the permission of a man. This morphed into a much broader movement (but still mostly excluded non-white and working-class women) ensuring increased social acceptance for women, like the rights to education, employment and independence, especially sexually. Now whilst the most recent wave of feminism has become more inclusive, the actual goal has become less clear. Most of the issues are more social and cultural than they are legal with less tangible measures of success. By what measure can you fix toxic masculinity? How do you solve the gender pay gap? These amongst other issues are complex, and often come with culturally ingrained matters so have no simple solutions. This in addition to the general anti-men rhetoric that comes from some corners of the feminist movement means that feminism in general has become the most fatigued of all social causes. Whilst there’s still a lot of work to do and injustices to address, most of the general population can only assimilate 2-3 big agendas at a time. The longer drawn out and more complex the agendas become, the less interest there is to address it.

To conclude, I want to bring it back to my community. I have never seen a more toxic environment amongst young men and women than I see today. The level of competition between young people in general is pretty damaging however, and the depth to how cynical men and women have become towards each other is just sad. Being a savage is celebrated, vulnerability is shunned, and softer qualities are discarded for fear of being taken advantage of. Men and women take petty shots at each other from the barriers they’ve built to protect their fragile egos and overwhelmed emotions. Yet turn on social media and you’ll find many people celebrating this new normal of painfully forced ideals masked as liberty.

The Poor Banker

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