Last week, I had the nervous pleasure of giving a four-minute inspirational talk to around 167 people at a networking event.
I began to work on my speech in October, shortly after I was asked to present. I chose a topic that I felt would resonate with the majority of the audience and that would allow me to inject some humor into the speech as this was the first time I would be speaking to more than 10 people at once.
I talked about life lessons learned from online dating. Or, rather I tried to talk about this topic, as the technical difficulties of a non-working microphone left me shouting at all those people. I wrapped my four-minute speech up at 3 minutes and 15 seconds because shouting is simply not my thing.
Neither is sexism and dealing with double standards, which are two things most women in American cannot seem to shake. An hour prior to my inspirational talk, I met with the founder of the networking group during an audio-visual check. The 10-minute speaker, a woman, was there with me on stage. We were dressed in the same professional manner, except our choices in footwear. The other four-minute speaker was a male and running late to the sound check.
The founder of the group questioned my choice in footwear, which that day was a pair of pink Adidas. February in the Midwest is generally a miserable cold. That night the weather was frigid, with gusts of wind and freezing rain. I wanted to wear my Adidas so I did not get frost-bitten toes from my open-toed heels or fall flat on my face while walking nervously up on the stage. I am a natural-born klutz, so being low to the ground seemed the safest idea to me given the weather, my nerves and my having gotten up at the crack of dawn in order to work a mentally-challenging eight-hour day prior to presenting my talk.
But the founder, a male in his late 40’s, thought differently of my footwear, asking me within ear-shot of the other female speaker, “Are you seriously going to wear those shoes? Where are your stilettos?”
My first mental reaction was not something I can repeat to my mother, but it involved the words “what” and “the” followed by the letters “f, u, c” and “k” and ending with a question mark.
I was equally stunned by the thought that this man who knows me in real life and who had just blatantly offended me would never in a million years say to that night’s male speaker, “Are you sure you want to wear those shoes? The tassels are not a good look for you.”
A few days after my talk, which I considered to be a personal success, the founder of the networking group sent me a text message, asking when I could complete a Skype interview with him. I was still feeling outrage at his comment about my shoes. I declined the interview and mentioned that comment had upset me. He told me to “Get over it,” that it was a branding concern because Your Sexy Librarian, in his opinion, is supposed to dress sexy. To further his cause, he went on to tell me I wasted the opportunity I was given by his networking group when I did not talk about sex. He said that online dating has nothing to do with me or with my blog and that topic was an incredibly poor choice for me.
After my talk last week, an older gentleman came up to me, quietly introduced himself and then asked me, the queen of misfortune in dating until a year and one week ago when I met my love Dutch, what dating websites I recommended for him at his age and if I had any tips to help him better his chances at finding companionship through online dating. I was delighted he thought well enough of me to ask me something so meaningful. He and I chatted for some time as I shared my thoughts with him as he asked me more questions.
I realized I was smarter than the pretty girls when I was a mere five-year-old kindergartner. This smarter-than-the-pretty-girls trend continued on into my college days. No one ever called me “beautiful” or “pretty” when I was growing up. That never bothered me because being labeled “smart” was worth more to me than being labeled “pretty,” even if that meant I was bullied by the other children and had few friends as a result. I was still smarter than the others at the end of each day and that mattered to me.
Fast forward to my adult life. Someone recently told me something along the lines of, “You look like a piece of fluff, like someone who rescues kittens and doesn’t have a thought in her head. And then I heard you speak. You have passion and are more determined than anyone else I know. You are fierce and come out swinging.”
This was said by a woman I greatly admire. She is not the first person to say something like this about me. It is well-known among my friends that I have the ability to calmly and quietly deliver a verbal bitch slap that will make a person’s ears ring, all while happily smiling like I had just spent the last hour with a box full of kittens.
In response to the asinine question, “Are you really going to wear those shoes?” the answer is “Hell, yes.”
It does not matter one bit what I wear as long as I carry myself professionally and with respect to others. I could have worn a matching bra and panty set with my pink Adidas while on stage for my speech, as long as I presented myself with class. I wore a black suit with a shell instead because that is my idea of what a speaker is supposed to wear on stage.
The pink Adidas are my today version of the Converse my website and business card artwork depict me wearing. Regardless of what is on my feet or my body, the only thing that should matter when I am networking or speaking as a journalist-blogger is that I am intelligent and can write well.
At the networking meeting last week, I had several people tell me my talk was great, my site is fun and my blogs are too good for most people’s ideas of what a blog should be.
Score one to zero in the game of intelligence versus sexist assumptions.