I recently attended an informative and deeply inspiring (read: long) industry conference in Anaheim with my wife. It was held in one of the second-floor ballrooms at the Anaheim Hilton, a hop, skip, and a jump from Disneyland’s front door. There was Magic Kingdom spill over into all of the surrounding stores and buildings that made the whole place feel like an extension of Main Street USA. It’s one of those places where everything feels like a souvenir. 🙂
Anyway, after snaking our way into the parking structure (a process that added at least a good 20 minutes to our overall travel time), we found a parking space and headed toward the venue. We arrived late (because of the crazy parking) and managed to grab a seat in the 5th row from the back. It was a great turn out. All together there were about 350 attendees, with a majority coming from various parts in and around L.A. County, along with a good contingent from Las Vegas I believe, and then a smattering from locations other than the West Coast.
Throughout the program, which lasted from about 8am to 4pm (or as the homeschoolers might call it, first subject to second snack), there were multiple speakers who took to the stage to regale us with their personal stories of triumph over circumstance, the virtues of perseverance, and general advice and suggestions on how to obtain success. All while juggling chainsaws and baking cookies. (Ha! Not really, but it feels like that sometimes.)
In usual fashion, each speaker was given a brief introduction to the audience so that we would have a better understanding of who they were, and would appreciate the experience or level of expertise from which they would be speaking. But in all of what has become very typical of these types of events, there was something that REALLY stood out to me… glaring gender disparity.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the guy that goes looking for “issues” to champion, or conjures up faux social injustices to expose. But this just sort of nagged at me throughout the day. The part that really puzzled me wasn’t the fact that the disparity was so obvious (at least to me), but that so many people seemed to be completely oblivious to it, or at least indifferent toward it.
Let me explain…
One introduction went something like this, “Mr. such and such is an amazing individual who did X, Y and Z! In addition to being wildly successful, he’s also friendly, humble, and a real go-getter! He lives in a beautiful house in such and such city, has X amount of children, AND AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL WIFE. I MEAN, SHE IS DROP DEAD GORGEOUS!“
To be fair, in and of itself, there was nothing wrong with that statement. This person was simply offering a compliment to the speaker’s spouse. But there are two very important implications that lie underneath that benign statement…
1) that there was some apparent correlation between the beauty of the speaker’s wife and his success, and,
2) that what was most important to disclose about his wife was how attractive she was.
And these become the ongoing subliminal messages we transmit…
Men, become someone so accomplished that you can snag a drop-dead gorgeous wife.
And women, the most important thing about you, and the only thing that anybody really cares about, is how you look.
Now, I must state that there were also several speakers who were female. But not one of their introductions included references to the attractiveness of their husbands. No one mentioned how “stunningly handsome” or “captivatingly good-looking” the men were. It was usually a reference to what he did, such as, “…and her husband is an engineer,” or “…he comes from a military background.”
In an age where being arm candy could easily be the extent of someone’s aspirations, it doesn’t surprise me that no one noticed this pattern of referring primarily to a woman’s appearance, and by contrast, mostly referring to a man’s accomplishments. It seems to happen all the time.
Next time you’re out with someone, pay attention to how other people refer to the men and women they know, or how they are introduced. There’s a good chance it’ll fall along the lines of “she’s pretty” and “he’s successful”.
I have one daughter. And it saddens me that she’s growing up in a world that constantly reinforces the idea of beauty over brains. Especially when to me, it is a person’s intelligence that really makes them attractive. So I plan to do everything I can to make sure my daughter understands that being smart isn’t a liability, and that her purpose in life is infinitely bigger than simply being a decoration.
I’m curious what other people think about this.
Do you believe gender disparity exists? And if so, what can we do to eliminate this type of default thinking?