Shannon Williams

America has made tremendous steps in the realm of women’s rights, but one thing is certain: The struggle is not over.

During multiple occasions this week, I had the opportunity to chat with women of various backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. Some of the women are professional counterparts, while others are personal friends. Coincidentally, at one point or another, all the conversations touched on the challenges women continue to face in today’s society, including equal pay (or lack thereof), being disregarded and having to work twice as hard to prove or maintain our positions in the workforce. The minority women who participated in the conversations said it can sometimes be even more challenging for us because we have to compensate not only for being female, but also for being African-American or Hispanic. We called it being a double minority.

Nearly all of the women agreed that it was a “pressure release” to be able to speak so candidly with other like-minded individuals who shared similar experiences and perspectives. They said talking about the topic with some men, including their husbands and significant others, could sometimes be challenging, because the women didn’t want to appear weak or as if they were making a small situation larger than it needed to be.

“See! That’s another challenge we have,” said one woman. “We always find ourselves considering how others feel about us or how we are perceived by others. We place additional unneeded stress on ourselves.”

She had a valid point.

Life is stressful enough, and unfortunately many women have additional stress because of the gender inequities we encounter. What we shouldn’t do is place additional stress on ourselves by being overly consumed with what others think of us. Instead, we should just be who we are and place less emphasis on how others perceive us.

If only things were that simple, though.

Unfortunately, the actions of others can dictate our reactions. And relative to professional endeavors, this is especially true.

There have been times I have experienced overt disregard or maltreatment that offered no explanation other than the fact that I was a woman. I am incredibly logical and I can see things from all perspectives. I am rarely the one to play the race or gender card unless it is definitively the case.

There was a recent instance when I was disrespected by a Black professional male. Without going into too much detail, I had made a relatively standard professional request, but the request was disregarded and shut down without a reasonable, substantive explanation.

After I had an extensive and somewhat heated conversation with the individual, he granted my initial request.

Why couldn’t the standard request be granted initially? Why did I have to “go all in” on him verbally to get what I asked for in the first place? In the end, I had to do unnecessary “work” to get something that a male more likely than not would have gotten from the beginning.

It is unfair for women to have to jump through hoops to get a modicum of respect.

What I know for certain is many women don’t like to be the woman who is perceived as angry or bitter. For Black women, we have to fight against the whole “Angry Black Woman” perception that is out there, which makes our quest for respect and equity even more frustrating.

On the evening of one of the conversations I had with the women, I decided to go home and watch television in an effort to de-stress and get my mind off some of the injustices women continue to encounter. I found myself watching a recording of Black Girls Rock on BET. The mantra Black Girls Rock (BGR) was formed by Beverly Bond in an effort “to change the world by empowering Black girls to lead, innovate and serve.” The nonprofit is committed to enriching the lives of girls through education, leadership and positive self-identity.

As I watched segments of BGR, I found myself rejuvenated and inspired. Legendary actress and activist Cicely Tyson said it best when she said, “The moment someone tries to demean you, you have to know how great you are. No one is going to bother to put you down (or disregard you) if you are not a threat to them.”

It is amazing how people will try to silence you. People will try to silence us or push us to the point of submission, but it is our responsibility to continue to be true to ourselves and the issues that we are passionate about. Doing so is the only way to ensure consistent positive change.

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