The Only Woman in the Room

Did anyone else notice I’m the only woman here? Whether it’s in an office or a classroom, most of us will experience being the only woman in a room if we haven’t been noticing that already. We all gotta be prepared for if/when that time comes. Taking some inspiration from Feminist Fight Club, here are some behaviors you might encounter in a male-dominated environment, along with suggestions on how to fight back.

1. Someone addresses your appearance.

"She's the best looking one here." Your male colleague probably means it as a compliment, but it’s still weird. When a man references your looks in some way, they admit they have taken the time to think about how you look and judge your overall attractiveness.

Fight move: Speak up or ignore it. Or you can own it. Women are often expected to reject compliments. Flip the script by replying to a compliment with, “You’re damn right.” Add in a hair flip. You know you look good. You don’t need anyone to tell you that. Their comments should not interfere with your work. If the references to your appearance becomes a regular occurrence, ask them to stop and explain why you find it inappropriate.

Image via Daisy Mojave Holland

2. Men make sexual jokes.

First, you gotta figure out how you feel about this. You might love a good penis joke more than anyone, but how do you feel about it happening in a professional setting? You might not like their sex jokes because it suggests men still have sex on their minds while they’re at work, around you.

Fight move: If you’re fine with the jokes, laugh along. Make some yourself! TV writer and showrunner Nell Scovell always walked onto set and told a dirty joke to show her male colleagues that they can tell those jokes around her. If you’re not cool with it, you could roll your eyes or smile uncomfortably as many of us do. But even better, you can give an insulting comeback ("That's what she said!" Reply: "Not to you") or ask the person privately to stop making jokes that make you uncomfortable.

3. Some men think they can’t cuss around you.

The idea that women have to be proper and shouldn't swear seems outdated. But even in 2018, a man will cuss then look only at you to apologize for his language. He won’t apologize to anyone else except for you. 

Fight move: You can be the one to cuss first to show everyone you’re okay with it if it is an environment where people regularly cuss. Or when they apologize to you, ask why they only apologized to you. Call them out on it. If you don’t want to hear cuss words, tell them that you don’t want them cussing around you. Verbal communication! Add in some glares too if you’re feeling it.

4. You don't know what an appropriate outfit looks like for you.

When you’re the only woman in the office, you have no one to look to for an example of how a female wardrobe fits into the company dress code. If the men dress casual, can you wear a tank top or shorts? Your clothes have the power to make you feel confident. If you’re spending the day questioning your outfit choice and feeling self-conscious, you won’t be able to focus on your work.

Fight move: If you have to question whether an outfit is appropriate, you probably shouldn’t wear it because you won't feel comfortable in it. Go to Kohl’s and buy some sleeved shirts if you only own tank tops and don’t feel comfortable wearing that in a room full of men. If you’re really not sure what’s expected of you, ask a boss or supervisor for some guidelines.

Image via Fera

5. People single you out.

Jokingly or not, your gender will be pointed out. Get ready to be praised for being the “female voice” or for contributing from a woman’s perspective. You probably want to be valued for other reasons besides your gender. Your voice doesn’t matter because it’s the only female one-- the value of your voice should not be determined by your gender. Apparently you get the responsibility of representing all women. 

Fight move: Sarcasm. Reply by saying, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here. To represent half the world's population.” Or “Well, I am a woman. And I do have a perspective. You're welcome for the diversity.” The drier the sarcasm, the better.

6. You question if you are asked to do certain tasks because of your gender or because it's actually part of your job. 

You are asked to clean, to get coffee… then to babysit? Now that’s a red flag. Especially if you are working in a lower position, such as an assistant or intern, the lines will be blurred between reasonable tasks and requests based on gender stereotypes.

Fight move: Check your job description. Reread it. Memorize it. Well, maybe don’t go that far. But know your boundaries. Say no when you think a request is inappropriate.

Image via Laura Rosenbaum

7. Men assume you're weaker.

To them, our arms are just noodles placed near our shoulders for aesthetic purposes. He offers, “If it’s too heavy, I’ll carry it for you.” You lift it and it’s the lightest thing you’ve ever carried in your whole life. He thought I couldn’t carry that?

Fight move: Say “No, I got it.” Pick it up like it’s a feather and strut away. Or take him by surprise and say, “I was a wrestler in high school” and show him that women can be physically strong too. Make it look easy… even if it isn’t. No pain no gain. If you’re feeling sassy, say “Believe it or not, I actually do have biceps under here.”

8. You start to doubt yourself. 

You fear proving stereotypes about women true. You know you can never get a tear in your eye without being labeled "emotional" or accused of being on your period. You fear that if you don’t do a good job, the men around you will think your poor performance is due to you being a woman. Any mistake seems like it will explain the lack of females in your industry. You might question whether you’re in the right place and if you can put up with being the only woman anymore.

Fight move: Enter hyper-feminist mode. Buy cool feminist products to empower yourself daily, like a God is a Woman sticker for your laptop or a Girl Power shirt. Read modern feminist books such as #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso or Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett. Make a Pinterest board for pictures of your female role models, like Shonda Rhimes or RBG.

9. You appreciate being around other women so much more than you did before.

When a woman is finally present with you in a group of guys, you’re so excited. When a fellow female walks through the door, in your head you rejoice.

Fight move: Support other women. If we can’t support each other, how can we expect anyone else to?

You’re doing great, sweetie. Keep fighting the good fight and don’t give up. You've got this. If all the women before us could do it, so can you.

Image via Refinery29