I may be a little late on this, but it’s been sitting in my drafts waiting for the day I was ready to post. That may not be today, but let’s give it a go anyway.
It’s kind of nice being a Canadian because you can stick your head in the sand about a lot of things. On days when POTUS gets news coverage for calling sex assault victims liars, our PM gets coverage for the socks he was wearing. It’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s not so bad up here.
But it is.
As many women did, I scanned through my memory for examples to join in on the social media movement of #metoo, which featured stories of misogyny and sex assault, to show the pervasiveness of the toxic power structure within our society. As many women did, I had a variety of stories that I could have tweeted. Most of them I could easily wave off as “not that bad” or “well that doesn’t count because…” and that was precisely the point of the #metoo movement: its so pervasive that we’re not even taking these situations seriously.
But one stuck out in my head.
I had wanted to work in advertising since I learned about the job of a copywriter in grade 8. I was so thrilled at this prospect that some 15 years later, when I was hired as one, I ignored all the red flags waving in my face and took the job.
We’ll instead just focus on the person I reported to. We’ll call him Jeff. Because that was his name.
As the lead strategist, all my ideas had to be run through him. He was not big on praise, but was liberal with criticism. He justified it as “it doesn’t matter if I think it’s good. It matters that the client thinks it’s good.” As someone starting out in their first “real” job and in a field in which I admittedly had no experience or training, I needed more direction or encouragement. I’d taken the job being told I would be mentored, but was soon told to “figure it out myself. [He was] too busy. But do it soon. We need something better than this crap. Is this really the best [I] could do? [He] knew they shouldn’t have hired me”.
I would fight tears the whole bus ride home, (over an hour) and burst the minute I got in the door. I would spend the next three hours still working at home – entirely unpaid – and then coax myself into going to bed where I’d cry myself to sleep, pep talk myself up the next morning and repeat. A toxic working situation for sure, but that’s not the point of #metoo. He was equally as tough on the males of the office. He was a feminist. He told me so. Which is why what follows is obviously not on him, right?
My job was also to boost our company’s social media presence. It started out easy enough: schedule tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook with current specials. Try to convince coders why it’s good for them to have LinkedIn accounts so our company looks semi-legitimate. And then one day I walked into Jeff’s office and he had my personal Facbeook page up on his computer.
“You’re going to need to get rid of this. Make it something more… attractive” he said gesturing at my profile picture. The profile picture I still haven’t changed in 6 years. The profile picture of my husband and I on our wedding day. The day every girl dreams of growing up. The day she feels the most radiant. And about 6 months into my marriage I was still on a wedding picture high.
“How do you expect guys to friend you on Facebook if you look like you’re not available?” he continued. “They have to think “there’s a girl I want to meet. That’s a girl I want to…..” He gestures as though he wants me to finish the sentence. I stare at him horrified.
He holds his hands up to show is innocence. “What? It’s not my fault! Sex sells. If you had taken any marketing classes you would have known that. You have to stop thinking about it as selling yourself, and more about selling the company. If you want the company to succeed, you won’t have a problem with this.”
And then he gave me tips on what would make a “better” profile picture. There was a mention of: “well, you’ll just have to work with what you’ve got” at one point, so apparently I was a bit of a tough sell.
For my own personal Facebook account…
To entice men…
For the company…
For the company.
And JUST for good measure, he repeated: “It’s not me. It’s just how marketing work. Sex sells. Basic marketing”.
There was nothing good or redeeming about that entire job situation. But the minute the success of the company hinged on me trying to take an enticing enough picture to use my small social media presence (thank goodness he didn’t know I had a blog that people actually read at the time!) to drum up business, I knew I had to leave. And not just the job: the industry. Even if every company didn’t have as toxic of an environment, or didn’t have the same reductive view of marketing, I wouldn’t be able to do that job without feeling as exposed and vulnerable as I did that day.
Was I any good at my job? I don’t know. Did I have any potential? I don’t know. Would I have found the work rewarding? I’ll never know. None of that really seemed to matter in that office that day when the sum of my contributions to that company hinged on how attractive I could make those 170×170 pixels.