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“I am not your secretary” is a battle cry for all working women

When one woman was treated dismissively at work, her sassy response made her place very clear. How could we channel her to deal with our own casually sexist interactions? 

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By Amy Jones on

Sometimes, you don’t realise you need something until you’ve already got it. That’s what I felt about Sarah Lerner’s tweet, a screenshot of a Facebook post detailing what happened when a man casually asked a female colleague to take notes during his presentation:

Ooh, doesn’t it feel good? Isn’t it so, so satisfying? Doesn’t it just make you think of all the times that you’ve been casually treated as a lackey at work, and make you want to go back and behave as coolly as this woman did here? I say woman but, really, I mean superhero. She is Sass Woman – the hero we need right now, even if she’s not the hero we deserve, a vision in a tiara and a spangly jumpsuit that is empowering, rather than objectifying. 

You know how some people wear bracelets with “What Would Jesus Do?”? I think working women of the world should start thinking, “What Would Sass Woman Do?” The next time someone takes us for granted, rather than gritting our teeth and getting on with it we should think of ingenious ways to stand our ground while also being a tremendous asshole who would make the other Sass Women of the world proud. 

I did a quick survey of my friends and colleagues to find the shitty casual sexism they’ve encountered during their time in the working world, and imagined how Sass Woman would respond to them.

Situation: My boss told me, a 22-year-old and the only woman in the company, that it “wouldn’t hurt” to come to a meeting with a client dressed in something pretty, so the client would be impressed.
Actual response: I went to New Look and spent my last £20 on a pretty, but businesslike, dress.
Sass Woman response: Turning up in a suit so sharp that Don Draper would be jealous, with my hair slicked back, a briefcase in my hand and a power tie round my neck. When questioned, say: “This is how you dress to impress people – isn’t this what you were after?”

Situation: When working for a magazine company on boating publications, I was asked by the men who ran the gardening magazines to go to the Chelsea Flower Show and try to sell them on a stand because women were a better fit for flowers.
Actual response: I went along and tried to pretend I knew absolutely anything about flowers for two days.
Sass Woman response: Turning up to the stall with armfuls of boating magazines and selling them instead – because, hey, why would you be asked to sell something you didn’t work on, right? 

Situation: Working as a videographer covering an event, the longest I went before a man "helpfully" started fiddling with my equipment, or tried to take things out of my hands without asking because they were "too heavy" for me, was half an hour.
Actual response: Firmly raising my eyebrows, I said, "I'm sorry, sir, can I help you with something? It’s just that this is my equipment – not yours."
Sass Woman response: The second someone touches your equipment without asking, start treating him like your assistant. Order him to move things around for you, ask him to get you coffee, tell him to pass messages for you to people. If he tries to object, act innocently surprised – “But why else would you be over here, touching my equipment, if you weren’t going to assist me?”

Or, if this feels like too much of a stretch to start off with, just channel the original Sass Woman. Deep breath, look them in the eye – “I am not your secretary.” It’s a strong, achievable start – and you can work up to the tiara and jumpsuit later. 


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