Sometimes We’re a Little Too Willing to Sacrifice

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Claire Colvin -Sometimes too Sacrificial3

There’s a story going around Facebook this week about a woman who was asked to take notes in a work meeting. One of her male colleagues started his presentation and out of nowhere said, “Martha, you take notes.” He kept going without even waiting for a response. At the end of his presentation he asked Martha, “Did you get all that?”

As the story goes, she replied, “I’m not your secretary. Literally all I wrote down on this piece of paper is ‘I’m not your secretary.’”

I have not met Martha personally, so I don’t know if it really happened, exactly like this, but as a woman who worked in a corporate office for almost 15 years, I can guarantee you that it happens exactly like this all the time.

I have no issue with helping out, but when a task gets assigned to the women simply because they are women, I have a problem with that. I remember the excuses I used to hear when I started pushing back against the automatic “girls take the minutes” rule. One guy told me he couldn’t take the minutes because he didn’t bring a pen to the meeting. Another suggested that his handwriting was terrible and one of the ladies in the room had much prettier handwriting. One time a guy looked at me and said, “I really need to focus on what’s being discussed in this meeting and it’s harder to do that if I’m trying to take minutes.” Oh really? Imagine that.

The thing is, sisters, sometimes we’re a little too willing to sacrifice.

In the grand scheme of things taking minutes can seem pretty trivial. It’s not tragic like human trafficking, or child marriage, or domestic violence or a culture that doesn’t believe women who were raped. But the idea that women are a little less than men starts in little seeds that sound a lot like, “I’m more important than you and so I shouldn’t have to take the minutes.” Requiring the men around us to see us as fully equal and acknowledging these small moments when we are treated as though we were not, can be a step toward tackling the big, giant issues where women are not seen as people at all.

As Jen Hatmaker said on Instagram this week we have to, “stop paying someone else’s bill, or they will never learn there is a cost.” As women who love we should be willing to serve, willing to do the hard thing, willing to show up, willing to work, but we are not required to grind our own bones for flour. Being female does not mean that we’re supposed to get smaller just so someone else’s life can be easier. That is not our role. I think we confuse good sacrifice with sacrifice in general and we need to stop doing that.

For many women, motherhood is steeped in holy sacrifice. Motherhood is a sacrifice, a good and worthy one, and one that hugely benefits the children involved. But sometimes the good sacrifice of motherhood spills over into other areas where we were never meant to give so much, so often, to so many.

We are not required to parent the guys at work—or the guys at church. They are adults and yes they work hard; we work hard too. I’m not saying that we should start “stomping around in big boots like Gaston,” making demands and refusing to cook dinner. But we need to require the people around us to treat us as adults deserving of respect. We need to break this idea that if there’s a job no one really wants to do, one of the girls should do it.

It’s hard to stand up and be heard if we’ve sacrificed so often that we’ve taught the people around us we don’t need to be listened to.

The first step to ending child marriage just might be one woman in a conference room forcing the men around her to acknowledge her as an equal. How can we stand up for marginalized women and girls around the world if we haven’t first practice standing up for ourselves?

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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  • Shaley Hoogendoorn

    Yesssssssss!!!!! Oh how I love this Claire! Thank you for standing up❤

    How can we stand up for marginalized women and girls around the world if we haven’t first practised standing up for ourselves?

    • It feels counter-intuitive doesn’t it to think that the road to helping someone else starts with paying a little more attention to what is happening to us? But I’ve seen for myself that attitudes DO change when we give people an opportunity to re-evalutate their behaviour and those changes ripple out.

  • Love this so much Claire – I love how you connect the dots and show us that standing up for ourselves is a part of standing up for women and girls everywhere. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

    • Thanks Naomi! It’s easy to think that little injustices don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but they often indicate a deeper thought process that DOES matter in the grand scheme of things.

  • Mary-Anne Stevens

    -And sometimes women are guilty of marginalizing other women in the same way. I’ve seen leaders, both male and make these kind of moves. Shouldn’t the need be opened to the group to respond, “Who can take minutes?, Who would be willing to take minutes?” -How the question is framed completely changes the dynamics….

    • Absolutely. Female managers can fall into the same pattern of thinking that the lowest ranking woman should take the minutes, and that’s not right either. There are two things that I’ve seen work well.

      1. Bring an admin into the meeting so you have a designated person who’s role it is to take the minutes. This can also be incredibly useful if the admin is given permission to call it when the discussion starts to circle around and no action steps are being decided. It can save a huge amount of time to have someone who is not in the heat of the discussion say that it’s time to table things and get more data.

      2. Don’t ask for volunteers (because in my experience there’s a big awkward silence until one of the women breaks it by saying she’ll do it.) Instead, let the group know that there’s no designated admin in this meeting so we’ll be taking turns taking minutes. Set the expectation that everyone will be participating and then keep track and rotate through the group. A simple, “I took the minutes last week. Gary it’s your turn this week and then next time it will be Stephen’s” can be all it takes. It’s hard for people to argue against taking their turn. (Although sometimes they try.)

      • Justine Hwang

        I love these practical suggestions Claire. Thank you. I have been guilty of being on the side of using the excuse, “I forgot my pen and I want to focus on the discussion.”

  • As the mum of four boys, your words set me to wondering how I’m doing with this business of loving without enabling helplessness — or excusing selfishness. We can start by giving the right message early in life to our sons and to our daughters.

    • Yes. It can start with things like reading books where girls are heros too, and doctors and artists and astronauts and pirates. And not segregating chores by gender can help too. Even just being aware of it is a solid first step.

  • Yes!! Love this. “I am not your secretary.”

    • There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary if that’s your job, but there’s a lot wrong with being treated like it’s your job when it is not. And the fact that the guy in the story didn’t even pause – it literally did not occur to him that she would not take the minutes.

  • Crystal Chavarria

    Yes. I have struggled with this for a long time. When I was a young woman one time my mother told me to make my brother’s bed. I was just fed up and refused saying that he was perfectly capable of doing that for himself and it wasn’t my job. She was angry with me for refusing and she did it herself. I would have done it if she had asked me to help HER do it, but it was just the pattern that my brothers didn’t have to do “womanly” jobs. I know when I raised my children I tried not to show that kind of preference for chores, etc. It’s hard to swim against the stream sometimes, but all the little efforts build to make the big changes. Thanks for writing this article.

    • It is always hard to move against an established practice. It’s great that you didn’t split the chores by gender with your kids.

  • Applause.

  • Carolina Hinojsoa-Cisneros

    Love this.

  • sandyhay

    Oh yes Claire ! I’ve been trying to do this with both my husband since he retired. And my single parent son. It’s takes a while but slowly it’s starting to sink in. Great words ❤️

    • It can be a slow process, but change is possible. It’s true for all of us that before we can make a change, we need to see how what we’re doing affects other people.

  • pastordt

    Well, amen and hallelujah!! You go, girl.

  • Justine Hwang

    Claire… this is so good. Thank you. That last line? BOOM. That’s the all important, So What? question of the importance of this lesson personally and how it impacts the world around us. Thank you.

  • Megan Gahan

    I missed commenting on this the first time I read it, and I just had to come back and reread it and tell you how powerful and gutsy and glorious this piece is. I could say a million more things, but you already said it all far more eloquently than I could. Thank you for writing bravely. It challenges me to write bravely too.