THE POWER AND DANGER OF BEING A DIFFICULT WOMAN

This article caught my attention and I just felt like sharing.  Author is Rachel Sklar and she works at Forge Medium.  Link is here

Take a look:

In the appalling case of Gabrielle Union’s removal from America’s Got Talent by NBC, “A source close to the production disputes that Union was fired,” reports Yashar Ali at Vulture, “and specifically that she was fired for being perceived as ‘difficult.’”

There it is, in all the news stories: that insidious little word. “Difficult.”

In case you missed it, here’s what was “difficult” about Union during her stint as a judge on the performance contest show: The wildly popular actress’s three-year contract was cut short after one season, according to multiple press reports, because she complained to NBC higher-ups about comedian Jay Leno making a racist crack about Koreans eating dogs; the decision to cut the 10-year old black rapper Dylan Gilmer in favor of a white group from Texas, because they were an act “America can get behind”; and an incident where a contestant imitating Beyonce pulled on black gloves, which Union saw as imitating the singer’s skin tone. There was also apparently friction about Union asking drag performers for their preferred pronouns, and repeated criticism of Union’s choice of hairstyles as being “too black.” Oh, and then there were Union’s complaints about Simon Cowell, the show’s creator and executive producer, persisting in smoking indoors, despite Union’s allergy to smoke and California’s workplace laws.

So, yes. Difficult.

“Difficult” here, as you may well recognize, is code for rocking the boat, especially when some folks don’t want the boat to be rocked. “Difficult” means, Gee, is your tone ever off-putting. Why are you so angry all the time? Maybe you could calm down and stop being so emotional. You may not be the right “culture” fit here.

Raise your hand if any of that sounds familiar. It’s familiar to me. I’m a white woman, so I haven’t experienced the additional microaggresions that black women face daily. My hair and choice of how to style it has never been an issue for me at the office, for example, and I don’t have to contend with the stereotype of black women as “angry and difficult,” in the words of talk show host Tamron Hall.

(It should be noted that Union’s fellow judge Julianne Hough was also “rotated out” while longtime judge Howie Mandel was kept on. She too experienced tension on set with repeated criticisms of her appearance.)

The experience of being labeled “difficult” for speaking up is familiar to almost all women. Once I was on stage at a women’s conference and asked the audience if they’d ever been reprimanded for their “tone.” The entire audience raised their hands. On the women’s faces I saw the realization that it wasn’t just them and in fact, they weren’t crazy. They were just right. And when the people running things are wrong, they don’t like it when you’re right.

This is why we need brave whistleblowers (cough Ukraine phone call cough), and this is why we need Times Up and #MeToo. If a beloved movie star — with a 14.7-million Instagram following that helped double the show’s social imprint — can’t be heard in her workplace, how on earth can a non-celebrity clock-puncher hope to be heard?

Of course, difficult men are not fired. They’re often seen as geniuses. Just ask Cowell, who is apparently such a genius that California workplace laws don’t apply to him.

I’m willing to bet Gabrielle Union didn’t start out her gig at America’s Got Talent by being “difficult.” (On the contrary, she brought her husband, basketball star Dwyane Wade, and his 15.1 million Instagram followers on as a guest judge!) But like many of us, she probably realized at some point that in a work atmosphere where a powerful colleague can keep smoking indoors despite your complaints, you’re not respected. And what are your options then? Will you be punished for speaking up about racism or transphobia? Or does your workplace have transparent systems by which such issues can be addressed? Of anyone, Union — with her three-year contract, her huge social following and known reputation for being vocal and righteous — should have been safe to bring her issues to the network. Anyone should have been, really. Instead, she was not only ignored; she was sold out.

Women are so tired of being called “difficult.” But here’s the thing: As women, we sometimes have to be difficult to be heard. If you let us talk, we wouldn’t have to find a moment to interrupt. If you made space for us, we wouldn’t have to carve it out ourselves. If you listened to our concerns, we wouldn’t have had to yell for your attention.

Union might well be getting the last laugh, now that America’s Got Talent has a PR crisis to deal with, while she’s getting an outpouring of love on social media. But she signed a three-year contract for a reason, and by all accounts had wanted to continue — just in a workplace that valued her. What would really be nice, though, is if systems could change to accommodate strong women and their voices.

But I know, I know, that would be way too — what’s that word? Ah yes: difficult.

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