July 26, 2016

Strong enough for a man, made for a woman

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The other night I woke up with this ad pitch in my head: “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman.” A child of the 80s I don’t know how many times I had this drilled into my mind. And it was the middle of the night, at age 38, that I first realized it’s a nasty message for women. Right, the implication is that men are strong and women are not.

I’ve always been sensitive to this sort of thing. I hate bullies more than anything. The only run-ins I had as a kid were with bullies. I had no tolerance for it. I still feel the same way. Very strongly. And I think a bunch of racism and sexism looks sort of like subtle bullying. But I’m still discovering things I might have passed by without notice in the past.

This stuff can be so tricky. And now I’m responsible for this complex organization, and I have 2 daughters, and I’m waking up in the middle of the night with a stupid deodorant jingle in my head. “Strong enough for a man…”

And then, in some bizarre coincidence, I came across 2 phrases yesterday when researching order ahead apps with Lucia. The first I admittedly missed, “tap that app.” Lucia pointed it out. And then we laughed about whether it was on purpose. Of course it was. And then I started thinking “strong enough for a man…” Tap that app. It’s sort of aggressive, isn’t it? I can’t imagine Sweetgreen would put up a phrase that played on dominating a man sexually in the same way. Why? Because men would find it offensive, and probably be annoyed about it/ put off.

And then, not 5 minutes later, we came across a slightly more tame one: “Work that Hass.” Slightly more tame, more playful, less aggressive. But really? Would they put up a phrase that would message to men in the same way?

Running a company I’m totally aware these decisions probably weren’t made by senior leaders. But aren’t they responsible anyway? And clearly, neither was intended in any negative way. And intention counts a lot. But “strong enough for a man…” wasn’t intended to be negative either, was it?

How do I build a company that has no room for this kind of thing? Anybody out there who works on this sort of thing and knows more about it than me?

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