I was at a donor thank you event where a question and answer session followed a hosted reception. I was there as a guest of a regular donor. The reception was lovely. My date was wonderful.
During the question and answer period, I held my hand up. There were lots of questions. I kept holding my hand up. Through a lot of questions, I held my hand up. Wow. Arm really getting tired now. I thought, maybe we’re too far back. Maybe he can’t see me. But we were dead center of the stage, and there were only a few rows of people. Finally, my date got tired of watching me with my hand up and stuck his up. He began to raise his hand. His arm did not reach full extension when he was called on to ask a question.
That made me mad. Really mad.
Mad because the lectern manager couldn’t see me, but somehow he could see the man sitting next to me.
Mad because the man sitting next to me knew that he would need to raise his hand in order for me to be able to ask my question.
Mad because this sort of thing has been happening for a long time and is getting better at a glacial pace. Mad because it seemed like there was nothing I could do about.
For a moment, I flashed back to negotiation training I just received a week earlier. The lesson: never make my own behavior part of the negotiation. And then I thought, I’m not negotiating! I am doing the equivalent of spraying a cat with water because he is clawing the couch. I am negatively reinforcing!
Having rationalized, I asked my follow-up question, “Why, with my hand up for 15 minutes, did you call on the man next to me before his hand hit full height?” Blubber, sputter, gasp. Sadly, I followed up with, “That really pissed me off.” (Could have done without that part.)
I felt my date’s hand on my back. He was either nonverbally saying, “calm down” or was ready to grab me if I headed for the stage, or both.
Was the person manning the lectern a bad guy? No. Did he do that on purpose? No. Did he articulate to himself, “I’m going to call on that man because I should”? No. He just followed a cultural habit of recognizing and giving higher value to male input. And in my mind, until we make it uncomfortable for those falling into that bad habit, it will continue to happen. So, am I a horrible guest or justifiably incensed? Spray the cat with water, or live with a trashed couch?
PS – My date and I had a fabulous rest of the evening. He’s a special guy.