This week I attended a seminar for women-owned small businesses, with one of my closest friends. Both of us have chosen to fully embrace our entrepreneurial roles, and have set out to strengthen our business savvy with every opportunity available to us. This seminar provided us with all we needed to know about government contacts and we met some powerful women in the sector. As much as I learned and experienced, there’s only one lesson that sticks out for me…
We were forewarned that the building where it would be held was federally owned and we’d be entering “TSA Style” which meant airport security techniques such as removing shoes and possible wand assisted body searches. Therefore, we arrived early to allow time for metal detectors and checks.
As I waited in line, shoes and belt in hand, the line was delayed by a woman who my friend and I assumed was there for the women’s conference a well. This 5’9″ brown skinned woman had been asked to step aside to be searched, and was not happy about it. As the line of people continued to wait, my friend and I tried to gather as much information from the exchange between the women and the three male security officers stationed at the entrance. We began to understand that she was refusing to be searched-Wand or back of the hand didn’t matter;
” I don’t want him to touch me.. We’d overheard her say.
“Oh, she wants a woman security guard.”
My friend whispered to me as we interpreted the situation. We continued to listen to the exchange, and I observed the faces and body language given off by the line of 7-8 people; they displayed a mix of emotions. There were looks of annoyance that weren’t surprising amongst an impatient NYC crowd; and based on the demographics of the people waiting in line, I assumed most of us were about to be late for the event we showed up early to. But, There were also looks of shame and embarrassment for the woman. I must admit I initially thought,
“why is she making such a big deal?”
and I wondered why she felt it was worth the fuss. There weren’t any supportive glares her way and not one person spoke to her defense; though we all should have. However for the sake of being on time and not causing a fuss we all hurried along through the metal detector, looking away but still listening to this woman demand the female security officer that should rightfully be present for these situations.
It took me a moment to realize why I should praise her efforts. My friend and I talked on the way up to the meeting room and we both were in agreement that the woman had every right to demand that her body be searched in a way that she felt comfortable. Our bodies did not become federal property to be handled according to what suits the agency! But still, after being called out, and handled as if she were the one at fault, none of us stood by this woman who stood up for herself as these security officers gave her a hard time for simply owning her body and speaking up.
As I made my way up I thought to myself and mentioned out loud “she must be part of the event. That’s why she don’t mind being late. That must be why she feels she can hold up the line…” My friend agreed, as if this was what she was thinking about too. What on earth gave this woman the audacity to make a fuss over something so minor. Let him search you so we can get to our women’s conference and empower ourselves.
Personal reflection moment
My unsettled emotions could have been because she was a black woman. I continue to struggle with my feelings about the “angry black woman” stigma. Although I try not to let the perceptions of others dictate how I conduct myself, I still feel pressured to tone down in certain situations in ways that I’m sure only apply to women of color. I no longer worry about my natural tresses getting in the way of success, and I love how my presence is felt by my loud and commanding nature whether people approve or not. However, instances like the one this woman encountered, still brings about an instinct to keep my eyes forward and my voice low so as to not give anyone a reason to call attention to or use my actions to feed a stereotype.
My friend and I waited for her to come upstairs. I regretted my feelings toward the situation because I realized that if it was me I’m not sure if I would have said a word in my defense even if I initially felt uncomfortable. Here I am, setting out to empower myself and I don’t even know if I would stand up for my right not to be touched by some random uniformed guy for the sake of national security. The feelings of shame quickly turned inward.
Boss Lady Revelations
We were relieved when she walked through the conference room doors. We remarked “see, I knew it!” When she sat for the first panel discussion and introduced herself as the owner of a multimillion dollar consulting company!
Her display of strength and ownership of her body as well as her time, was a clear indicator that she was a BOSS. We called it, and we felt it in her stern display of unmovable determination in line to get in the building. I’m sure that we weren’t the only ones to assume her boss behavior would somehow connect to her status amongst the women at the conference.
This situation moved me to question my own beliefs about myself as a woman, and more specifically as a woman of color. We share a similar struggle as women living in a patriarchal society that has made us to believe for such a long time that we were the weaker and lesser of the two sexes. And ironically, as we make our way to this seminar, I hesitated and looked away as I witness a Sista’s rights being downplayed. I felt embarrassed for her; as if she was wrong or thought too highly of herself .
The lessons I learned from this woman seem obvious. However, just like we all stood in line with expressions of annoyance on our faces and rolled our eyes as the request for management rang throughout the federal building, it should not go without mention.
In order to break the glass celings and move the glass mountains we have to stick together; not just in women only conferences but in line at the NYC federal building when a woman attempts to stand up and say no when others try to dismiss our power in order to get their jobs done quicker
If I want to be boss, I have to embody it! As much as I want to sing “I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want!” It means nothing if my real-world actions and emotions depict a little worried black girl who will drop her head when faced with an unjust authority. I mean even though it was just 3 male security guards in a government building, my inaction and even my subtle gestures of disapproval, spoke volumes. It wouldn’t have been out of character for me to make an audible remark about requiring a women officer as well, if They planned to search me. I could have given the sista some supportive eye contact as she stood taller with each new male officer that approached and every loud speaker announcement for managerial reinforcements. I often boast that if women stand together we can make things happen. I aspire to be an authority in the field of women’s services. In order to completely embody that power I must stand tall when faced with the simplest rights and, like this boss of a lady, the subtlest of wrongs; regardless of the way I am perceived.
That woman’s actions gave each awaiting woman a chance to stand taller in that security line, even if we looked away as she stood her ground. Her display of audacity emanated leadership skills that can’t be taught during a women’s conference, which is how I almost missed it.
What would your reaction have been if you were standing behind this woman in line?