The “little girl” syndrome

So I clearly will need to be more on the stick (or on the ball…who came up with these colloquialisms anyways? What does it even mean to be “on the stick” or “on the ball”? Argh…enough English language musings..) about updating the blog. In my defense, my past week or so has been fairly busy and I have been spending a ridiculously large majority of my time working on the bi-annual newsletter for my organization.

Let me give you a little history on the “Express”; our organizational newsletter.

It all started in 1994, when our Executive Director began writing the then-modest, short newsletter updating our audience (parents, other service providers, donors, friends of the organization, etc.) on the happenings and what our supported individuals were doing in the community. As the organization’s foundation is in the idea that individuals with autism and developmental disorders should (and can) use community resources and be involved in the community to everyone’s benefit (including theirs and the community as a whole), we try to put a large emphasis in all of our outward communications on this principle. Therefore, the newsletter is a little like a yearbook; it is primarily a tool that elaborates on employment, community activities, and the general lives of the individuals supported by our organization. It is secondarily a communication tool where we can talk about organizational news and events. The newsletter serves to inform our audience and also to promote our mission. In recent years, it has grown tremendously; as has the organization. However, the growth has (like most things I deal with on a day to day basis) has gone a little unchecked and ceased to be a complimentary rose bush and is now a monster that is strangling the rest of the lawn. The last newsletter was around 32 pages….which isn’t a lot comparatively but considering that one person (oh yes, you guessed it! Me!) writes, edits, designs layout, and compiles photos for this thing; it’s a rather large task.  So, to bring us up to date, I’ve spent the last month and a half of the three months I’ve been working here creating this newsletter. It’s been scaled back (as much as I could in the first run of it under me), but it was still a rather huge task.

So last week I took the newsletter to our printers, where I met with the co-owner of the company and discussed printing options such as paper, folding, etc. Now, before I continue, let me say that this man was a very friendly, amiable guy who I thoroughly liked, and my trouble wasn’t so much with him as it was with the idea/principle his comments brought about. Anyways, we were about to look at paper samples when he said it- the thing that has me thinking and writing this blog. “Follow me back here, little girl.”

Uh. Pardon? I hesitated for a moment before following him and in my head was thinking, “Damn! How do you respond to that? Should I be offended? Should I be flattered? What does this mean in a women’s rights-ageism-gender theory sense?” (You can contribute the last thought to my 4 years spent at a women’s college). However, before I could calculate an appropriate response, I became distracted by paper samples.

But it got me thinking: how many other women in the workplace are affected by the “little girl” syndrome? It’s rife with problems. For example, most men in the workplace would be offended and most certainly respond if someone addressed them as “little boy”. But, since I am relatively young and a woman, it’s somehow okay to address me in a professional context using a phrase he probably uses with his daughter or granddaughter? Was this supposed to be a sign of friendship or am I supposed to feel demeaned? It also had me thinking should I be flattered? I tend to spend a few minutes each Saturday morning inspecting the growing number of silvery-gray strands that are invading my brown mane and maybe it won’t be too much longer before nobody is thinking of me as a “little girl” so perhaps I should just let it slide? (I should note that upon discussing that with my mother she got a big chuckle out of my musings on age considering my advanced stage of life: 23 years old.)

I think it bothered me as much as it did because I still don’t feel quite comfortable in this new skin: a young, female public relations professional. I buy the clothes and I join the clubs like I know what I’m doing, but at the core of it all, I’m still a bit shaky on what it means to be young woman in this environment.


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