After receiving one too many misguided messages from men on LinkedIn, Andrea Myles made the unusual decision to become one herself
It was a morning much like any other when I decided to change my gender and become a man on LinkedIn. I woke, bleary eyed, and automatically reached for my mobile, mindlessly scrolling while waking up.
I checked my DMs and there it was. “Hey beautiful, I hope you don’t mind but I just had to say……” I was mad. Probably disproportionately to the small transgression of this LinkedIn second connection, who had decided to bust a move.
If you view it from his perspective, it’s just a little misplaced flirtation, maybe even a compliment, so what’s the big deal? I should just block and move on, right? If you view it from my perspective, it’s yet another little transgression to add to the pile. A pile that underestimates women, pays us less, promotes us less, and devalues our work. And any addition to that pile can be damn infuriating.
So I felt mad, and cornered in my own inbox. That’s where 99 percent of the sexual harassment on LinkedIn I’ve experienced takes place. In the corners where no one else can see, where the guy’s boss and colleagues can’t view their comments. There, where I’m alone with them.
Contemplating what witty retort I might construct to this joker, I thought: “Men don’t have to put up with this sh*t…”.
And that’s how I came to change all my pronouns and change my profile photo to the first image a Google image search of “CEO” threw up (By the way, it’s 24 images in before you even see a woman…seated at a desk…listening to her male CEO). For the better part of a month I became Andrew Myles, a 55-year-old white, male CEO of a platform connecting innovation markets in China and Australia.
In the space of 45 seconds, I’d turned myself into the stereotype. The typical Australian ASX 200 CEO looks like this: white, male, private school educated, 55-years-old and named Andrew. Yep there are more CEO’s named Andrew than women on the ASX200 list.
As I changed my pronouns, I could feel my stock going up. This Andrew bloke seemed to be doing pretty alright really, being multi-credentialed, award-winning, bilingual, and having 15 years experience in China.
The response online was instantaneous. My own connections found it pretty funny and, to be honest, so did I. On a social media platform where people meticulously tend to their “personal brand”, cultivating their online presence like a fragile bonsai, disrupting it completely and receiving applause emojis felt awesome and rebellious.
Over the course of the month, I commented and posted as I usually would. Same specialist subjects, same vocabulary.
Here’s what I noticed. From the good:
– When I posted about China or innovation, I noticed I was being taken a little more seriously and no one re-explained my content back to me.
– When I posted about gender equality, I noticed the general lack of men jumping on the thread to exclaim “men too”, and I got a LOT of kudos for being a gent who stood up for womens rights.
– My LinkedIn algorithm changed and I was connected with men of higher levels at more well-recognised companies.
– I started to be connected to LinkedIn users who had profiles written exclusively in Chinese. Something which would be valuable in my line of work, no matter the gender.
– Sexual harassment = 0
… to the bad
– But I also felt delegitimised in conversations about diversity, like I could be perceived as just paying lip service without bearing any of the risk.
– I had no idea how to be a gender ally as I’d never done it before. Could I really speak with authority as I’d been used to without being a mansplainer?
– I felt my voice in innovation conversations was also more out of place now I’d lost my shiny young millennial label and was now an older member of the workforce.
But, you know what? Even if you start out “taking the piss”, it is healthy to walk in someone else’s shoes. When I changed my gender, I thought I would feel like the top of the pile, king of late stage capitalism, winner of the genetic lottery, an old, white man online. While it’s true I had to explain myself less to be better regarded and understood and expended less energy to be heard, I didn’t expect to feel like an outsider in some of my regular areas of discussion.
“Micro-aggressions” describe the subtle, cumulative ways marginalised groups are discriminated against these days. The term was originally coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans.
Since the 1970’s, it could be argued that explicit discrimination has declined, although micro-aggressions describe the subtle ways in which we still marginalise groups of people every day.
It’s why you might feel that a subtle flirtation online isn’t a big deal, because in isolation, it isn’t. But now I’m in my 30s and can look back on a decade and a half of experience of this nonsense, I can see that sexism isn’t a one-off, excusable, off-colour remark.
It’s a trend. An interlocking system which makes it that bit better to be a bloke. And as a kid in the 1980’s, I honestly thought we would have got rid of all this by now.
When I was Andrew, I noticed things were just a little bit easier. I didn’t notice the massive radical change I thought I would, with people applauding and subordinate women making me cups of tea wherever I went. But what I did notice were subtle encouragements, which I’m going to call “micro – affections”.
They are those little actions that people take or do not take, which let me know that Andrew gets through his day just a little easier than Andrea, and get him a little further while using less energy. It can be as subtle as people asking Andrew “where do you work?” and Andrea “who do you work for?”
I can see that sexism isn’t a one-off excusable, off-colour remark. It’s a trend
Multiply that over a lifetime and I gained a glimpse of the difference this would have on how Andrew and Andrea are ranked by society and rank themselves.
Overlay other intersectional identities such as being queer, being a Person of Colour, being disabled and a picture starts to form that some of us are paying a “tax” that others aren’t.
So what did I learn being Andrew? That life wasn’t suddenly 100 percent peachy. I found myself feeling like an outsider in conversations about the future, innovation and tech, gender and diversity. A swifter path to the top. And ultimately, with no sexual harassment and less explaining to do, I do still miss Andrew, his presumed wisdom and his ever so slightly easier life.
Walking in someone else’s shoes opened my eyes. Why not try it? Men, why not try being a woman online for three weeks. See what happens. Don’t @ me. The world won’t end.
Discussions about gender can seem so intractable, especially when we’re so concerned with crafting our own narrative online and being right.
It’s funny how all it takes is a few seconds and a quick Google image search to switch ones gender. It’s almost as if it were a social construct.