Frustrated with frustration

BBDO New York Chief Strategy Officer Crystal Rix shares why the world's reaction to the Serena Williams - U.S. Open debacle was a double standard.

As the buzz and debate from last week’s U.S. Open women’s singles finals fades, I find I'm still left with the same feelings of disappointment, frustration, rage and hope that many of us experienced as the seasoned Serena Williams voiced her truth and young Naomi Osaka realized her first Grand Slam win. 

Despite the fact that I’ve never picked up a racket, the moment seems all too familiar.  But why? 

Not because I have dedicated 10,000 hours to a sport I love.  Hell, I am not mom or a champion.  And I certainly will never know the depths of otherness, exclusion and bigotry felt by Serena or Naomi because of my white privilege. 

However, after much soul-searching, I realized my keen sense of familiarity stems from my empathy for the pressure those women were under.

While the context couldn’t be more different, the human experience of advertising can be kind of similar and familiar.  In our business, there is the pressure of selling a new campaign to important clients; the pressure to win more awards than last year; and the pressure to crack a strategy with massive business impact.  And every new business pitch includes high stakes both financially and professionally.

In advertising, we all feel pressure.  It’s our passion and dedication to making great work for our clients that keep us in the game.

However, last week’s match was about more than pressure.  It was about a double standard.  It was about frustration and the punitive actions that are often taken against a woman if she allows herself to express true frustration.

Simply put, if women do not conform to our society’s limited view of femininity during high-stakes, high-pressure moments, her behavior is perceived as a direct threat to male authority, and her professionalism will, in turn, be questioned.

In my time in the industry, I have seen great leaders express moments of frustration (because it’s completely natural and no one is perfect).

I’ve also seen men "melt down;" venting frustration by slamming doors, kicking chairs or shaming a co-worker who didn’t meet expectations.  You know, smash the proverbal racket, so to speak.

And, in these moments, many make apologies for this behavior:

"This is totally not like him; it must be a very bad day."

"There have been a lot of long nights."

"He is under a lot of pressure."

My female colleagues also occasionally lose their cool.  At times, my frustration streams from my eyes in a river of those forbidden tears.  But in those moments, the response is more often "she's emotional," rather than "she’s under a lot of pressure."

Frustration is human.  And, ideally, we would hope to never lose our composure. But that is unrealistic. Nor would I ask for us to be less human or less emotional. All I ask is to remember that frustration knows no bias. Nor should our view of female frustration.

Like men, a woman in advertising might lose her cool.  But this doesn’t make her "really junior," "less professional" or "a total nightmare to work with."

It makes her human.

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