A few weeks ago, we three lady-writers of BuzzFeed UK decided to try the impossible: Doing things men do.
Yes, we know, gender is a social construct, and yes #NotAllMen (lol) do certain things, and yes lots of women do things men stereotypically do.
But in any case, every day there seems to be another story about how women don't do certain things. Women don't ask for raises. Women don't self-promote. Women don't even ask for the office thermostat to be turned up.
And on the other hand, we read about what women DO do. Women do "office housework" for male counterparts, whether planning parties, bringing coffees, or taking care of general admin. You know, "girl stuff".
So with that in mind, we three ladies took it upon ourselves to spend a week doing things to be more like these guys:
And we don't just mean folding our arms.
The challenges were:
1. Take up space on public transport. Fight back against the manspreaders!
2. Make someone do a menial or administrative task for you at work.
3. Self-promote your work. Toot your own goddamn horn.
4. Ask for something at work, aka lean the fuck in.
Here's how it went.
Manspreading seemed like a great place to start.
I mean, how hard could it be to adopt a sitting position with your legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats?
Turns out none of us really had the guts to manspread like the masters:
In fact, we were so bad at it that when Gena tried to get her spread on, she ended up getting physically moved out of the way by a man.
Gena: In my day-to-day life, I pretty much try to take up as little space as possible, so the concept of manspreading on public transport is completely foreign to me. I just don't believe in forcing other people's butt cheeks off the seat in order to accommodate your wide open legs, so unsurprisingly my attempt to manspread failed. I sat next to a man who was already halfway through a fully fledged manspread and I panicked, spending the bulk of my journey uncomfortably balancing off my seat and then passive-aggressively sighing.
Ellie got close to an excellent spread, but didn't get the reaction she wanted: fear and intimidation.
Ellie: I don't usually manspread on the tube, mostly because I prefer crossing my legs like a ~lady~, but I took the hit for Man Week, and it was more difficult than I expected. I just thought I'd be spreading my legs freely, but I had to battle for knee space with the man next to me, who was also manspreading. The guy didn't even seem to notice that my knee was touching his knee but it was all I could think about because brushing against strangers on public transport is gross. You win this one, men. *shakes fist*
Even when we spread freely, it was a bit of a letdown. What's the attraction, guys? Are your dicks really that big?
Hannah: OK, I thought this would be super easy, but it wasn't at all. Of course I can spread my legs (lol) and I'm not even that protective of my personal space – but the key to proper manspreading is to not even realise that you're doing it. To be so comfortable and at home in public space that you don't have to pay attention to others. And I just couldn't do that. I've been socialised too well. Damn you, patriarchy!
So turns out we didn't make good manspreaders. Luckily we had plenty more Man Tasks to try before the week was out.
It's a scenario that many ~professional working ladies~ have experienced: being mistaken for a secretary by a visitor to their office.
The bigger problem is when you're mistaken for a secretary by, uh, your own colleague.
This doesn't just mean being asked to bring coffee. It means being asked to send them a link that they could get themselves. Or to print something. Or walk across the office to get something. Or any other admin that's not more the woman's job than the man's to complete.
We all failed at this task. Completely. And I (Hannah) failed the worst.
Basically, a male colleague was waiting to hear back from someone who wasn't answering their emails. So he asked me to walk across the office and get that person to answer his question for him. And I was like, ABSOLUTELY! SURE! RIGHT AWAY!
We're equals, and this was his problem, not mine. I'm always happy to help people, but in the context of Man Week I realised how strange it was to casually make your peers do your admin.
None of us had the courage to get men to do menial tasks for us, so we pretty much just ended up doing it to each other. And the other women in the office.
Maybe in future we'll remember Man Week and get better at saying, "NO, I will NOT print your form for you simply because of my SPECTACULAR WOMANHOOD."
Or maybe not.
So another thing women don't do, apparently, is toot their own horns at work.
The tooting of horns looks different in different workplaces. For some, it could mean claiming credit for an idea, or talking up your accomplishments to your boss.
For us, horn-tooting usually takes the form of dropping the posts we've published into chat rooms with around 80 of our colleagues in them, and saying, "Look upon my jokes and despair." Or something to that effect.
In return for their self-promotion, men are often showered publicly with praise. Their better work is called ~genius~. Which seems great.
Our task was simple: to promote our work in these chat rooms full of our colleagues, so that they would be forced to know the full extent of our genius. Unfortunately, we were very bad at this.
We struggled to pump ourselves up enough to self-promote our work so publicly. So instead, we sweated.
Thankfully, Gena was #blessed with this excellent post during man week, and decided it was the one to self-promote.
It was an excellent post about the key to more success.
So she dropped it in an office-wide chat room, and it was fine! She got a great reaction from our colleagues, and owned the praise.
Gena: On a regular day, I would definitely think twice before claiming anything I've done is "genius" or shoving it in people's faces. However, once I'd learned the keys to success from DJ Khaled, it was all I needed to get my arse in gear. There was no way I couldn't share the genius. I was fucking pumped. So I promo'd in the big, scary chat room with everyone in it and I felt pretty good about it. Granted, a little seedy, but a few people replied and complimented my work, and as a man that was all I needed to know that my work was, in fact, genius. 7/10, would do again.
Ellie was also ~man enough~ to flaunt her work publicly a few times over, including when she put her work in a chat room full of our colleagues from around the world.
Ellie: I actually completed this self-promo task a few times. The first couple of times I was validated in my self-promo, because people actually responded to my messages (mostly Hannah and Gena tbh, but it definitely still counts). I decided that, to truly live my best, manly life, I had to step out of my comfort zone. I wrote a quiz, and I dropped the link into an IM group that consists mostly of colleagues in New York and LA who I've never actually met or even personally spoken to. No one replied. I felt anxious. I felt manly. I felt awful.
As for me, (Hannah), I super failed at it.
Hannah: I failed at this. I couldn't do the public promotion thing without being 100% sure that it was one of the best things I'd EVER written. I actually had a few moments in Man Week where I DID promote my skills, but only in private, directly to my managers. When a boss thanked me for taking care of a difficult situation, I said, "Yes, I'm great, you're welcome." I realised I need to learn to bring my private lack of fucks about championing myself out into the open.
In any case, it's one thing to tell people your work is great. It's another thing entirely to ask for your excellent work to be rewarded – our final and most impossible task...
The last thing we tried to do was lean the fuck in.
You know the drill. Lean the fuck in. For our purposes, it meant asking for something we wanted at work.
It went well enough for two of us.
Hannah: I had a well-timed meeting with two incredibly important bosses, both women (what's up, guys). I've been a good leaner-inner throughout my career so far. I've read the endless thinkpieces about women not asking for more and therefore not getting more. While I have my problems with the idea that it's women's fault that they are paid less and not promoted, I nevertheless have always made a point of asking for more and sticking up for myself. This particular meeting went well for me – but I remember the first time I really properly tried to ask for something in a job. I got what I wanted, which was great. But I also got judged for it. So I thought, "Well, fuck. They tell you to lean in, but they don't tell you people will think you're a bitch for doing it."
Ellie: I was really, really nervous to lean in before I realised that there wasn't ~actually~ anything I wanted to ask for. I couldn't ask for a promotion or a raise, because my job is only three months old and that seems a little bit unreasonable, even for the manliest of men. I basically ended up just asking where my manager thinks my job is going, which turned out to be completely fine, obviously, because she couldn't just say "no" (the fact that my manager is a woman who knew about Man Week prior to this meeting also helped). We ended up having a relatively lengthy chat about my role, and the questions I had were answered. It was fine, and no one died.
Gena did...less well.
Gena: Whenever I ask for anything I usually ask around it or I talk extra fast until the person I'm talking to is so desperate for me to stop talking that they just give me what I want. But outright saying "I want" something? Never. So leaning in was a fucking shitshow. I didn't look my manager in the face, I spoke at 100mph, and the script I had planned went completely out the window. I'm sure I could've shat myself right there and then. It probably would have made it less awkward.
Turns out she hadn't even asked for the main thing she wanted (a cool crisp copy of full Photoshop for her computer), so we had to pump her up a bit to try again.
And like a beautiful phoenix reborn from the ashes, Gena clutched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Gena: So, after a debrief with Hannah and Ellie, I wiped down my sweaty palms and tried again, and it went way better! I'm hoping that having such a terrible first experience will make my future "lean in sessions" a little easier. After all, it really can't get any worse than wishing you would shit yourself in front of your boss to release the tension, can it?
So there you have it, friends. We did man things. This is us now:
The week's challenges may be over, but we still want to remember some of the things we learned, to make sure the True Spirit of Man Week lives on in our hearts:
Hannah: It turns out that while I'm pretty good at doing Man Things, I'm still very self-conscious about drawing too much attention to myself, or saying "no" to people, or taking up too much space, or coming off as braggy. From now on, whenever I start worrying about other people's judgment, I'll stop and ask myself: What would a foldy-armed man do?
Ellie: I feel like Man Week had its ups and downs for me. I would still feel weird about asking a man to carry out a menial task for me, but I now feel sliiightly better about leaning the fuck in, which is great for, like, future reasons. The one thing that Man Week truly proved to me, though, is that I would make a really, really terrible man. And I am completely OK with that.
Gena: If Man Week taught me anything, it's that there are a lot of steps between myself and a white man. A lot. But going forward, I'm definitely going to try and have more confidence in my work and ask for what I want.