Being strategic or just a coward?

Do we need to first be a part of the system, make a name out of ourselves and be influential, and then speak out against the system and the necessary changes to it?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, especially after an interview with a reporter a few weeks ago. She asked me about the challenges I face as a women entrepreneur working in the Middle East and Africa, a region not particularly known for its equal treatment of the sexes. My answer was hesitant and I told her that my answer was going to be off record.

I told her that I used to be very outspoken about how I, and my fellow women entrepreneurs, are treated during business meetings. Men subtly and not subtly telling us how sexy we are and how they would “like to have coffee” during business meetings and negotiations. How they want to hook up us with their sons/ nephews. I even wrote a guest article for one of the most popular blogs for women entrepreneurs about it. I felt that as a woman, I had to speak up about the unfair treatment. That it was my obligation to do so.

But then I stopped. After a few initial emails and meetings with clients during which clients would be lukewarm towards me because of the potential of me being a feminist, I realized that my outspokenness was hurting business. Which is my livelihood. So I stopped publishing and turned down a series of articles on being a woman entrepreneur in emerging markets for a huge media outlet.

I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was a coward and still am one. But ultimately, g.Maarifa is me and I thought that once I have enough clout and credibility, I can stand on a soapbox, similar to Sheryl Sandberg or Anne-Marie Slaughter, and expressed my views. Then, a month ago, I ran across this article, “The Woman Entrepreneur’s Handicap” by a fellow tech entrepreneur. Her premise is that by labeling us as women, we are handicapping our sex’s potential and let others look and treat us as inferior. It follows some of the same logic behind opposing affirmative action in the States.

Her arguments hit home. Yet I still can’t shake off the feeling that I am using it to justify my own cowardice. During the interview with the journalist, I confided in her, and she said that it is understandable. But there is still something lacking.

What are your thoughts on this?


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