IS A MAN’S WORLD OVER?

After years of work­ing for men in pol­i­tics, Jen­nifer Palmieri chal­lenges the pa­tri­ar­chal power dy­namic

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - By JEN­NIFER PALMIERI

There was a time when I would have bris­tled at the sug­ges­tion that I was a woman liv­ing in a man’s world. In my mind, it was self-de­feat­ing for women to think that way. I un­der­stood that it could be a strug­gle to achieve all that men do, but I didn’t see the point in com­plain­ing about it. It wasn’t as if there were an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse in which we could choose to live.

Be­sides, I thought I was do­ing pretty well. I had been the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for Pres­i­dent Obama and the com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. True, I got those jobs later in my ca­reer than my male peers did, but I was grate­ful to get them none­the­less.

Then, on Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 9, 2016, the day after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, I woke up in a new re­al­ity. I felt as if I were tum­bling into a black hole of ter­ri­fy­ing and suf­fo­cat­ing si­lence. It took me a while to ad­just. But then it be­came clear: It’s not that I don’t want to play by the tra­di­tional rules for women to suc­ceed in the work­place or that I have ad­justed to the dou­ble stan­dards. I just don’t want to be in the man’s world any­more. I am over it.

My first job out of col­lege was work­ing for then Con­gress­man Leon Panetta on Capi­tol Hill. Like any good guest in a for­eign land, I closely ob­served the lo­cal cus­toms. I learned that I could get ahead if I was will­ing to work hard and set­tle for less op­por­tu­nity than men got. I quickly made my­self in­dis­pens­able. You could al­ways count on me to stay late, cover all the bases, and take on the tasks that weren’t in my job de­scrip­tion. I’d do them be­cause “some­one had to.”

I made choices in my ca­reer that oth­ers would not have been will­ing to make. This in­cluded lat­eral moves so I could even­tu­ally get the job I wanted and work­ing for mem­bers of the op­po­site sex who were much younger than me. When I was 36, I joined John Ed­wards’s 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as the press sec­re­tary, and my boss was a 28-year-old male com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor. When I was 45, I went to the Obama White House to be­come the deputy White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor and again worked for a male com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor nearly a decade my ju­nior.

I found the Obama White House a sup­port­ive place for women. At the end of each meet­ing, Pres­i­dent Obama would ask any­one who had not al­ready spo­ken what they thought. He would gain new and dif­fer­ent in­sight from the women in par­tic­u­lar. One day in a meet­ing with just women, he prod­ded all of us to be more vo­cal. “Speak up,” he said. “I need to hear from you.” It was then that I re­al­ized that if I didn’t speak up, I wasn’t just hold­ing my­self back—i wasn’t do­ing my job.

Even with the pres­i­dent’s en­cour­age­ment, I clung to my ten­dency to over­work. It had be­come key to my suc­cess and a point of pride. My fe­male col­leagues in the Obama White House would of­ten ad­mon­ish me for stay­ing un­rea­son­ably late. “A man wouldn’t do that,” they would say. Cor­rect. That’s why I did it. I knew I might not rise as high or as fast in my ca­reer as men did, but my con­so­la­tion was know­ing that I did a bet­ter job.

In 2015 I joined Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign. It was some­thing worse than a lat­eral move. It was a self-im­posed de­mo­tion. I didn’t do it with the hopes of even­tu­ally get­ting a bet­ter job; I went be­cause I knew the 2016 elec­tion would be dif­fi­cult, and I thought my decades-

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