I had a recent epiphany that my former bosses were “but” men.

Or, more accurately, “Yeah, but” men.

As in, “Yeah, you’re a hard worker, you sacrifice your social life for this job, and we assume you’ll carry out all manner of bizarre tasks we don’t even ask of your married colleagues with kids, but: we’ll always find a reason why you aren’t good enough.”

One former boss mentioned in my performance evaluation that Yeah, I worked every Saturday, but I didn’t seem that happy about it.

Whiskey, tango, foxtrot is wrong with you?

If you work for “Yeah, but” men, they probably don’t consciously realize that they can’t unconditionally compliment your work and feel the need to temper any and all praise. Conscious or not, it’s at least annoying and at most potentially career-crushing. How can you ever get ahead if your performance is being judged by people who only seem to see your “but”s?

The feminist in me sees the “Yeah, but” as a way to maintain the status quo, to protect the world in which moneyed, straight, white men make the rules, set the bars and get to decide when the rest of us are measuring up. And most of us work in professions where they get away with it. Imagine a coach telling an athlete, “Yeah, you hit a home run, but you barely even broke the bat. Yawn.”

I’ve since changed jobs, of course, and I had my epiphany about the YBM in a completely different industry when I ran into them again. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m struggling with colleagues at my new job who liberally pepper our conversations with condescending comments. Based on some good advice, I’ve been countering by oh-so-casually mentioning my education and experience to assert that yes, yo, I’m smarter than I look, so knock it off.

And it was working. The condescension cooled. Until they discovered the “Yeah, but.”

Yeah, you’re educated and had a highfalutin job before, but: you’ve never done this kind of work, you don’t have the right kind of degrees, your writing doesn’t have nearly enough buzzwords in it. You need to pivot, get into the weeds and add more value.

But: now that I’ve identified the problem, I feel better equipped to combat it. They get to make the rules, but I’m still committed to coming out swingin’, persistently forcing people to acknowledge the quality of my work and contributions, no if, ands or buts. I suspect it’s the best that any of us can do; to advocate for ourselves when no one else will.

And I take comfort in the fact that someday, they’ll all be lookin’ at the business end of my but when I leave them behind.

In but-shakin’ Rebellion,

Karen Hawkins is the Founder and Rebelle in Chief of Rebellious Magazine. She is a recovering mainstream media reporter and editor who wants to thank her former boss for naming the online magazine she's...

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