By Joy A. Kennelly
My two sisters (Grace and Glori) and I were raised by a Father who wanted boys, but ended up with three girls. A blonde, a brunette and a redhead. So you could say I've grown up with gender bias my entire life.:)
When we were little we didn't play with dolls, we played with hot wheels, building blocks, and imaginative games where we were wild animals, perhaps because when we were very young, my Dad moved our entire family to live in Africa on a missionary boarding school in Kenya while he taught school on his sabbatical. Perhaps because Dad subconsciously was giving us toys he thought we'd like? Who knows.
We visited wild animal parks, tribal villages and traveled around Africa during the month-long breaks we took during our three month on, one month off school experience.
You could also say we grew up traveling because prior to that life-changing experience, we also traveled 7 years earlier throughout South America in a converted Pepsi Cola truck motor home as a family and had adventures none of my friends growing up in the South Bay could relate to.
As a result, my sisters and family and I were very close because it happens when you only have each to depend on, or share such intense life-changing experiences like we did. That's why I love traveling and encourage everyone to do it, even with small children. It shaped my sisters and I into very independent, strong women which has it's good points and it's bad points.:)
I distinctly remember walking behind my Dad while we were in one South America country because we had been warned of pickpockets and I was "guarding" him (as a 7 year old I believe.) I'll never forget the armed military men with guns, the tanks in the streets and other images you just didn't see in the states as children, but other young foreign children grow up with on a daily basis.
As children back in the states, my sisters and I laid bricks, we painted and maintained my Dad's numerous rental properties and again, were treated like boys because my Dad is all-male and never thought anything of it. My least favorite memory was having to pick up dog poop the day of my birthday party.
Maybe that's why I don't own a dog to this day?:)
We also all played AYSO soccer and my two sisters became quite good at it, one playing as the only female on an all-boys varsity team (which went over really well with the boys she played with, and against, trust me) and my other sister continuing to play and referee the sport to this day.
I, on the other hand, really didn't like it.
Because my birthday falls on December 31, I was always younger than my teammates in many ways which was difficult. I don't remember the exact circumstances, but I know one team my Dad forced me onto was an All-Star team and they resented having a "non-AllStar" player like me join them.
As a result, my own team members would run past me at practice and deliberately kick me in the shins to express their anger. They also taunted me constantly making life miserable.
Needless to say, I hated playing, but stuck it out because my Dad wouldn't let me quit. I remember it never got better, but since it was a short season having joined midway through, I was able to endure it.
There are three years between my sisters and I. They are only a year apart. This meant I was always forced to go into various Sunday Schools in churches we were visiting by myself, while my sisters had each other for company.
I hated that too, but did it because my Dad wouldn't let me not do it.
See a pattern here?
My Dad has always forced me to do things beyond my comfort zone and as a result I now have little fear of entering rooms where I know no one, joining groups that are already established and expressing my opinion as a woman in a room where often I'm the only female.
Two final stories then I'll share why I'm really writing.
Two memories that stand out as defining moments in my life and probably subconsciously are part of the reason I established my travel company are as follows.
My best friend growing up was a girl named Kieva who was the daughter of my Dad's best friend, Ed. My parents attended the same church, double dated, married around the same time and knew each other for years before we were born.
Kieva and I were born two days apart, in the same hospital, two doors down from each other, and she was my best friend even though she lived in Frazier Park, about two hours outside of Los Angeles. She was fearless, had a brother, was raised by a then divorced single mother with little supervision while I was sheltered, all sisters, with a Dad who was constantly sharing articles on rape, women getting hurt by men and other stories designed to make me more cautious, even as he pushed me into situations where it could easily have been dangerous.
I'll never forget the time when I was 13 years old and really wanted to visit Kieva so my Dad put me on a bus by myself to go from Manhattan Beach, where we were living at the time, to Downtown LA to catch the Greyhound Bus for a bus ride two hours away to Bakersfield.
Now I had never gone Downtown before, had never been to that Greyhound bus station before, and as you can imagine, was pretty overwhelmed when I arrived (thinking of all the bad things that could happen to me as a result of the indoctrination my Dad kept giving me via newspaper articles.)
Somehow I missed the bus I was supposed to take probably because I arrived late and was too shy to push to the front of the bus line to make sure I got on the right bus and missed my connection. There was a black guy who saw me looking confused who came and put his arm around me offering advice. I am positive he was a pimp to this day and probably thought I was a runaway by his actions.
I was able to get away and finally found a bus station person to help me find the right bus and get on it hours later. I didn't arrive in Bakersfield until 2am after leaving Manhattan Beach earlier that day which explains how lost I was and how much time passed.
Kieva and her Mom were worried when I didn't arrive on time and were there waiting for me until that time. Remember, this is before cell phones and there was no way to communicate with anyone what had happened.
We were so happy to see each other we stayed up talking until 4am I remember. Good times. We used to get in so much trouble together. I think she was the one who helped me overcome many of my fears and will always hold a fond memory in my heart for the friendship we shared until she got married and moved away.
The other distinctive memory I have of my Dad pushing me out of my comfort zone was when I wanted to attend a class at a church I didn't normally attend and not driving yet, think I was 17 at the time, my Dad drove me there, dropped me off and told me to find my own way back.
I attended the seminar, enjoyed myself, and when it came time to go home, asked the organizer if she knew anyone going my way. She didn't and asked the attendees for me. An older man offered and I thought she must know him, so I agreed to go with him in his car. She told me after she didn't, but by this time I was committed and kept my guard up.
We got into his two seater Mercedes Benz convertible and that's when it started. He wanted to date me and began asking me all kinds of questions. Turned out his youngest daughter was older than me and he was in his sixties.
He wanted to take me out after and being the naive, sheltered 17 year old that I was, raised in a Christian home without much worldly influence having grown up without a TV (until my sisters and I won one when we sold the most candy bars together to help me win the contest when I was a Junior in High School.:)
As a side note, that wasn't my first selling gig either. When we were very young, I had a flower and lemonade stand where I sold to my neighbors. The TV was such a goal of ours in high school having not had one for so long, I recruited my sisters and we went door-to-door, sat outside our local grocery store, recruited our friends at church and sold the most candy bars out of anyone except one other student who I tied with.
I'll also never forget being so proud and happy carrying my TV box through the corridors of my high school only to get beaned in the head with an apple core by someone who was jealous. That was probably my first experience realizing not everyone will be happy when you work hard and win.:)
But I digress.
So, here I am in this man's car, being driven from Torrance to Manhattan Beach by someone who is in their 60's who wants to "date" a 17 year old. Me. Tall, blonde, freckled, naive me. Again, no cell phones people. Gotta remember this.
He keeps asking me to eat with him so I give in and choose Bob's Big Boy thinking it will be crowded and perhaps safer than somewhere else. It was, and I'll never forget the looks we got walking into the restaurant.
Even they knew something was wrong with this picture, but my Dad? Oh, no worries. My daughter can handle it. Oy.
We sit down and in order to look even younger than my age I order a tall ice cream sundae. We talk some more, me still extremely uncomfortable, and then it's finally over. We get back into his car and he drives me home.
I'll also never forget what I said to him when he asked if he could see me again. "Sorry Bob, but I don't think I can meet your social needs right now." LOL Where I came up with that line I'll never know, but when I went inside and told my Dad my experience, all he did was laugh.
No concern at all...
That's kinda when I realized I was on my own as far as the world was concerned. I chose to travel to Europe by myself after college with great fear and trepidation, only calmed by the fact I was going to volunteer with a missions team for the first month or two of my experience which gave me time to acclimate to being in a foreign country by myself for the first time.
That's a story for another time, but all this to say, I know what it's like to be in scary situations or pressuring situations. I know what it's like to travel alone (that wasn't my last experience doing so.) And I know it's more dangerous for single females to travel alone than males simply by virtue of our gender.
I also know it's more difficult for women to find funding in technology than men because I've lived it, seen it, researched it, reported on it, and fought against gender bias since getting into this field.
But at a certain point, you just give in and say, I want to eat. I want to have my bills covered. I want to thrive, not merely survive and if having a man be the face of my women-focused business in order to get funding, then that's what I'm going to do.
I'm tired of fighting for respect. I'm tired of my accomplishments being discounted as a professional. I'm tired of my abilities being questioned or marginalized.
I give up fighting.
These past few weeks, living with no money due to the male friend I was helping with his business get funded (while mine isn't) stiffing me on money he promised he would pay for my work, and the fact I can't do the telephone sales job any more because it aggravates my hand injuries too much, has caused me to wake up to the fact I either change, adjust, fit in, or allow my dream of running a successful technology company for women die.
And I refuse to do that.
I've worked too hard, for too long not to see it through. I know it's a good idea. I know it's needed and I know I haven't exhausted all my options yet. You know how I know that? Because my male CTO told me that when I called him ready to quit.
He believes in me, my company, our efforts together and because of his encouragement and belief, I'm willing to do what it takes to continue.
I have been told by travel experts, the winner of last season's Amazing Race, women I meet wherever I travel or hold mixers, and other travelers I meet, the idea of helping women find other women to travel with is a great idea. I've experienced it personally. I know women travel differently than men and we sometimes need a little more encouragement to step outside our comfort zone.
I had my Dad pushing me, but there are many women who don't and will never accomplish their travel dreams out of fear, lack of experience and or right planning. That's why I created the company. It's why I'm still passionate about it despite the many, many obstacles I've overcome and continue to overcome.
It's why I am now seeking a CEO who will come along to push it forward and work beside me with skills and experience that will enhance my abilities and my team's abilities. I want someone who will take an objective look at what I'm doing right, what needs fine-tuning and what needs to be done differently in order to achieve our goals of finding funding.
What people sometimes fail to understand about me is that I am in constant self-improvement mode. I want to change, grow and develop into a better person. Doesn't mean I always react correctly, but it does mean I take constructive criticism really, really, really well.
I'm not the same person I was even a year ago.
There are parts of my life I will continue to chip away at because I haven't reached perfection, but there are other aspects I'm proud to have conquered. That's why I love to read and learn from people in the tech field and every aspect of business because years ago, when my Dad paid me to read motivational books in college to earn money, I'll never forget reading one that said, the books you read today will be who you are like five years from now.
May we all continue to grow, expand our minds and our lives and read.
Therapy helps too.:)
So, now back to the grindstone if you'll excuse me. I have a lot of work to do.