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Workplace Weirdo? Shondaland Exec Pens Guide to Embracing Office Awkwardness

Self

It's a small world when you're a weirdo. You think you're the only oddball, everyone else is normal and everyone but you has their acts together. How do you survive in a world where everyone else just seems to fit better than you do?


You don't.

Surviving in this world is a farce, because in fact, no one has their shit together, and nobody is perfect. You are not alone as a weirdo, and there are millions of “others" out there looking for a way to make it in their field, warts and all. Landing on your feet is possible. You merely need some social tools and how-to's to get there.

Enter Jennifer Romolini, former Editor-in-Chief at HelloGiggles, current Chief Content Officer of shondaland.com, and author of summer's break-out guide, Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures.

“I was always kind of socially awkward, physically clumsy, just kind of out of step," recalls Romolini, not-so-fondly remembering the years when she felt out of sync with the world. “My understanding of the world in a sensory way - understanding where my limbs were in space, has never been the best."

Characterizing herself as a youngster who was overly-emotional, sensitive and intense, Romolini looks back at why it was so difficult for her to navigate social channels and situations. Indeed, these characteristics would become the most lucrative traits for her going forward as she situates herself into the world of business.

“I always felt like I was wired a little differently," she remarks, laughing at the fact that there has been no point in her life through which she has glided. She has instead stumbled, and has been in a constant battle with herself and with societal mores she didn't quite fit into.

For her, the business world was a large, unreadable yet inescapable black hole where she felt out-of-sorts and underrepresented. “What I didn't see in the business world was an example of someone like me," she said. "It was as if once you became successful, you became this sort of poised mannequin. I didn't find that was happening to me, no matter what level of success I achieved."

So where exactly does a socially awkward, anxious, weirdo fit in amongst the poised busy-bodies of today's working elite? Ultimately, Romolini would seek to help those like her, who are attempting to rise up through the ranks without fitting in seamlessly, after she herself makes massive strides in a niche and difficult career.

“I was afraid to admit I wanted to be a writer," she recounts. She explains how coming from a working class, Italian-American background, the concept of a creative career was almost alien to her. She even goes so far as to say she couldn't visualize what life would be like as a writer.

She began checking off the boxes, reconciling herself with other jobs that might be more fitting or stable. She would, however, keep coming back to that which was alien, and says, "I finally figured out that I wanted to be around writing some time in my late twenties."

Jennifer Romolini.

After a few years waitressing, Romolini would kick start her writing career, and enjoyed a lengthy and lucrative stint in the publishing industry before becoming the EIC and Chief Content Officer at Zooey Deschanel's HelloGiggles in 2014. During the two years she was at the site that runs on quirky rhetoric and integrated weirdness, she grew the site's readership by 500 per cent.

It was during her time at HelloGiggles that she became faced with the creative career dilemma once again. She had an idea for a book: one with gravitas, spunk and a clear and positive voice. A book for the "weirdos, misfits and fuckups" of the world.

“I think it's hard to embrace entirely that you want to be solely a creative person"

-Jennifer Romolini

Having addressed and guided millennial women during her post there as EIC, she had become accustomed to the struggles they were facing and how they were viewed by the wider populace. "Millennial women were getting a bad rep," she says, continuing "I felt they were being told they were spoiled and entitled, and I didn't think that was true. But I felt like what they needed was someone to reach out and tell them: 'you're missing key points about how to survive in the business world.'"

It was not merely the readership of HelloGiggles that would inform her guide, however, as her daughter was also steadily creeping toward an age where she too would have to hop on the business ladder. “How do I teach her to be in the world, and to navigate the systems and authority without breaking her spirit?," she remembers asking herself. Ultimately, she would decide that it was a question that needed answering, and it would mean leaving her post at HelloGiggles to do so. “I wanted to give very solid advice while acknowledging that it was really hard to do, and you might not get it right the first time," she says. “I was still really scared to quit my job, but I did. I left the job behind to write the book. I made that decision and it was very terrifying."

Romolini took eight months off to pen the guide and in the midst of finishing her edits, she received an unexpected cold email from the one and only Shonda Rhimes about a job offer at Shondaland. “You can strategize all you want. You can white knuckle your career, but you never know what's going to happen," she asserts. And thus, Romolini had her next career turning point, at the helm of what she says will be a site for "really compelling stories - a special place that's not chasing social news traffic."

So instead of worrying about asking for a raise, leaving a shitty job, speaking up in meetings, ambition, or being a leader, Romolini gifts you the tools you need to execute and exceed in all of the above in her "soup to nuts guide." Given her proclivity for the weird and wonderful, but also her simultaneous success, we'd put our weight behind Romolini's book becoming a 2017 bestseller and a future go-to for all the world's up-and-coming misfits wishing to make waves and a name for themselves in the mainstream business world.

Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures is in stores now, and can be purchased online here. Portraits by Oriana Koren.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.