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10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

“This article updated from original, which appeared in Role Reboot.

“Stop interrupting me.” 

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60′s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in courtadopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of a one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,” 

“I just said that,” and 

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.”

 

I experience this every single day which is why, when I participate in online comment boards, I use the user name “CJones” so that no one knows whether I’m male or female.

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My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation

I have so many problems with this article and those that tout the similar argument of; “kids these days! all this newfangled technology is ruining them!”

Back in March, I posted an article that uses this argument (10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12), but, since then, I came across the above Atlantic article which sparked my anger enough to make me contribute to the comment thread. 

What was particularly interesting about this comment thread (and what kept me dedicated to getting my comments on public record) was that my comments with website links as citations, as proof of the evidence I was using in my arguments, kept being tagged and deleted as “Spam.” It’s nearly impossible to know for sure whether they were being tagged by an automatic computer program simply because I was using so many links in my comments, or whether they were being tagged by an administrator of the site with personal biases. But I can say that other comments of mine on other Atlantic articles with a similar amount of website citation links were not being deleted from the same comment board system (Disqus). Additionally, not only did my comments get deleted once, but one comment in particular (even though I reworded it each time) got deleted three times. Only when I worded the comment with my link as “news(dot)discovery(dot)com” was it finally allowed to stay. Paranoid conspiracy theory? Perhaps.

Either way, I feel like the above discrepancy is enough to warrant a discussion of the topic and article on a platform where the commentator makes the rules. 

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First off (even before I begin my argument for children’s use of new technology), I would like to examine the article itself and the logic pattern that the author uses.

The author uses contradicting information as “evidence” within the article itself:

In the 5th paragraph from the end: “Online discussion boards and Twitter are useful tools for exchanging ideas. But they often encourage a “read, reflect, forget about it” response that doesn’t truly engage students in extended critical thinking or conversation.”

In the next paragraph, literally two sentences later: “In a New York Times column, Turkle wrote, “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits … we start to expect faster answers.”

So, according to the author, digital communication encourages “a ‘read, reflect, forget about it’ response” while simultaneously “expecting faster answers”?

And the author is a teacher attempting to “school” teenagers in the art of communication? Shouldn’t they be able to, I don’t know, write a logically coherent article?

Now, onto my arguments:

Okay, yeah, kids should not be spending a lot of time watching mindless tv shows and playing mindless games. But what about toddlers that use laptops, ipads, iphones, etc. to skype with family? What about Leap Frog games? What about Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers??

In the Huffington Post article, the American and Canadian Societies of Pediatrics recommend banning, and then strictly limiting later on, the use of all “new” technology for kids of various ages:

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I couldn’t believe that these supposedly reputable organizations ignore the fact that there are useful and educational technologies out there for infants and children.

If they’re skyping with grandparents, or playing music, or making art in an app, or the like, then I don’t think it’s damaging. The Huffington Post article annoys me so much because I hate the concept of “banning” anything. People, and families, should be encouraged to learn the facts and make their own decisions. But when the “bans” are coming from the American and Canadian Societies of Pediatrics, then there’s a high chance of concerned families blindly imposing the “bans” without considering the situation thoroughly. They’re even banning pornography for children 13-18 years old, which brings up soo many problems. First, what is considered pornography (see: paintings of Cupid & Psyche and Courbet’s Origin of the World)? Second, if they’re banning it to “protect young minds,” did you know that sexual violence is more likely to occur in places that have sexually repressed atmospheres—including the banning of pornography and sex education? And did you know that there’s no sociological data that clearly links pornography to sexual violence? Don’t take my word for it. Just look it up.

Critical thinking, as defined by The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (Canada), is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Those who want to ban and/or strictly limit the use of technology by children often site statistics that correlate the formation of ADHD to television consumption. However, they rarely engage their critical thinking skills to ask: What if it’s the type of television shows, and the interruptions of commercials, that are the cause of the ADHD? What if it’s how we consume television in the US?

 

And, yes, while I understand the need to be “better safe than sorry,” I am all for opening up the world for exploration for children. The more access they have to people, and culture, and knowledge, the better. And more often than not these days, people, cultures, and knowledge come from iPads and iPhones: “new” technology.

It would be like if, back in the day, they banned toddlers from listening to a-tracs and records as modes of consuming music and culture. It’s just a new technology used to connect with the world outside the home.

An NPR story put it succinctly:

“Why not integrate the devices into family time?

“There’s no reason whatsoever that a caregiver can’t use an app with their child,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for what we call ‘joint attention’ — the interactions between a child and a caregiver, the back-and-forth, which is critical not just to language development, but brain development.

Sound familiar? It should. This, says Christakis, isn’t much different from sitting down and reading a book with your child.”

Furthermore, Harvard clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair recently wrote “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age”. And what she found in her interviews was the overwhelming consistency of children complaining about having to compete with technological devices for their parents’ attention.

The problem isn’t if children are exposed to “technology.” The problem is how much and in what way people (not just children) are using technology. Critical thinking is a lost art these days apparently. Semantics make all the difference when it comes to studies and statistics.

Case in point, one great example of children, and people in general, benefiting from children’s use of technology is a BuzzFeed Article: “A Toddler Used FaceTime To Save His Mom After She Was Attacked By A Dog.” If the toddler hadn’t know how to use FaceTime on an iPhone, the mother wouldn’t have had access to immediate medical attention.

Many “adults” are so eager to blame children’s shortcomings and growing-phase awkwardness, when really it’s just a continuation of the age-old “when I was your age…” or “kids these days don’t respect their elders…” and other similar complaints.

I also found a great article listing “15 Historical Complaints About Young People Ruining Everything.” A few relevant examples:

“CORRUPTED THE MORALS OF MANY A PROMISING YOUTH

In the 1790 book Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, Reverend Enos Hitchcock wrote,

‘The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?'”

And…

“THE TOTAL NEGLECT OF THE ART OF SPEAKING”

In the preface to the 1780 book A General Dictionary of the English Language, Thomas Sheridan wrote:

‘The total neglect of this art [speaking] has been productive of the worst consequences…in the conduct of all affairs ecclesiastical and civil, in church, in parliament, courts of justice…the wretched state of elocution is apparent to persons of any discernment and taste… if something is not done to stop this growing evil …English is likely to become a mere jargon, which every one may pronounce as he pleases.'”

When criticizing a new thing, whether it’s technology or an idea, just think that maybe, just maybe, there might be some advantages to counteract the disadvantages.

1 Comment

May 6, 2014 · 9:35 pm