Tag Archives: gender norms

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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7 Things I Wish…

7 Things I Wish Parents Would Stop Teaching Their Children:

That nudity is inherently sexual
That people should be judged for their personal decisions
That yelling solves problems
That they are too young to be talking about the things they’re already starting to ask questions about
That age correlates to importance
That interacting with someone of the opposite sex is inherently romantic
That the default for someone is straight and cisgender

Source: http://goddess-river.tumblr.com/post/88498498959/7-things-i-wish-parents-would-stop-teaching-their

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June 22, 2014 · 6:44 pm

The Problem with ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

Posted: 05/06/2013 12:26 pm

 

“This post was originally published inRole/Reboot.

For months, every morning when my daughter was in preschool, I watched her construct an elaborate castle out of blocks, colorful plastic discs, bits of rope, ribbons and feathers, only to have the same little boy gleefully destroy it within seconds of its completion.

It was obvious that this little guy got massive joy out of doing this. The first time, my daughter just stared in amazement and I tried to help her rebuild. Second time: sadness. Third time: The Injustice! “Why did he do that again?” Fourth time: Royally Pissed Girl wanted to know why his parent didn’t stop him. And what about me? Fifth time: She was ready with some ideas about stopping him.

During the course of this socialization exercise, we tried several strategies and his parents engaged in conversation with us, but mostly me. One or the other of them would occasionally, always after the fact, smile and apologize as they whisked him away. Figuring out what they would say next became a fun game:

“You know! Boys will be boys!” 

“He’s just going through a phase!”

“He’s such a boy! He LOVES destroying things!”

“Oh my god! Girls and boys are SO different!”

“He. Just. Can’t. Help himself!”

No matter how many times he did it, they never swooped in BEFORE the morning’s live 3-D reenactment of “Invasion of AstroMonster.”

I tried to teach my daughter how to stop this from happening. She asked him politely not to do it. We talked about some things she might do. She moved where she built. She stood in his way. She built a stronger foundation to the castle, so that, if he did get to it, she wouldn’t have to rebuild the whole thing. In the meantime, I imagine his parents thinking, “What red-blooded boy wouldn’t knock it down?”

She built a beautiful, glittery castle in a public space.

It was so tempting.

He just couldn’t control himself and, being a boy, had violent inclinations.

She had to keep her building safe.

Her consent didn’t matter. Besides, it’s not like she made a big fuss when he knocked it down. It wasn’t a “legitimate” knocking over if she didn’t throw a tantrum.

His desire — for power, destruction, control, whatever- – was understandable.

Maybe she “shouldn’t have gone to preschool” at all. OR, better if she just kept her building activities to home.

I know it’s a lurid metaphor, but I taught my daughter the preschool block precursor of don’t “get raped” and this child, Boy #1, did not learn the preschool equivalent of “don’t rape.

Not once did his parents talk to him about invading another person’s space and claiming for his own purposes something that was not his to claim. Respect for my daughter and her work and words was not something he was learning. It was, to them, some kind of XY entitlement. How much of the boy’s behavior in coming years would be excused in these ways, be calibrated to meet these expectations and enforce the “rules” his parents kept repeating?

There was another boy who, similarly, decided to knock down her castle one day. When he did it his mother took him in hand, explained to him that it was not his to destroy, asked him how he thought my daughter felt after working so hard on her building and walked over with him so he could apologize. That probably wasn’t much fun for him, but he did not do it again.

There was a third child. He was really smart. He asked if he could knock her building down. She, beneficent ruler of all pre-circle-time castle construction, said yes… but only after she was done building it and said it was OK. They worked out a plan together and eventually he started building things with her and they would both knock the thing down with unadulterated joy. You can’t make this stuff up.

Take each of these three boys and consider what he might do when he’s older, say, at college, drunk at a party, mad at an ex-girlfriend who rebuffs him and uses words that she expects will be meaningful and respecte, “No, I don’t want to. Stop. Leave.”

Based on Boy #1’s parents blanket gender essentialisms and explanations, my daughter and the kids around her could easily have come to the conclusion that all boys went through this phase, are so different from girls, cannot control themselves, and love destroying things. But, that’s not the case. Some do. Some don’t. There are also lots of girls who are very interested in ripping things apart systematically.

I have one of those, too. “Destructo Girl” was our nickname for this daughter. Given the slightest opportunity,she would grab whatever toy either of her sisters was playing with and run, giddy with power, to the top of a landing only to dash whatever was in her hand down two flights of stairs. She beamed with joy as it clattered and shattered. But, we figured just because she could do it, didn’t mean she should and eventually she understood that, even if she wanted to and it was fun, she couldn’t continue to violate her sisters’ rights as citizens of our household.

“Girls will be girls?” I don’t think so. Nor do we say things like, “She just can’t help herself.” I have heard parents of daughters so inclined say things like, “She’s just so rambunctious!” But, in my experience, most people assume girls, as a class, can control themselves better, faster, more completely, and that boys have a harder time. There are many studies that indicate the reasons why this might be true, including the fact that we teach girls to delay gratification more and also to put their needs last. But, it does not appear to be innate.

Boy #1? Yes, maybe he had impulse control issues. Maybe it would take a lot of time to teach him about self-control, like Daughter #2. Maybe it would take even longer to teach him about personal boundaries and other people’s rights. Maybe he had genuine problems with all of those things that needed to be addressed in more thorough ways than morning time social interactions.

But that boy — and many others like him — never got the benefit of the doubt. This behavior gets rewarded or not, amplified or not, sanctioned tacitly or not. Both on individual and cultural levels. To be clear: I’m not saying that there is causality between knocking down blocks in preschool and assaulting people later. I am not saying that all boys with bad manners, poor impulse control, ADHD or other behavioral issues will be rapists or abuse spouses. I’m saying the world would be a different kind of place if children were taught to respect other children’s rights from the start. Rights to be, to do, to look certain ways and not others. And that teaching children these things has profound implications for society. Anyone who has studied or worked in the field of domestic violence can tell you that the “overarching attitudinal characteristic” of abusive men is entitlement and the belief that they have rights without responsibility to or respect for others. Similar attitudes feed our steady stream of sexual assault and rape.

In general, I’m a strict non-interventionist when it comes to other people’s children, unless I am explicitly responsible for them and their safety. But, one morning, when it really became clear that Boy #1’s parents were utterly useless as people who could teach their son to be aware of others, empathetic and yes, kinder, I picked him up and moved him away from my daughter. I asked him gently if he understood the word “forever.” He said yes. Putting him down, I added that he was to stay away from my daughter and her castles for that length of time. So far, so good.”

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June 14, 2013 · 4:11 pm

Lean In, Dad

April 2, 2013

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

“I happen to be an educated young woman who loves her job, sometimes gushingly, occasionally annoyingly. And yet, even in this enlightened age, I’ve had two relationships end — at least in large part — thanks to that clammy-palmed discussion in which couples plot hypothetical milestones and life goals. The gentlemen in question said that, somewhere in our semicharted future, they expected me to quit my job. At least for a couple of years, anyway, in order to be the kind of hypothetical mother they wanted to raise their hypothetical kids, if that hypothetical day ever came.

I don’t pretend to know how common this situation is, and how many other young women have found themselves in it. But it clarified not only the choices that future mothers must make about their careers, but also how early in their careers they must begin to think about them. And while fairness and feminism may urge us to find better ways for women to balance work and life — Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have certainly made impassioned cries — the most convincing argument seems to be an economic one.

In the United States, women represent not only a majority of college graduates but also a majority of advanced-degree holders. But the lack of policies facilitating the work-life balance — like paid maternity leave and flexible work hours — has millions of them underemployed. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much human capital is being wasted, but one clue lies in a study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford. It estimates that 15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers. Even more efficient allocation of women’s talents would, presumably, drive further growth, which will become even more critical in the years ahead. By 2050, there are projected to be just 2.6 working-age Americans for every American of retirement age. (In 2008, it was 4.7.)

Other rich countries have figured out ways to keep women in the labor force. While companies like Yahoo and Best Buy bar employees from working from home, the European Union has issued a directive that all member countries must allow parents — men and women — to request part-time, flexible or home-based work arrangements in addition to paid leave. Other developed countries also have affordable, high-quality public childcare. In Sweden, some public nurseries are even available 24 hours a day.

Such policies contribute to these countries’ swollen welfare states and higher tax burdens, but they do keep women at work. Back in 1990, in a ranking of 22 developed countries, the United States had the 6th-highest share of its prime-working-age women active in the work force. By 2010, it had tumbled to 17th place. A new study from Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, both economists at Cornell, estimates that if the United States had the average of other developed countries’ work-life policies, 82 percent of America’s prime-working-age women would be in the labor force, instead of the current 75 percent.

But what kind of employment would they have, exactly? New research suggests that, because it’s primarily women who take advantage of leave and part-time entitlements, work-life accommodations often paradoxically limit career trajectories. Women in Sweden, Finland and Denmark — and other countries held up as paragons of gender parity — are much more likely to end up in traditional pink-collar positions than are their counterparts in the United States. They are certainly much less likely to end up as managers, or in traditionally male professional arenas like law or finance. “In a regime where anyone can go part time, where it’s hard to get rid of people if they do, employers might sort on the front end and not hire people they think are likely to want to go part time, which usually means women,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard. “There may be no way a woman can credibly commit to sticking around and not going part time.” The U.S., where these policies do not exist, has the smallest gap between women’s representation in the labor force and their representation in senior management positions.

In order to prescribe policies that really allow female workers to “lean in” at work, social scientists are trying to find ones that recast social norms and encourage male workers to “lean in” at home. One area where there seems to be a lot of potential is paternity leave, which still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave. All these countries have seen gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave.

This might not sound like such a big deal, but social scientists are coming around to the notion that a man spending a few weeks at home with his newborn can help recast expectations and gender roles, at work and home, for a long time. A striking new study by a Cornell graduate student, Ankita Patnaik, based on a new paid paternity-leave quota in Quebec, found that parents’ time use changed significantly. Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work — particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours — than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.

Paid paternity leave, like paid maternity leave, may sound like a pipe dream, but states (New Jersey, California) and big companies (Ernst & Young, Bank of America) are increasingly offering it and financing it out of their own pocket. They have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to federalize the costs of these accommodations. And that seems only fair. After all, unleashing the full potential of the second sex benefits not only this handful of players but the entire U.S. economy, too.

Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The Times. Adam Davidson is off this week.”

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April 9, 2013 · 5:26 pm