Tag Archives: gender roles

On Being a Badass

A young woman biker zipping up her leather jacket.   (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images

“Mac McClelland is used to being called a badass. “I’m always very flattered, always very honored that they say that,” she told Mother Jonesrecently. It makes sense: She’s a journalist who made her namehanging out with refugees of Burmese genocide, chasing a warlord in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and interviewing sexual-assault survivors in post-earthquake Haiti — in other words, doing a really tough job. “At the same time,” she continued, “it sort of depends on your definition of badass. I think that the normal definition is that you don’t have any feelings, right? So it’s like you don’t care, you’re not really comfortable, and you’re not touched by things, and you can do whatever you want.”

This isn’t always the connotation of badass. Sometimes the term is applied to people with palpable confidence and an uncompromising attitude whodo feel comfortable shedding a few tears and displaying nurturing characteristics. But McClelland is right that, as it’s most commonly used, badass implies both toughness and disaffectedness. It’s rare to look at someone whose chief qualities are measured thoughtfulness and open emotionality and declare her a total badass. As women carve out careers and comfortably adopt traits that were once considered “masculine,” there’s strong social pressure on them to mimic the stoicism that men have traditionally been expected to maintain in the face of hardship. By now, we know the drill: Lean In if we want to succeed, and Go Outside if we have to cry.

As one of the people who has referred to McClelland publicly as a badass — as well as her friend and former editor — I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read her new book, Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story. It’s an incredibly personal memoir about her experience with trauma and falling in love while trying to heal. Much of McClelland’s PTSD struggle is acknowledging that she had the right to be traumatized even though she was merely threatened and witnessed horrible things, not physically harmed, in the line of duty. During her panicked breakdowns, she tells herself things like, “These are the sorts of bullshit excuses you make for yourself when in fact You. Are. THE WORST.

It’s almost scary to realize how deeply many women — especially those who are pushing the boundaries of what’s traditionally been considered feminine — have internalized the message that toughness and feelings don’t go together. There is something very appealing about adopting this no-feelings badass approach when you’re a woman who’s outnumbered professionally or who’s chosen a line of work that, historically, women have been shut out of. There’s pressure to prove that you’re just as capable as men are, which can turn into pressure to ignore your emotional responses and downplay the tendencies you have that are traditionally considered “feminine.” I’ve internalized this myself: When I was a boss, Istruggled to downplay my emotions, even in extremely difficult moments. More recently, when an editor I respect tweeted about crying during her workday, I felt a pang of disgust. Keep it together, I thought.

Nothing throws a wrench in this desire to downplay the feminine quite like a pregnancy. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario also recently published a memoir that is, in part, about her decision to keep up her grueling and dangerous work while she was pregnant. “With the exception of military embeds, I took on all my regular assignments, hiding my growing belly beneath loosefitting shirts, cargo pants and sometimes, fortunately, a hijab,” she wrote in an excerpt for the New York Times. She pushes aside her growing fears about jeopardizing the safety of her child and her guilt about making her husband worry. She certainly doesn’t talk about it at work. “I adamantly didn’t want any of my editors or colleagues to know that I was pregnant until I could no longer hide it. I worried about being denied work or treated differently.” The fear is understandable. Most of her colleagues covering foreign conflicts were men. And once she told her story, exposing her competing concerns for her job and for her child, the backlash was swift. “I found Lynsey Addario’s behavior absolutely reprehensible!” wrote one commenter. “How a mother could put her own ambitions and ego above that of her child is beyond belief.” Wrote another, “I feel so sorry for the baby.”

The particular pressure to be a certain type of badass woman is not unrelated to the “cool girl” phenomenon — you know, how sexist stereotypes about “most women” pressure certain girls to be the womanwho puts away burgers and beers, laughs at sexist jokes, and sets herself up as an exception to the rule that women are soft and gentle and high-maintenance. The cool girl is just as hot but with far fewer feelings. While I’m sure McClelland and Addario would be the last to refer to feelings as a sign of weakness, both of their memoirs reveal how tempting it is to fall into gendered, old-school definitions of toughness. Badasses don’t worry about being assaulted! Badasses don’t get PTSD! Badasses don’t let pregnancy stop them from venturing into a war zone! If they have to cry, badasses go outside!

Although McClelland and Addario are journalists, this phenomenon is much broader than women war reporters. It’s tempting to think that a certain level of thick-skinned posturing will solve women’s problems. We advise women who are harassed online to simply toughen up, shake off their haters, and get on with their lives. In a more extreme example, conservative politicians are recommending women arm themselves in order to prevent sexual assault. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head,” said Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. Anyone who knows anything about sexual assault knows that guns won’t solve it because most assaults happen between acquaintances, not as a result of brute-force attacks. Anyone who’s been the victim of hate-filled online attacks knows that the “block” button is not enough. The answer doesn’t lie in removing or ignoring all perceived vulnerabilities. It lies in recognizing those vulnerabilities exist — mostly owing to deep-seated cultural factors. And women are no less badass for feeling traumatized by them.

It strikes me that as women continue to break into traditionally masculine professions and defend their right to exist in unsafe spaces, the rest of us have a responsibility to do more than cheer them from the sidelines. We should also make clear that we understand this work is hard, that it often takes an emotional toll, that there are no easy answers, and that, when they acknowledge their feelings and admit their struggles, they’re all the more badass for it. This wouldn’t just help women with challenging jobs or in dangerous situations. It would also benefit men who have long been expected to bury their emotional responses and carry on as if they are unaffected by trauma. It’s not “badass” to survive a horrible situation without shedding a single tear. The real badass move, as women like McClelland and Addario show, is to fearlessly acknowledge how something has affected you and make space for others to do the same.”

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People Think Women Lie Because That’s What We Teach Our Children

Posted: 09/11/2014 2:21 pm EDT Updated: 09/11/2014 2:59 pm EDT
WENDY DAVIS

“Portions of the post first appeared in Role Reboot.

In her recently-released memoir, Democratic nominee for Texas governor Wendy Davis writes about two abortions she had many years ago. A National Review Online contributor would like her to prove it. Like Erin Gloria Ryan, who wrote about this yesterday in Jezebel, I won’t link to this article, which included the following sentence, “The Davis campaign did not respond to questions about whether Davis’s highly unusual abortions were matched by any medical evidence, doctor statements, or public verification from her ex-husband or two daughters.”

This “wink, wink — we all know women lie” masked as journalistic concern isn’t just about Davis, but all of us. Words like “highly suspect” “evidence” and “verification,”used in circumstances like this, leverage a diffuse and atavistic suspicion of women.

Women’s credibility is questioned in the workplace, in courts, in legislatures, by law enforcement, in doctors’ offices and in our political system. People don’t trust women… not to be bossespilots, employees. Last year, a survey of managers in the United States revealed that they overwhelmingly don’t believe women who request flextime. Until relatively recently, in order to hedge against the idea that women lie, many U.S. police departments had “corroboration requirements” for rape reports, unlike any other crime. Pakistan’s controversial Hudood Ordinance still requires a female rape victim to procure four male witnesses to her rape or risk prosecution for adultery. Bias is particularly pronounced when it comes to women’s bodies and who does what with them.

Several months ago, a man in France was arrested for raping his 14-year old daughter. She’d gone to her school counselor and then the police, but they needed “hard evidence.” The recently-revealed Rotherham abuse crimes, in which more than 1,400 girls were subjected to rape and other violence, were largely enabled by authorities who thought girls didn’t deserve to be believed. They aren’t alone. Studies show thatcollege students and, even more disturbingly, police officers, believe that up to 50% of women lie when they accuse someone of rape, despite wide-scale evidence and multi-country studies that show the incidence of false rape reports to be in the 2%-8% range. As I will forever point out, as late as 2003, people jokingly referred to Philadelphia’s sex crimes unit as “the lying bitch unit.”

Everyone lies. However, people expect different kinds of lies from men and women. Women are frequently considered trustworthier except when lies include another person, in which case confidence in the veracity of what women say plummets. In other words, women can be trusted to talk about themselves, but not anything else. Even when people surveyed say they think women are more honest as individuals,despite themselves, they cannot trust them as leaders. In Davis’ case, she’s not even extended this courtesy, being believed when she is recounting the facts of her own life.

You know what a memoir is? Testimony.

The words testimony, testify, testis, testicle, attest, intestate, testament and contest are related etymologically. Yup. That, historically, you could not give testimony if you did not posses the balls to do so is not a metaphor. Apparently, men in ancient Rome cupped each others’ testicles, as a sign of trust and truthfulness, when taking oaths. Today, men no longer do this, at least not that I’m aware of, nor do they place their right hands on their testicles in order to swear to tell the truth in court any longer. (Someone will tell me that I’m lying, in which case they should contact theUniversity of Chicago.)

While this delicious historical tidbit may seem like a quaint oddity, and it’s fair to assume that most people are not overtly linking men’s crown jewels with the truth, the fact remains that we live with this legacy. This semantic cluster provides interesting insights into who we, culturally, choose to believe and how we, systemically, regulate narratives and prioritize experiences. There is a certain self-fulfilling ideological logic to the notion that the vast majority of women are, quite literally, not fit to have their words taken at face value or their concerns taken seriously.

Take courtrooms, and their proxies — media, school rape adjudication boards and public judgment. Myths about gender and truth don’t stay at home when jurors, judges and journalists go to work. In courtrooms, not only are men considered more credible, but they are particularly thought more credible if they are talking aboutcomplex subjects. Are Wendy Davis’ abortions, and the ethical and moral considerations that led to them, complex? Conservatives in particular have a hard time recognizing women’s moral competence.

As Dahlia Lithwick so richly documented a few years ago, the GOP’s destructive, ruinous anti-woman “social policy” agenda is being pursued under a rubric that insists women need “permission slips” and “waiting periods.” The government shutdown last year? Conservatives holding the country hostage because they wanted to add anti-abortion “conscience clause” language to legislation. Whose consciences? All the lying, morally incompetent and untrustworthy men who need abortions and health care?

It’s not just what women say that people find in-credible, but studies also show that women are allowed an exceedingly narrow band of how they are allowed to say it. If a woman expresses righteous anger, she is less likely to be believed. If she expresses herself in a combative way in response to a hectoring lawyer or reporter, she is going to be disliked. If she is silent, she will be distrusted. If she talks too much, she is thought to be making stories up. If she is a woman of color, well, all of that on steroids plus some. What are Jezebels and welfare queens if not, first and foremost, myths about liars?

People don’t just turn 18 and start doubting what women say, their competence or authority. This struck me clearly three years ago, when, in fly-on-the-wall fashion of parent drivers everywhere, I listened while a girl in the back seat of my car described how angry she was that her parents had stopped allowing her to walk home alone just because a girl in her neighborhood “claimed she was raped.” When I asked her if there was any reason to think the girl’s story was not true, she said, “Girls lie about rape all the time.”  She was 14 and very sure about this.

So, how exactly are we teaching children that women lie? I mean, clearly, most people aren’t saying “girls and women lie, kids, that’s just the way God built them.”

We don’t need to though. It’s in the air. Lessons about women’s untrustworthiness are in our words, pictures, art and memory. Women are overwhelmingly portrayed in media as flawedsupplementalornamental objects, or unattainably perfect. It’s easy to find examples of girls and women entertainingly cast as liars and schemers. For example, on TV we have Pretty Little LiarsGossip GirlDon’t Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23Devious Maids, and, because its serpent imagery is so symbolically basic to feminized evil, American Horror Story: Coven. Backstabbing women are astaple of reality TV.

Movies, too. PG and G-rated movies are filled with “women lie” precursors to their R-rated versions. Tangle‘s “Mother Knows Best” is a delightful ditty that takes particular aim at… mothers. Or, how bout Shark Tale, which features the song “Gold Digger,” a catchy tune that kids sing along to that describes women as scheming, thieving, greedy and materialistic? The vast majority of mad people in films are untrustworthy women and the entire Film Noir genre is filled with manipulative gals. What does the failure of most films to even allow two women to be named or speak to one another about anything other than the male protagonists say to kids?

In the music industry, hip-hop most frequently comes in for well-deserved criticism, but there is no shortage of music lyrics in all genres that convey distrust of and disdain for women. Pop culture has nothing on religion, though.

Here’s a two-for-one example! Delilah, a renowned biblical avatar of female untrustworthiness, made it into the lyrics of JT Money’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout Pimpin'”:

I got a problem with this punk a** b*tch I know
Ol’no good skanlezz switch out ho
An untrustworthy b*tch like Deliliah
Only thing she good for is puttin’ d*ck inside her

Ew. However, line for line, this is an updated version, albeit more catchy, of:

Amongst all the savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”

Women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”

What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. One must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.”

I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

Honestly, what’s the difference? While most religious leaders aren’t going around spouting overtly denigrating opinions (does calling us “penis homes” count?) about women, many, through default and tradition, casually and uncritically expose children to religious texts, systems and cultures rooted in misogyny.

The United States is among the most religious of developed countries. There’s a straight line between catchy, contemporary expressions of the distrust of women andthese guys, who shaped the Judeo-Christian canon, and who continue to shape children’s imaginations. As a matter of fact, the quotes above represented a tradition that some consider an improvement for women. There is a strong family friendly heritage of sexism here. And, unlike pop culture, religious misogyny that inculcates children with a disrespect for women’s words is tied to institutional power in ways that mean women continue to be impoverished and die, including because women are denied access to safe, legal abortions when they need them.

Most importantly though, when it comes to religion, the dangerous and destructive effect that the everyday ritual silencing of women has on children, and what they think about women, cannot be overstated. Personally, I won’t allow my children to participate in religious conventions were women are barred from speaking as leaders. If women aren’t allowed to speak with ministerial authority, it’s because they cannot be trusted to. Children aren’t stupid, they’re just young.

A seemingly simple statement, with its barely contained innuendo, such as “only Ms. Davis knows the truth about her alleged abortions,” ripples widely and resonates deeply in the cultural imagination. When you see this language, these ideas, don’t tolerate the insult. Name it.

As Ryan said, “Are you sure you want to do this? Is this the message you want to send? …This seems wrong.””

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Why Are Men Leaving The American Workforce?

Why Are Men Leaving The American Workforce?

“…As might be expected, economists don’t agree on why so many men have left the workforce. Some possible factors they cite: There’s less of a stigma today if a man doesn’t work. Union clout has declined. More men are in early retirement receiving disability benefits. New technology has eliminated manufacturing jobs. And competition from abroad moved others overseas.

Autor says many service sector jobs that remain — in restaurants and retail, for example — don’t pay as well as the factory jobs that disappeared.

And with so many men in the prime of life missing from the workforce it can’t help but take a toll on the economy, Eberstadt says.

“The country is going to be less rich. They’re going to be less rich. Growth is going to be slower. It’s going to have really bad effects on wealth differences in the United States,” he says.

So what can be done? Certainly more education and better education would make a difference. But that’s a profound, long-term challenge. David Autor says there’s one smaller fix that would help — expand the earned income tax credit. It’s a subsidy that supports low-income workers when they find jobs and keep them. Right now, it primarily benefits women and children rather than single men.”

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Next Time Someone Says Women Aren’t Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This.

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http://www.robot-hugs.com/harassment/

Used with permission from Robot Hugs.”

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Powerful Video Reminds Us All What Rape Is Really About

Powerful Video Reminds Us All What Rape Is Really About

“…NCFW is an ambitious campaign meant to “to change the problematic attitude of a country toward half of its population.” Since 2013, co-Directors Ria Vaidya and Shreena Thakore, both undergraduates at Brown University who grew up in India, have been conducting workshops to spread their message of combating sexual violence. They state in this video:

Gender policing by definition is when you force an individual to behave a certain way because of their gender. So, for example, if you see a man crying you tell him, “Stop acting like a girl.” Or if you have a daughter who really loves playing football, but you enroll her in singing class and not football class … because girls are supposed to like artsy things and not supposed to like sports, you are gender policing your daughter.

 

What is the connection between gender policing, which is so common … and something as heinous as rape?

It’s an excellent question. Gender policing can be extremely subtle and is often well-intentioned, making its harmful effects all the more difficult to spot. Nevertheless, it is all around us, from the pink aisle at the toy store to popular — and problematic — parental affirmations such as “boys will be boys.”

Image Credit: Twitter

To be clear, gender policing certainly does not actively endorse rape. But it does foster an environment in which men and women are expected to behave in a certain way, and implies that they may be punished if they don’t. One of gender policing’s most egregious forms, for example, occurs when a society valorizes female purity and, by default, demonizes promiscuity — that is, a deviation from the way society says a “lady” should act. 

When it comes to power dynamics, these types of societal expectations are very troubling. As the video points out, “The kind of mindset that feels like rewarding a female for acting and appearing like one is not very different from the mindset that feels like punishing a woman for not acting like one.” Such a mindset can allow things like slut-shaming and victim-blaming to thrive. Taken to an extreme, twisted conclusion, it may even lead to rape…”

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22 Terribly Sexist Comments Women Have Heard At Work

22 Terribly Sexist Comments Women Have Heard At Work

So true, it hurts.

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What Happened When I Stood Up To My Sexist Boss

“My freshman year of college was filled with great awakenings.

I immersed myself in women’s studies courses and read feminist theorists like bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldúa for the first time, I voted in my first presidential election, and I started to chase my passion by writing about the intersection of current events and social justice. I did what a lot of college students do: I learned new things and became who I am.

These moments of realization didn’t stop after I left my first year on campus either. The following summer I accepted an internship at a right-leaning daily newspaper in New York City. At the time, it was the internship I thought I needed, but by the end of the first week, I knew I had absolutely no future there.

On our first Friday in the office, all 10 of the summer interns were scheduled to eat lunch with the newspaper’s publisher. We sat in a large conference room around a big, mahogany table in black leather chairs and made small talk while we poked at our elaborate meals served by waiters. My white napkin sat on my lap, and I couldn’t help but think about how much money was going into all of this — I would’ve been happier with a slice of cheese pizza.

I was slightly preoccupied, thinking about everything else I had to finish by the end of the day, and even though I sat all the way at the end of the table my ears perked up when the publisher started to give out “helpful advice,” as he called it.

“You should be networking all summer. Every day, you should talk to the person sitting next to you. Guys, you have it easier than girls do.”

I looked at the intern next to me, clearly shocked that someone would make such a blatantly sexist accusation in a room full of impressionable young people, but she didn’t meet my gaze.

“Boys, you can just turn to the reporter next to you and strike up a conversation about sports,” he continued. “You can say, ‘Hey, did you watch the game last night?’ Girls have to be more worldly and cultured to be taken seriously and build relationships. Girls, you can’t just talk about sports with the guy sitting next to you, so you have to try harder and make up for it in other ways.”

I couldn’t tell if it was my general feeling of discomfort or the building’s excessive use of central air, but chills ran down my spine. The conversation went on without skipping a beat, but in that moment, my brain completely froze; my body was physically present but my mind went somewhere entirely.

I turned into a victim of my own thoughts: Did anyone else hear him? Maybe they didn’t realize what he said was sexist? Why would he assume all girls don’t like or watch sports? Why would he assume all guys do? Why would you call a group of young adults GIRLS? Is this normal behavior for the world of journalism?

That’s the thing about sexism in newsrooms and workplaces in general; it’s so inherent and ingrained in our institutions and cultures that often, your boss doesn’t even realize they’re doing it. But when we talk about things like equal pay and opportunity, it starts with these kinds of attitudes, stereotypes, and assumptions that can hurt both men and women.

The publisher said those things because he genuinely believed them, and the more he said them, the more true they would become. To this guy, it was a casual comment that he probably never thought twice about, but it’s something that had the potential to stick with us forever.

By the time I came back down to Earth and rejoined the rest of the group, the publisher was wrapping up his ego-inflated diatribe. He asked all of us if we had any specific questions for him, seemingly anxious to give away some more pearls of wisdom, but I didn’t have any interest in seeking advice from someone who subscribed to such antiquated ideologies.

Dessert was served as other interns took turns asking more serious questions about the new media transition from print to online and weighing the importance of local versus national news coverage. I thought about the case studies and hypothetical instances of inequality I dissected all year in classrooms, textbooks, and readings. As the questions slowed down, I took advantage of my chance to put theory into practice.

“Did you watch the NBA finals game last night?” I could feel every set of eyes staring in my direction. It was the beginning of June, so I had a few different sports to choose from, but I rationalized that talking about basketball would allow me the most room to shine. “Who are you rooting for?”

After a few moments of hesitation he responded, “The Lakers.”

“Me too.” Under my calm surface was a raging fire of anger.

“That’s nice,” the publisher politely replied. “Any more questions?” He seemed to have just about as much interest in talking about the NBA with me as I had tolerance for his ignorance, but I kept going.

“I enjoy watching the Lakers play as a team. Pau Gasol is my favorite on the court, especially when Kobe’s on a good run.”

It was like diarrhea of the mouth; I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out any and every thought that came to mind, because I knew I had to maintain my momentum.

“The referees have been calling an ugly series and last night’s game was the worst of all, especially when Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant. It just goes to show that stupid calls make the difference in every game.”

That’s when the real magic happened. My remarks and persistence sparked the rest of the table to chime in. Within moments, the whole room was in the midst of a thriving and informed conversation about the NBA Finals, all of the interns arguing and agreeing with each other about specific details within this series. The publisher remained suspiciously quiet for the most part, only chatting with one of the male interns sitting directly next to him.

After everyone settled down and the room fell naturally quiet again, I mustered up enough bravery to bring the dialogue full circle.

“I just wanted to show you that girls can talk about the game last night too.”

He gave me a nod, then concluded our session like it never happened. A part of me hated myself for even feeling compelled to entertain his comments and overcompensate with a discussion that otherwise wouldn’t have happened; but the other part of me, the bigger part, was too pissed to care.

Initially after our lunch was over, I was on a high; addressing one sexist publisher as a summer intern felt empowering beyond words. I also knew, however, that the solution to underlying sexism in the workplace and discriminatory mindsets wouldn’t be solved by just one conversation between two people. I may not have changed any major structures or shifted the entire landscape for female journalists. I may not have even changed his mind. But it sure felt great to prove him wrong.

Later that afternoon as I was walked around the newsroom, I caught a rare glimpse of the publisher standing inside the editor-in-chief’s office — the two most powerful people at the paper besides its notorious CEO. They were all white men above the age of 50. I didn’t think he’d recognize me — after all, I was just one intern out of the hundreds of employees who worked under him.

But he looked through the glass window and we made eye contact. He saw me, which was all I really wanted. To be seen.”

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