This article, written by Soraya Chemaly, titled ’10 words every girl should learn’ is the best article on gender I’ve read in quite a while, and I couldn’t help sharing it with you all and adding my thoughts!
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.
Girls being socialised to resist being interrupted is something I never noticed before. Although I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about the way boys and girls are socialised, this is something I remained ignorant to. I was socialised in the way most boys were (and are) and although I make a conscious effort not to, or to stop if I start, sometimes I interrupt people (usually girls, I don’t talk to any boys) when they’re speaking.
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.
Although my personality has remained pretty psychologically androgynous over the years, this is something as I’ve noticed over the past year or two especially, as I’ve gotten more feminine in looks (I’m currently writing an article on how and if feminine men are treated like women, but I can definitely say that personally, I am in certain ways). When in a restaurant with a masculine man, even with nobody else, waiters still only communicate primarily with them (until I speak, although this is sometimes ignored too). Being ignored is a big issue, usually straight men will just ignore me in a group discussion.
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.
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.”
Although some may find me posting this ironic as it may seem as though I’m mansplaining, this blog is just a way of me to get my thoughts out, and the reason I’m sharing Soraya’s writing in such a way is because I think she talks about a point rarely spoken about in a perfectly competent way.
This point reminds me of The Apprentice (non-celebrity, UK version). On tasks, women are often ignored as men value their own speech higher than that of a woman (although women leaders have won more tasks than men leaders!).
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.
Although men assuming they’re great starts in childhood, it is possible to change things we’re socialised and do. We are taught that boys date girls, that girls have babies, that girls have boobs, not to swear, to colour coordinate outfits (or was that just me?) and to go to Church every Sunday. I’m just saying we can change from the way we were socialised.
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.”
(I bolded the 10 words below…don’t be like me and not realise the 10 words are split into three sentences, they’re not 10 individual words… I spent ages looking for them…oops!)
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.”
If you’ve read this far, you must’ve enjoyed the post, and I definitely recommend you reading the full article. It had me in awe whilst on the bus, I wanted to nudge the person sat next to me, “psssst, have you seen this?”.