Flash Forward

11 03 2009

In response to the 1950s: Education on “Women” video my friend femme says:

Is it strange that this didn’t seem so much like a flashback to the 1950’s but rather to easily accessible memories and frequent occurrences? I believe that many males still regard women as having these “troubles.” I could document the many instances I’ve had where males have automatically assumed that I was incompetent and wouldn’t know what to do in a given situation – be it intellectual, technical, problem-solving or otherwise group related. It has been especially clear and problematic within the many facets of this school setting, for example, in randomly assigned group projects, or in new clubs.

Issues such as these did not manifest themselves as clearly in more familiar settings where peers where known and a reputation for being capable was already established. High school was this for me, although I know many people could have had different experiences. Despite the fact that college is considered a “bubble,” in many ways it does indeed mirror actual society and serve as practice, or initiation, into the “real world.” We do not all know each other here, and we are acting as adults for the first time in most of our lives. If a reputation for being capable and having contributable talents and knowledge does not precede a person, as is usually the case in the “real world,” and often so at Tufts, people base their assumptions off of initial impressions and stereotypes. Being cognizant of this and having experienced it is extremely frustrating. Fear of reinforcing this prejudice causes me, and perhaps many others, to be cautious and fearful of making mistakes so as that I find myself keeping quiet and subordinating to the more outspoken males in the group- ironically resulting in exactly the harmful effect I was attempting to avoid.

Even worse, I find myself internalizing how “problematic” I am, and feeling the need to initiate my work with a warning – “ok guy, heads up, I’m not completely sure about this” or “f.y.i., I don’t have much experience dealing with this.” Males that I have encountered with similar lack of experience in any given field usually do not feel the need to make it known, and instead act confident, speak up, and are willing to experiment and learn. By not similarly acting in this manner, I, and other women who have the same experience, are limiting ourselves. It isn’t fair that I should not be able to take full advantage of my educational experience as a male may be; but it is a difficult problem to deal with. What action can be taken? I have always believed that it is my responsibility to make my own life. No one can be expected to step back so that I may step up. But “stepping up” is the problem we begin with- for the reasons observed it is easier said than done, especially in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations. It’s a sort of self perpetuating / self reinforcing bind – not stepping up and not being able to step up; each helps to cause and reinforce the other. Hence, I find myself, ourselves, Stuck. So what it is to be done?

**********

Here are my thoughts and responses:

– In my high school and college experience so far I have noticed (and I do this myself) that women more than men preface their words or actions with “I’m not sure, but” or “I don’t really know, but” or “I could be completely wrong, but”. Starting out with this sort of disclaimer blatantly expresses insecurity and lends a degree of invalidity to what you’re about to say or do because “you don’t really know” or “you’re not really sure”. It’s also self-degrading and sets you up for failure or at least perceived failure where you give yourself and/or receive from others less credit than you deserve for your thoughts, ideas, or actions. In the long run this helps lead to the internalization of and perpetuation of beliefs that you are not quite adequate or qualified enough to comment on or act on something.

– Whenever I experience technological problems with my computer, my printer, or my cell phone, I get quite exasperated and feel too incompetent to “fix” what ever is wrong. I usually call my dad or my brother and ask them to help, or I ask a guy friend to help me. Note that all the people I turn to are men. I feel like I should be technologically savvy especially in today’s digital media age, but I honestly have no interest in computer science or technology or any of that stuff. I wonder, is it because I genuinely have no interest in technology or because I have been socialized to not take an interest in computer science and technology? I definitely feel like socialization is a big factor that shapes and influences what I am interested in and enjoy doing and what I do not take interest in or enjoy. This also goes with mechanical repairs or just fixing things in the home – if there’s something wrong with the heater, the stove or the sink, my dad is almost always the one who runs to repair it. That or a male repairman. We are socialized to fit into highly confining gender roles that dictate so many aspects of our lives. I think it’s important to remember that this is systemic, and part of a larger structural problem, not the fault of individuals or families who reinforce gender roles. Patriarchy is so prevalent and persistent and one of the places where it can manifest most strongly is in the home.

– I find that in media representations of women, female protagonists may think it endearing of them to dumb themselves down (remember Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan pretends that she doesn’t get math so she’d have an “excuse” to talk to the guy she was crushing on and ask him for help? Why couldn’t she have helped him, especially since she was smarter than him in math anyway?) to try to impress men. Is an intelligent and qualified woman really that intimidating that women feel like they have to hide it? In the end, Lohan’s character does learn that it’s not worth it to dumb herself down and that it actually turns off the guy when he finds out that she was pretending to not get things, but still this plot line where the female character dumbs herself down for male attention is so normalized and prevalent in various television shows, movies, etc.

– Another thing the media does is portray an intelligent woman with a super stereotypically feminine characteristic which sort of compensates for her intelligence. Like in the Confessions of a Shopaholic book series the protagonist Becky is a financial journalist initially who then becomes a television financial consultant. Finance is a predominantly male field, and so to compensate for her prominence in the finance world, she is a shopaholic who ends up shopping herself into debt (hypocritical, isn’t it?).

– Re: “It’s a sort of self perpetuating / self reinforcing bind – not stepping up and not being able to step up; each helps to cause and reinforce the other. Hence, I find myself, ourselves, Stuck. So what it is to be done?” I think that recognizing and being conscious of this tendency to disqualify yourself before you do something or say something is an important first step. Bad habits, or habits in general, are difficult to break and will take time. Once you make a conscious decision to break a bad habit it will be easier to work towards that.  

What are other anecdotes, insights or advice people have to share and offer?

 


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