Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who are women to know things, anyway?

Being in school is a great way to make yourself feel profoundly stupid and that you know nothing at all.  I think at least graduate/professional programs are designed that way on purpose to remind you not to be a know-it-all and to look things up.

I was just reading this lovely article on the Mother Jones website (in case you didn't know, Mother Jones was a big deal lady in the union movement of the early 20th century and now has a journal on labor/work/equality issues named after her) about men explaining everything.  So it's bigger than me being made to feel I know nothing because I'm a student!  Some of it is that men like to explain things as if I know nothing on the subject and often they refuse to be corrected.  I will say that I don't experience this as often with men 30 and under, but for sure men love to explain things and correct me all the time.  It seems to be some kind of technique to either convince themselves that they are the greatest, or that I'm not as smart as them.  I don't think it's a conscious thing either, just one of those things that happens.

It makes me wonder why on earth it's still a thing.  What's so bad about having an intelligent woman around? Huh?  Is it all bad to admit you don't know everything?

It irritates me that the polite thing to do is to shut up and listen to the wrong explanation of something, and that generally it's rude to correct the guy, but even more irritating is that it doesn't matter if he's wrong.  Men just get away with stuff like that.

So how do we navigate a world where smart women get corrected (wrongly) and have a thing explained to them by men, not just sometimes but very often?

I suppose we keep up the work of arguing even though it's rude and even though it's annoying to have to do all the time.  We fight the urge to stay silent when a man is making a mistake because calling him out would embarrass him.  We stand up for each other, ladies, and we back each other up when we get the chance.

Back in my art school days, I heard this phenomenal poem by a gal titled, "I have not raised my hand in years" about the stigma that goes with being smart and how the pressure is to put your hand down and shut up and quit "showing off."  I should hunt her up and see if she's got a copy of it somewhere.  Because if a high school senior hasn't raised her hand in years to answer a question, that pressure to be smart but silent in front of men starts pretty early.  It was a weird thing to be in class with only women in college, and then to have a class with a single man and to see how much everyone deferred to him and his wisdom.  I would never have believed we'd do it until I saw it several times, men who were young and handsome, men who were old, men who were enrolled in the class and men who just visited, the women deferred to him every time.

I don't know how we fix it, but we need to keep working on that dynamic.  We all lose out when half the world is told to shut up and quit showing off just for acting like a normal person.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear. In high school I had a study buddy in a math class who was nowhere near as smart as me, but who was always acting as though I was dumb. One day I sat back and realized that I was the one telling him I was dumb. From that point on, I've tried to fight this and sometimes veer in the opposite direction. My ex used to call me "the professor" and now my husband, who is a professor (chosen in part because he wouldn't shut down when I had an opinion), calls me "the lawyer" when we disagree about something that's not personal. It's irritating, to say the least, and that's from someone who respects (and relies on the income-making value of) my intellect.