Like a lot of intelligent women, I spend a fair bit of time being impeded by men who think I don’t know what I am talking about, and having to prove to them that not only do I know what I am talking about, but I actually, in many cases, know far more than they do about the topic and have a sharper image of the big picture. They prefer to think I don’t know what I’m talking about rather than accepting that I very much do, and I disagree with them for very good reasons that THEY often haven’t even considered to begin with.
That being said, most people who know me have a pretty good sense about who I am, as do I, and I don’t have a lot of trouble with them—but when I bump up against people who don’t know me as well, that’s where the trouble starts.
This isn’t just happening to me. It happens to women all the time, in all spheres of their lives. Virginia Valian, professor of Psychology and Linguistics at Hunter College, New York says that in her research she found, “…culturally bound assumptions about men and women that are unconscious…One assumption is that women are first assumed incompetent until proven otherwise. It’s the opposite for men.”
Men have been asking “What can we do?” in response the “me too” wave that washed over social media recently. I’ll tell you what women need from men.
What we need from men, right now, is for them to give women credit unless it’s clear they don’t deserve it—you know, like we do with men.
Martin R. Schneider, of whom you might know due to his story‘s Twitter popularity, thought of himself as more competent and more efficient with clients than his co-worker, Nicole Hallberg, until he accidentally began emailing clients on her behalf. If you don’t know the story, as her supervisor, he was supposed to be helping her improve her efficiency, and they were sharing an email account. Suddenly the responses to his messages were treated quite differently than he was used to, “…one day I’m emailing a client back-and-forth about his resume and he is just being IMPOSSIBLE. Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions.” He was puzzled by the responses he was getting, as he was being treated as if he was incompetent and he was told that he, “…couldn’t understand the terms he used ([he] could).” It was a novel experience for him.
He corrected the mistake and went back to communicating with people as himself, and things immediately went back to his normal. At no point did he change his approach to others.
Well, curiosity got the best of both of them, and the two of them decided to communicate and sign on one another’s behalves for a week without their client’s knowledge to see what would happen.
The way Schneider describes it is, “I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single.” On the other hand, “Nicole had the most productive week of her career.”
In his own words, he “…realized the reason she took longer is [because] she had to convince clients to respect her.”
Think about that. Think deep and hard about that.
This means women are working a heck of a lot harder than men just to achieve some proximity to men they are probably more skilled and knowledgeable than…and then they are treated like they are incompetent until they prove otherwise.
Taking the time to research this article was a bit more challenging than I usually experience, because the things that kept coming up in search were either about men and women in intimate relationships, or about how women lack confidence.
Really? Women lack confidence? You don’t say? You mean to say if women are constantly facing a barrage of doubt regarding their knowledge and abilities that they lose confidence in themselves and it puts them at further disadvantage in every area of their lives? Who would have guessed?
This problem is so insidious that when some of my friends were talking about alt-right women being upset about how the males in their movement were treating them one of my friend’s friends on FB wrote, “Is she legitimately a white nationalist, or is she just a troll herself?”
Wait, what? Why would women, because the article was about more than one woman, actually—why would women tell others they were part of the alt-right if they weren’t? What would possess anyone to do that?
You know, I honestly am more upset about his reaction, doubting who these women said they were while having no legitimate reason to do so, than I am about the fact these women internalized the hate around them and then would speak up and say they want to be respected by the men in their movement.
See, women have internalized these patriarchal schemas to such a point that really shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s what sometimes happens when a person is raised in an environment of constant self-doubt and hate. It’s why people say hate is something that is taught. I realized that, in general, it doesn’t surprise me that at some point these young women are waking up to the fact that this framework isn’t serving them very well—we’ve also been trained from the time we were young to please others and go along with them, ignoring how it affects us or how we feel. It takes time to grow out of that.
Looking at how prolific these women are, it’s obvious that horribly misguided though they are, they also aren’t intellectual slouches. They write and produce videos fairly prolifically. For them to take some baby steps towards greater awareness of what justice means to them is a good thing and also says something about their intellect, because they are questioning the paradigm, and questioning core beliefs not only requires that intellect, it also takes real courage. The seeds planted at this point could some day turn them into something even more amazing—someone who switches sides. People who can do that are often much more able to relate to those inside their old way of thinking, and reach them in ways most others simply cannot.
It’s important to note that by the time it takes us (women) to finally find our footing in many cases, we’ve often been derailed by this constant struggle to prove ourselves, and while often less severe than what these women need to do at this point, we all usually have some realignment to do. This is why brilliant women over the age of 40 are often a good deal more formidable, and much less apologetic about it.
Why, at this point, should anyone be surprised when they hear about women who are working against their best interests? Well, how is a woman supposed to grow up to be confident and strong when the assumption from the time she opens her mouth is that she isn’t—until she proves otherwise.
What really bothers me, though, is men and women perpetuating these schemas in perpetuity and ignorance.
You want to start helping women? Start by believing them to be competent until they prove otherwise—and treat them as such.
Start by believing women first.