This was a three strike, 24 hour period. Today, I posted a tweet. It simply said:
“Gendered stereotypes make me sad.”
There was a reason for this statement. The tweet was in response to incidents that have occurred solely in the past 24 hours. Let me provide you with a rundown:
Yesterday, I was leaving a meeting at its conclusion and was walking out with two male colleagues. The three of us discussed that we needed to meet separately to talk about an additional issue. One of the men looked at me and said, “Julie, would you like to set up the meeting for us?” Now, mind you, I have two director positions to balance – and this person knows it – so the idea that I would have time to coordinate our schedules is laughable. This individual blissfully has one role on campus, and he has an administrative assistant. I responded by saying, “No, I think the administrative assistant in our office can handle this.” I am forced to conclude that this was a gendered response – the woman in the group can take on the job of coordinating schedules. That’s my gendered role anyway, right? Wrong.
Today, I was in a conversation with two male colleagues. As I was attempting to explain something, they began a conversation about a different subject. I had to literally say, “Excuse me, I’d like to finish my statement, please” so that I could get the rest of my explanation out. Both of the men apologized, but about five minutes later, the same thing happened again. I again asked to finish. Another apology. And then – you guessed it – it happened again. I called them out a third time to which one of them responded, “I guess we really need to get better at this with you women.” Seriously? Both of these men have Ph.D.s and are strong advocates for social justice, and I was just put into the category of “you women”. Sexist, hegemonic and gendered doesn’t even begin to describe several of the problems with this interaction.
This evening, I read a post by a colleague I respect that was intended to emulate a comedic post about women who post profiles on on-line dating sites. The post outlined the different things “white women” claim to like, and how they are translated by the author. An example:
“cookbooks – can you actually cook or do you just like cookbooks? Winner. At least she’s trying to cook. I think this may be one of those things women say bc they think it sounds good.”
You know – it actually may be because the person likes to cook. I’m just putting it out there.
Needless to say this was only one of the many items cited by the individual. The post was an attempt at humor, and I personally do not believe that the individual was attempting to be malicious. I do, however, feel that this statement, along with dozens more on the post, were misguided and gendered, and that the poster doesn’t truly understand (or chooses not to believe) the harm these types of statements inflict upon women. These very statements continue to perpetuate gendered stereotypes and belittle women by making assumptions about us simply based on things we state we like. The attempt was to poke fun at how people lie or stretch the truth on their dating profiles; instead, it ended up as an example of how deeply rooted stereotypes of women are in our society.
As I reflected back over the past 24 hours, I realized there were even more micro-inequities to which I had been exposed – anything from being referred to as “Mrs. Payne-Kirchmeier” instead of the title I have earned of ‘Dr. Payne-Kirchmeier”, to people dropping half of my last name because pronouncing both sides of the hyphen evidently is just too difficult to do. I am frustrated, and continue to be frustrated, with how ingrained stereotypes about women infiltrate our daily lives – even in venues and with people who are supposed to understand and champion social justice, equality and fairness – and how we all continue to contribute to these stereotypes either through our statements, actions or silence.
The person who made the aforementioned post was challenged both openly and via DM on Twitter about their post and the intent behind it by other colleagues, and I did challenge the men in the first two situations directly, but for every one of these confrontations, how many go unchallenged? How many times do we as women let things slide simply because we think the person “didn’t mean it” , “it was supposed to be funny”, that “it was harmless” or, worse yet, simply don’t even notice because we’re so used to the behaviors, statements and actions happening on a daily basis? How frequently do we allow ourselves or others to be devalued in this manner?
So I ask each of you – think twice, even three times, before you begin some of these types of discussions. Treat everyone with equal respect. If you doubt – even for a second – that what you are about to say may be misinterpreted – just stop. Think about how your words may sound, how they represent you, and how they may be construed by others. Be true to yourself, but never forget how you impact all those around you, and about the role model you continue to be to others. And if you hear these things – say something. Stand up for others and for yourself. Sexism and stereotyping hurts everyone – including you.
To that end, I leave you with this:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”