December 31, 2018

What Women Know

There is no such thing as knowing a woman "better than she knows herself"

The Credibility Gap: How Sexism Shapes Human Knowledge - Soraya Chemaly

The Youtube video I've posted above is a link to one of my favorite TED Talks. I watch it every now and then, when I need to remind myself of an important fact. Now to be perfectly transparent, if I watched this video every time I needed the reminder, I'd be watching it several times a day, which is why I nearly have it memorized, and why I have several other inspirational/transformational TED Talks on rotation. To ground me, center me, and help me move forward with my confidence restored and my resolve strengthened in a world that is constantly endeavoring to make me question what I know.

So what is that fact I need to periodically remind myself of?

That I'm not crazy. I'm female.

As I'm typing this we are in the last several hours of 2018. Still, with 2019 hot on our heels, sexism is still a major issue in societies all over the world, and certainly in the United States. One of the biggest obstacles to reconciling the problem of sexism, in my opinion, is the enduring fact that in our society, women's voices are still not taken as seriously as men's voices, regardless of the education and qualifications of the woman in question, and especially if the woman in question is a woman of color, a woman who visually presents with a certain degree of beauty, or both. Now because our voices are not taken as seriously as men's, neither are our issues, because who will primarily be voicing concerns that are uniquely female? - take a guess. Women.

In my article, She Speak: The Undermining Conversational Experience of Himterruption, I talk about the way that women are constantly undermined by men in conversation. My examples range from being constantly interrupted, being "taught" very basic information at varies stages of adult life, to being talked and even shouted over. In my article I even said that before anyone tried to tell me that I was crazy, emotional, or that it was just my defensive perception, there was a recent study conducted that looked at 10 male-male conversations, 10 female-female conversations, and 11 female-male conversations. In the same sex conversations, there were 7 instances of interruptions. In the mixed sex conversations, however, there were 48 instances of interruptions, 46 of them in which the man interrupted the woman. And then I cited my source. Not because it was good journalism, not because I've been citing sources since the 7th grade, but because I knew that despite the truth - a truth that is obvious to every woman who has ever sat painfully through a man's explanation of basic information, not because it needed explaining but because he needed an audience; a truth that is obvious to every woman who has ever had a good idea at work only to have to strategically interject it into an idea session, quickly, distilled down to seven words or less so as to ensure that her sentence gets finished, only to be interrupted almost immediately anyway and even worse, have a man later repeat that idea not five minutes later and get credit for it instead; a truth that is obvious to every woman who has begrudgingly participated in, nay, been held hostage in a conversation with a man about matters exclusively female such as periods, menstrual cramps, hormonal acne, breast tenderness, ovulation pain, pregnancy or childbirth, as he drones on and on with his "facts" that he "knows", because it's "statistical" or "common knowledge", despite the fact that he himself does not know and will never know because he has never nor will he ever experience a period, menstrual cramps, hormonal acne, breast tenderness, ovulation pain, pregnancy, or childbirth, that these "facts" that he "knows", whether from statistics, common knowledge, or wherever have been learned within a patriarchal system that values male knowledge more than female knowledge and therefore are inherently incomplete if not altogether incorrect having come predominantly from centuries of information provided by other men who were equally if not more dismissive of the knowledge of the surrounding women, and that the very fact that he is, in that moment, attempting to teach a woman something about the female experience of her own body is case in point regarding the problem of misinformation that proves dangerous if not deadly for women everywhere whose health concerns are misdiagnosed, mistreated and wrongfully dismissed at a significantly and quantifiably higher rate than men's. (Yeah, I love me a good run-on-sentence-rant, but you know what? It's my blog, I'm my own editor. Learn to love it.) Point is - I knew the truth, which is that anything I said, no matter how true, would need to be backed up almost aggressively with statistical evidence of some sort in order to increase the slight chance that it might be taken seriously because the person saying it (me) was a woman, and because what I was saying challenged patriarchal norms.

That being said, the reason I love the TED Talk - and if you haven't already, I highly recommend clicking - The Credibility Gap: How Sexism Shapes Human Knowledge, by Soraya Chemaly, is that Chemaly discusses the consequences of sexism, not just regarding our emotional experiences, but how it results to deficits in human knowledge that adversely affect our lives as women. From things to inherent listener bias, self-esteem in the workplace, likelihood of asking for and actually getting a raise, to the fact that until recently car crash dummies were only modeled after male bodies, making women more likely to be fatally injured in car accidents, and the fact that artificial hearts fit 80% of male chest cavities and only 20% of female chest cavities.

Sexism is indeed still an issue in our so-called modern world. It is an every day issue that affects our lives, or livelihoods, our physical and mental health, our safety and our wellbeing. It is not a mild annoyance and thusly, feminism is not, as Chemaly beautifully put it, a "pet-project" to be worked on now and then in our spare time - it's a revolution and it's on Instagram. Get on board.

I started blogging in February 2014, which means that in just two short months my career as a published writer will be five years old. (Woohoo! Happy birthday to me!) Since then I have gone from having one blog to two, from being self-published to sought out by and featured in magazines on the topics of feminism, the gender-orgasm gap, and non-monogamous relationships, and publishing some rather risqué novellas. For all the writing I've done in the past five years, it's probably only a third or a forth of what I've actually read and watched to keep educating myself and stay current. From articles, TED talks, medical journals (not exaggerating) to textbooks, I've taken in a lot of information regarding sex and gender. I've also realized that writing isn't enough. As I discuss in Misogyny and the Men Who Love Us, the roots of misogyny are deeply embedded in our every day lives, and most of the issues we see start in the home. It is our job to have the tough conversations on a daily basis, even if it's hard or uncomfortable. That is the only way that we are going to be able to change hearts and minds and continue on the path of creating a world in which women's voices are heard and respected, women and our bodies are regarded as human, not as community property, in which women and girls can proceed outside safely at any time of day without arming ourselves with personal alarms and mace that looks just like a lipstick (I never leave home without either and I recommend it in the meantime), in which men and boys can cry and otherwise express human emotion without the fear of being teased, bullied, called a "pussy", beat up, or worse, in which the term "pussy" is not insulting (it is inherently problematic that the worst thing a man can be called is, essentially, a woman), in which manhood is not defined by characteristics that constitute toxic masculinity which lead to the abuse of women, men, girls and boys, in which the leading cause of death for pregnant women is no longer their spouses, in which women and girls aged 15 through 44 are no longer more likely to be killed or maimed by male violence than by traffic accidents, cancer, war and malaria combined.

In 2008 the number of women and girls killed annually, worldwide, by male violence was about 66,000. In 2018 that number was 87,000. That is, that we know of. The booklet on gender-related killing of women and girls is available here: and is the first part of the Global Study on Homicide which is due to be launched in early 2019. (UNODC) I can't even bring myself to look up the rape statistics for 2018. It hurts my heart too much.

The purpose of this article is not to be dark nor somber, though parts of it invariably will be because of the state of the world we still live in. But in spite of the sad truths and statistics, this sad excuse for a human being which we begrudgingly call president, and the Kavanaugh hearing that left me personally devastated and screaming into a pillow for weeks to follow, there is still hope, and that's what I want to focus on going into 2019.

First, I want to share two hilarious and worthwhile SNL sketches that came out this year in response to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Ugh, I don't know what I would do without SNL. It keeps me laughing in this crazy world, and I hope it does the same for you.

SNL - Welcome to Hell

SNL - Permission

Second, I want to say a quick shoutout to all the women and girls out there. Be confident. Don't be afraid of the sound of your own voice. Don't second guess what you know. Even in the time of revolution, it's still okay to want a boyfriend, or a husband, or kids. You don't have to be ashamed of wanting those things to be "down with the movement". If you've chosen or are thinking about going into masculine coded territory, like, oh I don't know, Information Technology, you don't have to try and make yourself less woman to show that you deserve to be there. To quote Chemaly, "I can look this way, I can dress this way, and I can still have knowledge". To quote myself, "My red lipstick and my stilettos do not interfere with my ability to think, type, or hold a T6 screwdriver." Thank you very much.

Third, I want to speak directly to the men reading this. Congratulations if you've made it this far. Contrary to what some may think, feminists are not man haters. We know as well as anyone that the world we envision and fight tirelessly for is one that requires male allies. We want you with us, not against us. We thank you for buying pink yarn and marching with us. We thank you for finding ways to advertise alcohol without using our bodies as furniture. We thank you for writing songs/screenplays and directing movies/music videos without needlessly objectifying us, demeaning our personhood and/or gratuitously exploiting our full or partial nudity to make sales. We thank you for welcoming the art that we create, art that is liberated from the male gaze, into the mainstream. Yet in order to truly be an allies, we need you to do what is apparently the hardest thing for even the most WOKE among you to do. We need you to wait, that is, WAIT.

We need you to talk less, listen more, and that's really listening, not patiently waiting your turn to say the thing you thought of before we started speaking. And when you do talk to us, to actually talk to us, not at us. Which means not using us as sounding boards to project your inner monologue onto, be it a showcase of your general or specific knowledge about a topic, the story of your life, or even the story of your day just because you happened upon us in a bar. Are we busy? Are we interested? Are we in the mood to talk? Ask - then proceed. Consent is not just about sex, so let's make it a point in 2019 to not hold women hostage in one-sided conversations.

Not talking at us also means not enlisting us as test audiences for that joke you thought up on the train ride home or otherwise recruiting us to role-play in what amounts to a comedy routine without our previously agreed upon participation. We do not want to be used as the conversational equivalent of the magician's assistant as you flex the muscles of your wit, or help you set up dad jokes to later knock down. A conversation is not a one man show, and funny as these moments might be to you there's a reason we aren't laughing. There's a fully functioning brain on the other side of your stand-up routine, and it knows it didn't buy a ticket. So unless you're actually a comedian, you actually need to practice your set, and we actually agreed, please. Talk to us. Not at us.

It means not launching into the two hour story of your stressful day the moment you walk through the door and even seeking us out when we are in the home for this purpose without first making sure that we are, in fact, in a place/time/mindset wherein we have the emotional bandwidth to support you, as we (unlike dogs who humans had to artificially breed the wolf out of to be this way) are not first and foremost your companions (or therapists, or eye candies, or sex partners for that matter) but human beings in our own right. Partners means partners. That means a co-piloted journey, not one person dictating the terms and the other revolving around them like a satellite. We need to challenge the idea that women alone in the home are occupying themselves in between the comings and goings of a man. If the movie of my life had subtitles while I was alone in the living room with a book, they would read:

[Reading in the living room.]


[Reading in the living room until man enters, where she will immediately bookmark mid-chapter and give him her full attention. She will find out who killed the maid later, in two hours, when he comes up for air.] 

If you see your wife, or girlfriend, or sister, or daughter doing something in a room on her own, consider before you walk into the room and automatically command her attention with the assumption that she is going to immediately stop what she is doing and become your audience. Is she busy? Is she interested? Is this a good time for her? All it takes is a second, but I promise, we appreciate it.

We also need you to challenge the idea that our appearance in public is an opportunity for you to meet us. It isn't always. So stop. Consider. A good rule of thumb might be that if conversing with you would require the woman to stop what she is doing altogether - for example: put down her book, stop what she is typing on the computer, stop with a full cart of groceries in the middle of the frozen food aisle, put down the dumbbell, come out of downward dog pose - that it isn't a good time to chat. We too occasionally hit the bar on the way home from work just to decompress. We too can't get work done in the house and take our computers to Starbucks. We too step outside just to have a cigarette (or a vape...whatever). We too receive bad news about loved ones and head to the beach for yoga just to clear our heads. We need you to check your privilege; adjust your perspective; reconsider what you think you see through your male gaze. We don't just appear in places. We aren't just waiting somewhere for you to approach and start talking to us. We have entire lives, complete with work schedules, deadlines, friends, headaches, apartments with leases running out soon, movers who didn't show up on time, friends we need to buy baby shower gifts for, family members who have recently passed away, groceries we forgot to get yesterday so there was no sugar for our coffee this morning and we're a little ticked off, and yeah let's go ahead and throw some menstrual cramps in there too, all sorts of things that don't just come to a screeching halt just because you decided to come over and say "hi".

We need you to be open to taking the extra moment to make those considerations and, if you fail (and we all fail time and time again when we are learning something new), being open to receiving feedback and even pushback from the women in your lives on a day to day basis, not just once a year at women's marches, late at night nodding along to SNL, or in your college buddies' Facebook comments.

Talking the talk isn't enough. You need to walk the walk, and you need to do it every day, even in the moments you don't think about. That's going to mean unlearning some bad habits.


2019 Resolutions

The bad habits I am going to focus on breaking in 2019 that I have to actively make myself think about are: 1 - Speaking in a voice in public that is literally an octave + above my natural, relaxed speaking voice (for those of you who don't know music, that's basically talking in a high-pitched, sing-song voice),  especially with authority figures, people who I'm meeting for the first time, and in work settings including interviews. (This isn't uncommon for women, by the way. In Ellen DeGeneres' new standup Relatable on Netflix, she plays a tape of her interview on the Johnny Carson show from 1987 and sounds like a the forth member of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Women do this all the time to fit into our prescribed feminine roles without even thinking about it.) 2 - Smiling every time someone makes eye contact with me. It's exhausting, and I'm 30 now. I'm trying to still be beating wrinkles when I'm 40. #LifeGoals 3 - Relax in public space. I find that in public space I am constantly worried about being in-the-way. Most Americans are obscenely large compared to me, and yet I have to consciously not pull my shoulders in on the subway to make myself smaller, not shuffle around in the subway the minute I see a human walking in my general direction, not immediately start planning how to maneuver myself, my umbrella, and my suitcase over that awkward tree garden in the middle of the sidewalk when someone is walking toward me. I know that I have an equal right to public space. But I have a bad habit of forfeiting that right without even thinking about it.

I'm doing homework too, not just assigning it.


Male allies: We need you to WAIT.

WAIT - Why Am I Talking
WAIT - Who Am I Talking to
WAIT - What Am I Trying to accomplish
WAIT - Why Am I Tempted
WAIT - Why Am I Testosteroning*

*Yes, I just made that up.

Especially regarding topics that are unique to the female experience, we need you to stop, WAIT, and listen. You will never know what it is like to live in this world as a woman, and that is just a fact, not a statement that need be the start of a combative conversation. It's perfectly okay not to know - how would you? What is not okay is when you pretend to know, or presume to know, and when you think that your perception and/or observation of the female experience could or should ever supersede the reality of the woman or women you are speaking with who live the female experience every single waking moment of our lives. If your mother told you a story about something once, or you saw your sister go through something, or you witnessed your daughter having trouble with something, or a friend told you about something else, and you stored that information away in your mental filing cabinet marked "Knowledge About Women" that is great. It's great that you've been paying attention. But these stories you've heard every now and again do not make you an expert on the matter of female life, or for that matter, women. The only experts on women out there are women. So when you are talking to a woman about womanhood rather than trying to convince us that you know us better than we know ourselves, that our thoughts and feelings are invalid, that we are "confused", instead take a moment.

Stop. WAIT. And listen.

You're talking to an expert. Try asking a question instead of making a statement. You might just learn something. Especially if you ask an open-ended question, as opposed to a closed-ended question - I like to playfully refer to it as leading the witness - that reflects your existing beliefs and automatically forces the person you're speaking to onto the defensive if they don't share that belief. An example would be a question like, "You think period sex is gross, right?", as opposed to, "How do you feel about period sex?" It promotes an open, co-piloted conversation, instead of a combative conversation, or something that resembles and interrogation wherein one party is doing all of the talking and compelling the other to answer succinctly with a "yes" or a "no".

When you open the door for those co-piloted conversations, you're encouraging learning and growth on both sides. Making the room to share opinions and experiences that differ from your own, that you may not have ever thought of or realized existed. I'm not saying that you're automatically wrong about everything you think you know about women, or that there is even one female truth. That's the point. We have different life experiences. And since all of our lives...ahem...matter...

For example:

Did you know that the use of tampons pose a potential threat to female health, called Toxic Shock Syndrome, but that most public bathrooms use a multi-stall/shared sink design which makes it difficult to use healthy alternatives like menstrual cups in a manner that is private and sanitary?

We can all agree that in public bathroom situations that are not gender neutral, the wait for the women's room tends to be longer than that for the men's room. Did you know that "holding it" for too long, as well as squatting over public toilets and not fulling relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, can result in a build up of bacteria which leads to urinary tract infections?

What if we took things like this into consideration when designing public bathrooms? If we just did that one thing, it would have a tremendous impact on the lives of women and girls. If we didn't dismiss concerns as silly, or dramatic, or hysterical, we might save young girls from uncomfortable pelvic exams before they've reached sexual maturity, or from the frequent use of harsh antibiotics, or from embarrassing public accidents because they couldn't get to a restroom in time.

And that's just bathrooms! There are a myriad of places in our every day lives where the needs of women and girls are not adequately reflected, and changing that starts in every day conversation.

So the next time you're in a conversation with a woman, and especially when discussing the uniquely female, remember to stop, wait, and listen.

And when the women in your life do speak - trust us. We know.


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